PRINT April 2020


Stephen Malkmus

Portland, Oregon–based Stephen Malkmus is a songwriter, singer, and guitarist best known for his work with Pavement. His third solo album, Traditional Techniques, was released last month by Matador Records.


    I grew up in Stockton and still “feel” it in that visceral, nostalgic teenage way that I guess you’d call having a sense of place. It’s a tough, inland-valley town, a bit beat up by capital, where agriculture rules. Nobody put on airs in Stockton—San Francisco and Los Angeles were the fancy places.

    If I dig a writer or a band and find out they grew up in Central California, it makes me appreciate ’em even more. It’s a little like selecting famous people with your star sign and forming a cool gang in your mind.

    Here are ten greats from the Valley: Kara Walker, Greta Gerwig, Death Grips, Chris Isaak, Leonard Gardner (author of Fat City [1969]; the 1972 movie adaptation is great too), Herb Caen, Joan Didion, Public Nuisance (a garage-psych band from the ’60s), Cornel West, and Dave Brubeck.

    *Stockton, California, 1982.* Photo: Constantine Manos/Magnum Photos. Stockton, California, 1982. Photo: Constantine Manos/Magnum Photos.

    I can’t say it’s the best thing on earth; in fact, it’s a major time-suck. But if I’m being (selectively) honest here, I spend a fair amount of time on Twitter. You’ve gotta pick one form of social media—the art world is Team Instagram, right? I’m hooked on people like Aaron Maté, Michael Tracey, and Caitlin Johnstone, all neo-muckrakers who found a platform on the website outside of the Mainstream Corporate Media. Whether or not you subscribe to their politics, I think you will agree they are “good at Twitter.”

    *Screenshot of a February 26, 2020, tweet by Michael Tracey.* Screenshot of a February 26, 2020, tweet by Michael Tracey.

    It’s a bit of a posh sport—there’s always some fancy German car parked next to the court at tournaments and Swiss watches up the wazoo—and the “rugged individualism” of the tennis pro is the last message our world needs. But I can’t help crushing on some of the players (Stefanos Tsitsipas, for one), and the women’s game is on fire right now. Plus, I gotta get some exercise and I can’t stand gyms. Check out Racquet magazine, which magnificently fetishizes the sport with its great layout and ample vintage-tennis hagiography.

    *Cover of _Racquet,_ no. 7 (Summer 2018).* Cover of Racquet, no. 7 (Summer 2018).

    She’s a badass. There’s not much more to say. Iconic.

    *Ilhan Omar, Washington, DC, June 24, 2019.* Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/Epa-Efe/Shutterstock. Ilhan Omar, Washington, DC, June 24, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/Epa-Efe/Shutterstock.

    Justine is a photographer. Call her a certain type: the Lower East Side doyenne–art genius (David Wojnarowicz and John Kelsey also come to mind). A genuine Seeker of Something and a ferocious teacher, Justine always has some intense new angle on her art and a bunch of crazy stories about her forays on the road.

    *Justine Kurland, _One Red, One Blue,_ 2001,* C-print. Justine Kurland, One Red, One Blue, 2001, C-print.

    A quaint Gen X kink: to trip out with A Thousand Plateaus. Useful Leisure Time instead of Netflix, Twitter, and rock biographies. The book is more like literature than like philosophy, maybe because of Brian Massumi’s translation and the digressive syntax. The notion of “arborescent” versus “rhizomatic” thinking is easy enough to grasp and a cool way to look at the world.

    *Cover of the 1999 edition of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s 1987 _A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia_* (University of Minnesota Press, 1999). Cover of the 1999 edition of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s 1987 A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

    Taleb is pretty macho. I bet a lot of you would be grossed out by his supreme confidence—he can come across as a venture capitalist from hell. But the concepts he popularized, Black Swan theory and antifragility, ring true to me, or at the very least provide perspective. He also hates Monsanto and thinks IQ tests are bullshit.

  8. MONOS (Alejandro Landes, 2019)

    On the surface, this movie has a Lord of the Flies vibe, but it’s stranger and more unpredictable; I was pleasantly bewildered the whole time. I would totally read an essay (on my phone in the bath) comparing Monos to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite—you know, world cinema and capitalism and what it all means.

    *Alejandro Landes, _Monos,_ 2019,* 2K video, color, sound, 103 minutes. Perro (Paul Cubides). Production still. Photo: Jasper Wolf. Alejandro Landes, Monos, 2019, 2K video, color, sound, 103 minutes. Perro (Paul Cubides). Production still. Photo: Jasper Wolf.

    Parish is a record producer and musician from the UK. He’s best known for his work with PJ Harvey, but he’s also done great stuff with Aldous Harding and This Is the Kit. I like the way his records sound—old-school and warm and deadly serious, but not too Boomerish.

    *John Parish and PJ Harvey, Somerset, England, 2009.* Photo: Cat Stevens/Camera Press/Redux. John Parish and PJ Harvey, Somerset, England, 2009. Photo: Cat Stevens/Camera Press/Redux.

    First of all, the Carole King album is sweet. I also like the idea of “carpets on the walls” to keep the castle or church warm and provide some cool, labor-intensive images for people to admire at the same time. A rug too special to walk on, a tapestry turns a room on its side. I wish they’d put them on ceilings as well, but those were probably vaulted, leaky, and too hard to reach!

    *Print depicting Gobelin tapestries, Linderhof Palace, Ettal, Germany, ca. 1890–1900.* Print depicting Gobelin tapestries, Linderhof Palace, Ettal, Germany, ca. 1890–1900.