The Final Velvet Nail in Pavement’s Coffin

The only remaining parallel left to establish between Pavement and The Velvet Underground was drawn (for me) on September, 18th, 2010, at the Agganis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts. The legacy of Pavement, having broken up in 1999, was the only open question for the band, as their critical darlinghood and even-at-their-peak obscure status was already fact-checked and confirmed.

Someone once said, and probably more than once and by more than one person, that everyone who bought a copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico formed a band. Kids today still listen to VU despite zero MTV presence, proving that the organic influence of cool older kids keeping great music alive by word of mouth and example can still compete with cynical and market driven forces.

Let’s do the math. The Velvet Underground & Nico charted at 171st, and Pavement’s best selling album 121st (that translates to a paltry 237 000 copies world wide). In other words, both bands barely registered on the cultural radar when they were still together. On September 18th, 2010, a reunified Pavement sold out the 8000 seat Agganis Arena.

The kids must be listening to Pavement. Pavement played clubs and not arenas when they were still producing new records, and in the week following the Boston show they were due to play four nights in Central Park in NYC. I doubt a single commercial radio station lent a hand.

So, if the word parallel had any ‘Ts’ or ‘Is’ they could be crossed and dotted with confidence when speaking of Pavement and The Velvet Underground, if the comparison wasn’t obvious enough already to anyone who has ever listened to them.


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25 Responses to “The Final Velvet Nail in Pavement’s Coffin”

  1. sarah Says:

    stop me if this is mere japery but,
    i don’t even understand why you would want to draw a parallel. the velvet underground was a band that consisted of innovators who changed rock and roll forevers. the same can not be said of pavement.
    they’re good, but not pivotal.

  2. rockrobinoff Says:

    i beg to differ. look at the (countless) imitators they spawned. you can hear “pavementisms” in indie rock to this day. weezer owes their career to pavement, with their stadium rocking up of the pavement skronk skronk guitar. the later half of blur is decidedly pavementy as well.

    hell.. halifax’s own state champs were basically a pavement cover band.

  3. sarah Says:

    don’t get me wrong, i like pavement. i have a brighten the corners binge at least twice a year

    but pavement were clearly aping the fall, television vu and rem most arts are fundamentally derivative in nature, but i just fail to see how pavement was as groundbreaking as vu. i could see you making an arguement like this for the likes of the pixies or maybe even sonic youth (although their enduring prolificy, i think, is starting to dwarf vu’s) but pavement were/are good, just not one of the greats.

  4. rockrobinoff Says:

    i think we are going to have to agree to disagree… however, i would like to posit that by the time 1991 rolled, it was essentially impossible to be as groundbreaking as VU and still be called a rock and roll band. they had the necessary advantage of existing 20 years previous.

    i cant possibly argue that pavement were as fundamental as VU were/are (hell, they basically invented indie rock). however, can you name a more relevant indie rock outfit than pavement from the whole of the 1990s?

  5. rockrobinoff Says:

    “Sonic Youth is an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1981.”

    “The Pixies are an American alternative rock band that formed in Boston in 1986.”

  6. sarah Says:

    and i think music snobs would say jesus lizard..

  7. rockrobinoff Says:

    sonic youth’s groundbreaking period was passed by 1990… Goo was released that year. but sister and daydream nation were 80s records, and i dont think many would argue against that being their heydey. in my estimation, sonic youth belong with the cure, joy division, and the pixies in terms of eras. as for pavement, i think sebadoh and nirvana.

  8. sarah Says:

    does that mean you’re going to try and call nirvana an 80’s band?

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      no, as their most significant records came out in the 90s…

      i dont mean to be pedantic, but dont you agree that sonic youth is an 80s band?

      • sarah Says:

        no way. they are a music/art tour de force that have kept innovating and experimenting, supporting and inspiring. i’ll admit i’m biased for them because i feel a lot of indie music is just the same pop songs we’ve been listening to for the last 40 years. that can be said of pavement, nirvana, and most indie bands, but sonic youth has worked outside of that same old formula, to great success and acclaim. goo may not have numbered among their most interesting albums, but their contributions by no means ended in the 80’s. pull out murray st., sonic nurse, or the whitey album. they’re amazing.

  9. rockrobinoff Says:

    i agree about sonic youth in as much as i dont think have released a bad record. that said, i wouldnt characterize pavement as an indie-pop band recycling tired 60s hooks. transport is arranged? stereo? grounded? are these not stellar tracks both unique and catchy?

    • sarah Says:

      they are great songs. i know all the words.

      but pop music hasn’t changed a whole lot since it’s inception and these songs all play within the standard pop formula. nothing to be embarrassed or shameful about. chess has certain constraints but still a worthy pursuit, right?

      • rockrobinoff Says:

        those songs play within a standard pop formula? i dont see how you can make such a claim. perhaps our terms arent matching up, for when i think pop i think “you really got me” or “smells like teen spirit”, not strange tunings and odd time signatures and from left field segues.

  10. sarah Says:

    pavement were 90’s indie rock gods. no argument here.
    were they the velvet underground of their time? no fucking way. but i will happily concede that they were influential and awesome.
    for what it’s worth.

    • sarah Says:

      (couldn’t figure out how to reply in the right place)

      i can see where you’re coming from, but pavement is not a band that i would ever call ground breaking. even fugazi, who’s time signature tomfoolery was much more abrasive and apparent have their peripheral place in the popular music canon (not trying to say fugazi was anything other than legendary, just not many top 40 hits). these are just musical techniques that still work in a pop song format..

      “The main medium of pop music is the song, often between two and a half and three and a half minutes in length, generally marked by a consistent and noticeable rhythmic element, a mainstream style and a simple traditional structure.[15] Common variants include the verse-chorus form and the thirty-two-bar form, with a focus on melodies and catchy hooks, and a chorus that contrasts melodically, rhythmically and harmonically with the verse.[16] The beat and the melodies tend to be simple, with limited harmonic accompaniment.[17] The lyrics of modern pop songs typically focus on simple themes – often love and romantic relationships – although there are notable exceptions.”

      think of it this way, would you really try to argue that pet sounds is any less for being a record of pop songs?

      • rockrobinoff Says:

        i agree that pet sounds is both a pop record and a great one, but would also agrue that pavement largely *doesnt* fit the above definition of a pop song (though they of course sometimes do).

        we might be speaking at cross purposes here. its almost as if you are shouting “cut your hair” and i am shouting “fight this generation”

  11. rockrobinoff Says:

  12. sarah Says:

    “infooormer, skedekeydekkey-doo.. you don’t know that guy?”

    i just have to say it: the replacements.

    you’re probably right. it’s just overall, when i reach for pavement it’s not a challenging esoteric listen. even though vu has been more or less history for going on 30 years, songs like heroin are still a lot less accessible than anything pavement have ever done. it’s no failing on pavement’s part. they are not experimental, for me they are familia: pop, genus: indie.

    as i see it, it’s more than just the historical moorings that separate pavement and velvet underground. if pavement had existed in a similar time frame as vu they would be more like the kinks, quirky, catchy, literate pop. if vu were a 90’s band.. well they’d still be vu (mostly because that’s a preposterous proposition to begin with).

    i think what you’re really gunning for here, overall, is that pavement are all things superlative, the comparison to vu is just a way to commend them. so i feel kind of like a dick for for my exuberant “is not!”. they’re good, in fact i may well get “hesitate you die” on my tombstone.

    i think the people that probably most Merritt a comparison to vu are probably artists not even vaguely affiliated with indie music. someone like, but yet not (lord forgive me) lady gaga. i think vu amalgamated art/performance with popular music in a new way and i think with all this new fangled media business someone’s going to reinvent the wheel yet again.

    it just wasn’t/isn’t/won’t be pavement.

  13. rockrobinoff Says:

    i can’t accept your basic premise that pavement were primarily an indie pop band and VU were not. waiting for the man, sunday morning, can’t stand it, rock n’ roll, white light white heat, here comes the sun, sweet jane, stephanie says, what goes on,… i could go on and on? yes, i must admit that VU were more willing to experiment, but by and large they were: familia: pop, genus: indie.

    “i think what you’re really gunning for here, overall, is that pavement are all things superlative, the comparison to vu is just a way to commend them.”

    anything but, i think pavement simply sound like VU. don’t you? the careers match up as well. you might think them less pivotal or groundbreaking or whatevs, but when it came to inspiring indie kids, there is a profoundly similar matchup between the two bands.

  14. rockrobinoff Says:

    i also think i could construct a pavement mixtape, album length, that no one would call danceable and catchy indie pop.

  15. sarah Says:

    1) my dancable headbopper of a pavement mix tape would be three times the length of yours. size matters.

    2) if i had to state my overblown convoluted premise in a simple way it would be: pavement is a-ok. solid band, good material. but comparing them to vu is like saying that besides a few million years of evolution a salamander is exactly like a tyrannosaurus rex. similarities, yes. in the same way the velvet underground has influenced lots of great (and not so great) musicians. i guess it means your premise is fairly true. but hardly singular.

    i should really brush up on what “simplify” means.

  16. rockrobinoff Says:

    pavement are a *special* band, not a solid band with good material. sebadoh were a solid band. dinosaur junior were a solid band. yo la tengo are a solid band. but pavement were *so distinctive sounding* and *spawned so many imitators* that i dont think it is possible to categorize them the way you do. if VU are a T-Rex, then Pavement are a Pterodactyl. Not as iconic, or as powerful, but shit dude, they could fly.

  17. sarah Says:

    ah. see here’s the crux of our dispute, you feel the way about pavement that i do about dinosaur jr and yo la tengo, and while i am deeply silly and right in vitutally everything that i do and think, no way am i going to try and argue that my sentimental favorites are from the proverbial jurassic and cretaceous periods when they are clearly from the cenozoic period of the indie rock canon.

    see what i did there?

  18. rockrobinoff Says:

    next thing you are going to tell me is that mudhoney are from the precambrian.

    also: nuhuh.

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