A cricket in the McDonald’s parking lot told me to listen to American Water for the rest of the drive. I’ve been listening to it almost weekly this year for some reason.
My parents live in the country and there’s an impossibly long, straight and featureless road on the route where time stretches out and becomes liquid. It’s as long or as short as your wits, forcing you through the same motions every time. “Are we there yet?” With a conversation it speeds by, but in the dark, with Jen and the dog asleep, it was just me and DB.
Last night it was as long as American Water. A half moon to the south the colour of yogurt darts behind clouds pushed jarringly fast by what’s left of the days August winds. Reflectors on the taillights of sleeping pickup trucks whip by, the outline of a barn, a fluorescent chicken farm during the last feed of the day.
Malkmus doesn’t get enough credit as a guitar player. He dove into a trove of unseen pickin’ licks, contorted by his years of scrawny, velcro playing in Pavement. Sometimes its a staccato yellow center line, sometimes it’s a smooth white, keeping you from the gravel shoulder and the ditch beyond.
In the night you can’t trust your vision on this road. Your brights seem to make it worse. You just grip and stay between the guitar lines.
DB combined a set of tools like nobody else: he was a keen observer and empath, maybe better than anyone. Even when sneering—attacking the mundane evil of America—he was never smug. He never wrote a “Southern Man”. He always seemed to have lived it, or at very least absorbed his observations enough so he could project them through a lens of empathy.
Headlights from miles behind you still shine into the rear view. Sometimes they seem closer, tailgating you in the mist, bouncing around the road. And then they recede to a single point but never turn or fade.
Water is the one I know the best. It was the first one I heard and I’ve listened to it more times than all the others combined. That’s okay, because there’s a lifetime of lessons in its songs. It’s the funniest and most fun, a document of some levity that obviously left his life.
Eventually you cross a county line, the speed limit becomes 90 clicks and you can open it up.