Box Elder – Pavement (1989, Treble Kicker Records)
In 1989, in the middle of an English class, my friend Jason was asked to read a page or two from whatever Shakespeare book we were reading at the time. He ploughed in, giving it gusto and character. Suddenly, the teacher, a frightening old spinster held together by coffee, hairspray and tweed, stops him mid sentence and tells him he is reading the wrong page, “Pages 32, Chapter 3…” she snaps.
In four seconds, Jason went from being a slightly insignificant lad to being a shoo in for the next class captain because he just looked at the teacher and said “Oh, Fuck, sorry”, to gasps and generally gapes of amazement, I’m pretty sure one of the cool girls, moved her chair a foot closer to Jason. We all expected Jason to be thrown in the school dungeon for at least a week but the spinster barely batted an eyelash and asked him to carry on. Pandemonium ensued (silently), has she heard…? Was swearing now ok in the classroom?
With five minutes to go, the spinster told us to put down our books and she said “Many of you will be wondering, why I didn’t punish Jason for his cussing earlier” eager nods from the room, Nick, the class spanner, rubbed his hands expecting a very public dressing down for Jason. The spinster continued “It was because his swearing was unintentional and most importantly, like all forms of acceptable swearing, subtly unexpected, almost like Jason forgot where he was.” The spinster suddenly went up in everyone’s estimations, until three minutes later she gave us all an essay to do on the use of ‘Cussing and Cursing’ in ‘The Merchant of Venice’.
The swearing in ‘Box Elder’ by Pavement is brilliantly unexpected, coming at the end of a catchy chorus all about escaping a dead end town. It’s so well done that like Jason, Malkmus seems to have forgotten that the tapes are rolling. It’s brilliant because when he utters the curse, you know, just how awful life must be and that’s why he needs to go to Box Elder, MO. But its so fleeting so ambivalently done that it just makes you smile with pleasure.
‘Box Elder’ is taken from Pavement’s very first EP, the wonderful and if you can find a copy on vinyl, valuable, ‘Slay Tracks (1933 – 1969)’ and it marked the arrival of not only the band as one who are destined for greater things but also highlighted Malkmus’ talent as a songwriter.
Slay Tracks had four other songs on it, all of them are essential but ‘You’re Killing Me’ is probably the best of the bunch and of course, The Wedding Present made ‘Box Elder famous before Pavement really had a chance to but they left the swearing out.
You’re Killing Me – Pavement (1989, Treble Kicker Records)
Box Elder – The Wedding Present (1990, RCA Records)