Generation X has always seemed the embodiment of Groucho Marx’s dictum about not wanting to join of any club that would have him as a member. That goes double for Stephen Malkmus, Gen X’s aging slacker princeling, son of a Coca Cola middle man, the man Courtney Love called the Grace Kelly of Indie Rock. As leader of Pavement, Malkmus spent the better part of the 90s zigging whenever his fanbase zagged, and the better part of the past decade cranking out the kind of wanky, Asbergerian solo records that scare off women and try men’s souls. The pretty, wryly-observed pop songs of his last two albums, 2011’s Mirror Traffic and the new Wig Out At Jagbags, marks a welcome return to effortless likability. There are two prevailing schools of thought about Malkmus’s prowess as a songwriter. The first holds that Malkmus has a well-earned rep as indie-rock’s great wit, a wry observer of the exigencies of white upper middle class privilege, a Gen. X icon for people who still read dead tree books and blow their disposable income on obscure vinyl pressings of second- and third-tier Krautrock also rans. The second holds he’s just making it up as he goes along, that his song lyrics are nothing more than stream of consciousness babble, inside jokes and stoner logic, and that his true thoughts and emotions remain forever walled off behind a smirking ironic remove.
Back in 2011, I asked him if he thinks his songs really “mean a lot,” or are they mostly just words with the right vowel sounds to carry the melody? “To me, rock lyrics are projection, a revenge fantasy, a fantastical pose, an imagined victory,” he says. “For me, it’s what can I get over on the world, and sometimes it’s just joking around. Humor is important, really important. It’s the only inroad to the mainstream that someone like me could make. As for what songs mean, they’re just words. Nobody knows what they mean.” I asked him why, some 10 years after, Pavement can sell out several-thousand capacity amphitheaters despite a hefty ticket price while the Jicks play rooms a fraction of the size, for a fraction of the price. His response boils down to: What else did you expect? This is the standard downwardly-mobile trajectory of a golden indie-rock career in its second decade. Eventually, your audience grows up, and out of you — or at least out of buying albums and going to shows. Now they go to restaurants. They have kids and mortgages and middle-aged crises to worry about. Plus, there’s more competition these days — music scene’s crazy, bands start up each and every day.
“Young people these days are finding their own bands to identify with,” he says. “I don’t think they are necessarily looking for someone our age.” If you are at or around that Malkmus-ian age, or, contrary to what the man himself thinks, i.e. you are a young person who can identify with the Jicks tip, have we got good news for you. We have a couple pairs of tickets to see Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks at the TLA tomorrow night. To qualify, all you have to do is sign up for our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us, this is something you want to do. In addition to breaking news alerts and Phawker updates, you also get advanced warning about groovy concert ticket giveaways and other free swag opportunities like this one! After signing up, send us an email at FEED@PHAWKER.COM telling us a much, with the words JENNY & THE ESS DOG in the subject line. If you are already on our mailing list, just send us an email saying as much. Either way, please include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed! — JONATHAN VALANIA