PREVIOUSLY: I’m driving Stephen Malkmus’ car. In America, that’s tantamount to possessing someone’s soul. But wait, it gets better: I’m listening to Slanted And Enchanted—make that Malkmus’ copy of Slanted And Enchanted—and it sounds great as I tool down the sun-kissed streets of Portland, Ore., with the windows down and the stereo up. There’s a parking ticket flapping beneath the windshield wiper—and it bores me. I look around at all the people, and I just don’t care. Not a care, really, in the world. I am, for a moment, Stephen Malkmus, fortunate son. Listen to me, I’m on the stereo.
Actually, I’m driving Malkmus’ girlfriend’s car. Which you would know is even better if you’ve ever seen his girlfriend. Her name is Heather Larimer, and she’s beautiful and bright and 28. She was a cheerleader and she has a master’s degree in creative writing—a major-league summer babe (AOL Keyword: Babia Majora). By the time you read this, you may have already seen her singing in Malkmus’ new band, the Jicks. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up.
I’m driving Malkmus’ girlfriend’s car because I’ve come to Portland to find out what it means to be Stephen Malkmus (AOL Keyword: Laconic), and the first thing he wants to do is get a friggin’ battery for his car. It’s a 1989 Acura Legend, and it’s been stranded for months in front of his former apartment up in the rich, old-money part of town. Up here, on this faintly Olympian perch where even modest homes list for $300,000, we sit waiting for the AAA guy. Malkmus, the man Courtney Love called “the Grace Kelly of indie rock,” doesn’t want to be interviewed yet, and it isn’t like I know him from Adam; for that matter, after spending three days with him, I will still not really know him from Adam. Aside from a bit of strained small talk, my first half hour or so in the company of one of indie rock’s most acclaimed wordsmiths is spent in silence, watching him clean out his trunk. A soggy copy of an old income-tax form. A Thin Lizzy album. A rumpled suit bag and battered dress shoes, probably last worn to the funeral of his friend Robert Bingham (author of a collection of short stories called Pure Slaughter Value and heir to a publishing fortune). Bingham died from a heroin overdose in the fall of 1999. “I don’t think he was really that into it,” Malkmus will tell me later. “I think he just tried it with this girl … ” The rest of the thought trails off in deference to the privacy of the dead. MORE