Where Have All The Great Lyricists Gone?

Last week in a dose of nineties nostalgia I went to see Sonic Youth and Pavement, two of my favorite bands play at the Hollywood Bowl. I walked up Highland Avenue and negotiated a scalper down to thirty bucks for a ticket. My seat was somewhere close to the sky. I took one escalator after another to my section and then walked down as far as I could before I was asked by an usher for a ticket.

The opening band was called No Age, a local band heavy on distortion. At this point the ampitheater was a quarter full. No Age’s music was decent, but did not demand your attention which gave you time to look at the people around you. In the seat in front of me was an overweight middle aged Asian guy. In the row behind me was a bespectacled balding middle aged man who looked like a model for a Daniel Clowes comic book. I began a low scale panic attack. Is this who I am? An aging nerd who can’t get anyone to go see his favorite band with him on a Thursday night?

Sonic Youth was next. They are the great forgotten band in part because they never went away. The six albums they released between 1987- 1995 from Sister to Washing Machine rank up there with just about any band’s discography. Kim Gordon’s breathy voice fighting for space with loud feedback and beautiful melodies is timeless. Much of the music they played at the Hollywood Bowl I recognized which was surprising because I had not listened to any of their last five albums. The Asian guy in front of me probably showed the most enthusiasm of any audience member with his silent picture taking. The now half empty Hollywood Bowl was too enormous a venue for a band whose sound was meant for a grimy downtown club. 

Next up was Pavement. I expressed my love for them on this forum before. When I saw them in April it was their first show in the US in eleven years and had the urgency of a religious revival. This time in a venue with thousands of empty seats and at the tail end of a world tour the energy was lacking. It was nice to hear the old hits, but what excited me more about the last show was hearing the obscurer tunes. The songs I hadn’t expected to hear. Due to noise ordinances Pavement played an abbreviated set. All their weird songs skipped over for their semi-hits. A sixty year old man was loving it, dancing in his flowered shirt with his woman of a similar age. But what finally got me involved wasn’t a song, it was a joke.

The drummer announced, “This next song is ‘Rattled By The Rush'”. Then lead singer, Stephen Malkmus, one of the wittiest lyricists of the twentieth century said, “We’re going to dedicate this song to Matt Leinert.” Unless you’re a football fan you wouldn’t get it, but half the crowd did. The Asian guy chuckled as he zoomed in with his camera and the gawky man behind me sang along to the lyrics.

Oh, that I could bend my tongue outwards
Leave your lungs hurting
Tuckin’ my shirt in
Pants I wear so well
Cross your t shirt smells
Worse than your lyin’
Caught my dad cryin’

I was singing too. Was I to the outside eye also an uncool oddball loner? I more than accepted that I was. I relished in it. These were my people.

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