okay, i should warn you up front that i’m going to talk about pavement. so if you don’t want to read about pavement, or you’re tired of hearing me go on and on about pavement, you should stop reading now. because now i’m going to talk about pavement.

pavement; from stockton, CA; formed in the late 80’s; released independent eps on drag city; recorded epochal first album slanted and enchanted which, on the strength of a pre-release unmarked cassette, became spin magazine’s surprise album of the year for 1992 before it was even released.

they had the unfortunate bad timing to get picked up by the cultural radar at about the same time as the ‘slacker’ concept, which is a misnomer when applied to this band. they more accurately embody sprezzatura, that is, the doing of something gracefully and expertly, but made to look effortless or ‘tossed-off.’ pavement’s guitar workouts, elliptical figures, surf-drenched harmonies, fat chord structures and studied non-sequitors are not the work of amateurs or even savants, but absolute masters.

i happen to personally believe that i hear more evidence in new-millenium rock of pavement’s influence than i do of nirvana’s. nevermind may have rushed in the cultural zeitgeist, but slanted and enchanted was the turtle to kurt cobain’s hair.

listen to pavement: from the john peel sessions after their first album, here’s here (mp3), and from their final album, terror twilight, the lilting spit on a stranger (mp3). these are but bookends to their career. many would choose their sophomore triumph crooked rain, crooked rain as the album of the decade, and they certainly achieved their most commercial success with the single ‘cut your hair’ (video here). i return to brighten the corners with regularity, not only for the back-to-back opening stunners ‘stereo’ (“hey, listen to me, i’m on the stereo stereo, my baby gave me malaria, hysteria”) and ‘shady lane’ (“oh my god, oh your god, oh his god, oh her god, it’s everybody’s god”), but for the best ever hard-rocker about international relations, ’embassy row’ (“…men in dashikis and their leftist weeklies…”).

pavement broke up some number of years ago now, but the two principal songwriters, stephen malkmus and spiral stairs (in that order) went on to solo projects: malkmus heads the jicks, and spiral is now the preston school of industry. for my money, malkmus was always the man behind the music, and his jicks albums get better and better: listen to ‘us‘ and ‘(do not feed the) oysters‘ (both mp3s) from his latest, pig lib. spiral stairs (nee scott kannberg) is releasing a new album, monsoon shortly; he collaborated with wilco on ‘get your crayons out,’ which is an okay track.

matador records plans to re-release crooked rain, crooked rain soon, giving it the deluxe treatment, with all the bells and whistles and extra tracks. if you haven’t ever bit the pavement, that would be a great introduction, i’m sure.

we now return to your regularly scheduled program.

goodness and severity

i don’t know about others, but i find myself again and again concerned with the process of salvation and sanctification and how it must be worked out with fear and trembling. i think of those i know who fall away, who receive god’s great mercy and yet continue in their own way; and of those, a little older, who have told me recently that they are only now coming to understand why paul was so concerned with finishing the race well– because it’s really difficult to do. i can’t escape brokenness in this world. it’s all around us and all over us. it’s the state of man. james innell packer writes eloquently about the need to consider god’s goodness and his severity together if we wish to counter the impact of sin in our world and our lives:

the santa claus theology [god is only benevolent, not severe] carries within itself the seeds of its own collapse, for it cannot cope with the fact of evil… the only way to save the liberal view of god is to dissociate him from [evil] things and to deny that he has any direct relation to them or control over them; in other words, to deny his omnipotence and lordship over his world… thus [the man on the street] is left with a kind of God who means well but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief. when trouble comes, therefore, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it. in this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a god who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in a fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life.” Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993. (p. 160)

and in his recent explanation for walking out of the Anglican Communion:

In 1 Corinthians we find the following, addressed it seems to exponents of some kind of antinomian spirituality:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:9-11, ESV).

To make sure we grasp what Paul is saying here, I pose some questions.

First: What is Paul talking about in this vice list? Answer: Lifestyles, regular behavior patterns, habits of mind and action. He has in view not single lapses followed by repentance, forgiveness, and greater watchfulness (with God’s help) against recurrence, but ways of life in which some of his readers were set, believing that for Christians there was no harm in them. [emphasis mine]

Second: What is Paul saying about these habits? Answer: They are ways of sin that, if not repented of and forsaken, will keep people out of God’s kingdom of salvation. Clearly, self-indulgence and self-service, free from self-discipline and self-denial, is the attitude they express, and a lack of moral discernment lies at their heart.

packer’s chapter on goodness and severity was corrective to me this morning. it ends like this:

appreciate the discipline of god. he is both your upholder and, in the last analysis, your environment. all things come of him, and you have tasted his goodness every day of your life. has this experience led you to repentance and faith in christ? if not, you are trifling with god and stand under threat of his severity. but if, now, he (in whitefield’s phrase) puts thorns in your bed, it is only to awaken you from the sleep of spiritual death– and to make you rise up to seek his mercy.

or if you are a true believer, and he still puts thorns in your bed, it is only to keep you from falling into the somnolence of complacency and to ensure that you ‘continue in his goodness’ by letting your sense of need bring you back constantly in self-abasement and faith to seek his face. this kindly discipline, in which god’s severity touches us for a moment in the context of his goodness, is meant to keep us from having to bear the full brunt of that severity apart from that context. it is a discipline of love, and it must be received accordingly. ‘my son, do not make light of the lord’s discipline’ (heb 12:5) ‘it was good for me to be afflicted so that i might learn your decrees’ (ps 119:71).” (packer, 1993, p. 166)

what shall i render to the lord for all his bounty to me? i will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the lord, i will pay my vows to the lord in the presence of all his people. (ps 116:12-14).

canada, 1979

canada. that’s where the rock is. for example, my personal faves sloan, a four-piece, all of them songwriters. check out between the bridges or navy blues. and on sloan’s label murderrecords, there’s local rabbits. both of ’em mix rock with reflection to great effect.

and there’s this blog’s namesake, joni. plus the absolute loudest concert i’ve ever been to, neil young. and don’t forget bruce cockburn and his masterful poem to the lord from 1979, dancing in the dragon’s jaws.

on another note, i have a thing about music from 1979. what a great year for rock, etc. i think i previously mentioned the clash’s london calling. how about joe jackson’s debut, look sharp? or elvis costello’s armed forces, with “accidents will happen” and “two little hitlers”. ’79 was the year of dylan’s slow train coming and the police’s reggatta de blanc, graham parker’s squeezing out sparks and talking heads’ fear of music. or how about tom petty and the heartbreakers damn the torpedos? many of these albums formed the cornerstones of my musical education, and they lend a sort of mystical quality to 1979 in my mind. there must have been something in the water…