Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks “Out of Reaches”

My favorite song on the excellent Real Emotional Trash — a beautiful dirgy ballad that recalls some of Pavement’s more crushingly melancholy moments. I’ve been puzzling out what it’s about. I did a blog search and only came up with one person who really tried to interpret it, suggesting some persuasive-seeming ideas about the whole album being (possibly autobiographically) about “familial anomie” and a marriage in trouble (“taking out the wife,” “daddy’s on the run”).

The song seems to be about an affair with a woman who believes in signs & portents, astrology and tarot (or maybe it’s the marriage, not an affair). “You’ve got omens that are tailor-made for every situation that you’re conjuring… So pull your little crystal from the boulevard.” This made me think of that great Go-Betweens song “The House Jack Kerouac Built:” “With your kittens on the patchwork quilt,/ Oh no, what am I doing here, in the house jack kerouac built./ There’s white magic, and bad rock’n’roll,/ Your friend there says, he’s the gatekeeper to my soul./ The velvet curtains/ The chinese bell/ With friends like these; you’re damned as well./ Keep me away from her.” I always took that to be a kind of anti-scuzzy-rock-and-roll song and a statement of purpose on the part of the Go-Betweens, a pop band in the heart of Stooges-loving Australia. Also a song about distrust of bohemia in a certain guise (linked with self-destructive behavior and stupid aesthetics).

That doesn’t seem to be what’s going on in Malkmus’s song, though; maybe the mockery of the crystals and omens is just incidental. The song and maybe the album definitely seem to be about intimacy and its failures. On the one hand, “gale force intimacy/ every time I get some I feel oh so near,” but on the other, the title phrase: “out of reaches.” Given that Malkmus repeats the latter phrase many times, you end up feeling that this sense of intimacy with the witchy woman blew in and then out again like a passing storm, leaving him (/the singer) frozen and sad, out of reach. “Point me in the direction of your real emotional trash.” And of course there’s the other devastating (albeit bouncy) chorus, “I am a cold…. son.” Some kind of male father/son/husband guilt coursing through the album.

On the other hand, a lot of it is just funny, catchy, and silly too (“Gardenia”).

Oh and be sure to check out the hilarious Malkmus interview on Fox TV.

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