“Harness — your hopes to just one person, because you know a harness, is only made for one.” Tell me that isn’t about love. Or marriage. Maybe I’m not right. But I’m sure I could not be wrong. Because seldom are there wrong interpretations when it comes to Stephen Malkmus’ songs. At least that’s what my lit teacher told us in school. Of course, she was talking about poetry then and not about songs written by some semi-obscure slacker from Stockton, California. That line, by the way, is from “Harness Your Hopes,” B-side to a single off Pavement’s 1997 LP, Brighten the Corners.
“That’s a love song?” one might ask. It depends. Are you looking for a love song that is NOT a typical love song? By “typical,” I mean something that goes along the lines of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” or Bon Jovi’s “Always” or Air Supply’s… Wait. Darn it, almost all of their songs fits that category. (Wait, did I just compare Ed Sheeran’s megaplatinum hit to the cheesiest motherf*ckering songs I know? Guess what, I just did.) Going back to my question. If your answer is yes, then yes, it is a love song, or at the very least, it could be. And though the title seems to evoke some kind of Christian inspirational message like Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move” or “Learning to Breath,” the song is mostly non sectarian. Even though there’s a line that goes “Nun is to church as the parrot is to perch,” it’s quickly followed by “And my heart’s wide open truly” which only shows that “heart” is bigger than both “nun” and “church.” It’s definitely a song about love, isn’t it? Not quite or specifically the romantic type, but it is about love.
When you search the internet, you would most likely find Pavement and Stephen Malkmus associated with the words “indie,” “slackers,” and “ironist” but not with the words “love,” “emotions,” or “love song.” You’d never or seldom find the words “love” and “Pavement” in the same sentence (except when some of their fans use the word “love” in forum threads and blogs). And I’m making that exception, that connection, by saying that Pavement, wrote one of the finest love songs of the ’90s. I repeat: Pavement, wrote one of the finest love songs from the ’90s. And it’s called “Spit On A Stranger,” the opening track of their final album, 1999’s Terror Twilight. Hear below.
Gorgeous melodies, right? (God, I love cocaine.) From the first line down to the part where Malkmus sings the high notes on “I’ll be the one that leaves you high…” Heavenly musical arrangements that surpass even the best by The Beatles. The lyrics, well, you couldn’t really tell if it’s really about love (Spit on a stranger? What does it mean?) If only the lyrics could mask the lilting melodies and the delicate arpeggiated chords that tells you it definitely is. (Malkmus, instead of professing love directly, dexterously circles around the subject, like a wordsmith throwing curveballs to intentionally miss his target.) Words could take the circuitous route, but beautiful melodies can’t lie. Somebody even went as far as saying that “spit on a stranger” actually refers to lip-locking, a kiss shared between strangers, or lovers. I don’t know. Whatever. She’s probably right.