Nirvana vs Pavement

by on Nov.09, 2010

[I wrote a reply to a good post Adam Jameson left to John’s Fort Thunder entry. It’s totally unsupportable, I know, but I thought might as well put it as a post because it’s pretty long:]


Many great ideas.

I love Raymond Pettibon’s work. Love.

Also, look at the Sara Eriksson pictures I posted in connection with John’s and mine discussion about comics. She’s an artist but begins to look a little like comics of sorts.

I’ve been thinking about Pavement a lot lately. Partially in response to a New Yorker article where Sasha Frere Jones, who picked Nirvana over Pavement as the band of the 90s (I much prefer Nirvana too): “If Pavement’s songs were the air-conditioned stacks at the main library, Nirvana’s were the fight behind the bleachers: one set of problems was theoretical and subject to will; the other was entirely real and unmanageable.” []

In Frere-Jones’s analysis Pavement got rid of its initial “static” and that’s what made them into an “amiable bunch” goofing around. Goofing around sounds Dionysian perhaps in the sense that it’s messy, where-as Nirvana never had that feeling to me, it always seemed incredibly driven. But at the same time there’s something much messier about Nirvana to me, the place we arrive at is much messier, more violent. The mess seems perhaps too intentional in Pavement. It seems clever in a very kind of “American heterosexual male” kind of way: they’re never hysterical, sometimes sentimental or sad, but never acting out. A lot of indie rock seems this way to me.

And a lot of contemporary poetry.

OFten when I read journals and such I think: a lot of these people write such good poems, but they write as if nobody ever killed themselves. I’m not saying that should be the end-all criteria for poetry! Just saying: That idea pops into my head sometimes.

A tiny observation which may not have anything to do with this argument: Around South Bend, IN, I often see these ratty-as-hell looking kids on their shitty bikes and they often wear Nirvana shirts, and they’re either too fat or too skinny, and they shop at the Hot Topic at the mall, and they’ve definitely been beaten up behind the bleachers.


7 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Also, I love the school high-school metaphors of Frere-Jones’s analogy.


  2. Jacob Wren

    An unsupportable post deserves an unsupportable response…

    Pavement seemed important to me in the nineties and feel unimportant to me now. Nirvana seemed popular in the nineties and feel unimportant to me now.

    I think it’s telling you say “they write as if nobody ever killed themselves” and not as if nobody was ever killed in war, or nobody was every shot in the street, or nobody ever died of starvation, or died trying to unionize a factory, or died working in a sweatshop. It’s all still so much about the self, both what you’re reacting against and what you’re proposing.

    I don’t claim to escape this narcissism. I feel I am completely in it. But I think poetry would be more interesting if it did try engage with the larger world in an more ongoing fashion. I don’t know how this is possible or who is doing this exactly. But I think it is the question.

    I was thinking about Pavement and Nirvana and suddenly I started thinking about Jay-Z. (I don’t know what I mean by this exactly, maybe only that Jay-Z’s narcissism is more explicit.)

  3. Johannes

    I totally agree with the war/execution thing. The two don’t seem entirely different to me.

  4. John Dermot Woods


    It’s really interesting that you bring up Jay-Z. Have you hear THE SLACK ALBUM, the mash-up of SLANTED AND ENCHANTED with Jay-Z’s BLACK ALBUM? I’ve listened to it a few times over the past few years and really enjoyed the sound combination on a few tracks (esp. “Zurich Your Shoulder”), but last week, I listened to it in my car and it went through the whole album twice, and Jay-Z’s lyrics came to the front of my consciousness. I found it completely alienating, I had to stop. It seemed so less expansive than what Malkmus and the rest are doing.

    I know Malkmus has often given direct credit to Ashbery, and there is something similar in Ashbery’s work and Pavement’s music. The openness is what keeps me coming back. I’d be interested in what you think about this, Johannes.

    Also, Johannes, I’m interested in how likely you are to listen to either of the bands these days. (I’m still quite likely to listen to any number of Pavement songs/albums; I can’t think of a time when I’d drop the digital needle on NEVERMIND.)

  5. Johannes

    I admit I don’t spend a lot of time listening to either. One line of Pavement’s keeps coming back: “School’s out, what did you expect.” Don’t know why.

    Both Nirvana and Pavement are very literary bands. I actually taught Ashbery today and referenced Pavement and such bands.


  6. Laura

    Oh we are not, not, not, not, not REALLY wondering which group of white boys was the band of the 90s, are we? tell me this whole post&comment collection is just a joke…

  7. Johannes Göransson

    Kind of. But I was thinking of it more as a discussion of “messiness.”