Certain Songs #1479: Pavement – “Summer Babe (Winter Version)”

Album: Slanted and Enchanted
Year: 1992

Every time I sit around I find I’m shot

This is where I came in. Despite the fact that Pavement hailed from only about 100 miles or so north from Fresno — making them the greatest band to come from the San Joaquin Valley (sorry, Miss Alans) — I hadn’t heard of them until the critical buzz surrounding Slanted and Enchanted hit like a truck barreling down Highway 99.

That might have been different had I still been at KFSR — those early EPs probably made it there — but I left the radio station in 1989, and spent the next couple years slightly less focused on discovering new music until 1991’s insanity dragged me back to it. So while Slanted and Enchanted came out in April of 1992, I didn’t get around to buying until that awful July, probably based upon Robert Christgau’s review in The Village Voice, and without having heard a single note they’d ever made.

So I really had no idea what to expect when I popped Slanted and Enchanted into the CD player and “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” came out. Probably the first thing I noticed was the guitars continually seemed to be trying to pull each other apart while the drummer refused to keep a straight beat, either rolling on his snare during the backbeat, or refusing to hit it all together in favor playing triplets on his hi-hat. This gave “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” a weird stop-start quality; like it was a drunk wandering home at 4:00 AM. Which in the awful summer of 1992 I could totally relate to.

At some point, the noise somewhat subsided, a guy started laconically singing, and the first word he sang on a song called “Summer Babe” was “Ice, baby,” a jokey reference to a recent hit song.

Ice, baby
I saw your girlfriend, and she was
Eating her fingers like they’re just another meal
But she waits there
In the levee washes
Mixin’ cocktails with a plastic-tipped cigar

Wait. What? But of course, by this time the guitars have swelled up again, though the drummer still refuses to keep a steady beat, still careening every which way, almost playing peek-a-boo with the guitars, and here comes the singer, still refusing to emote, even if he at least gave a clue to who he was and where he was from.

My eyes stick to all the shiny robes
You wear on the protein delta strip
In an abandoned houseboat
I will wait there
I’ll be waiting forever
I’m waitin’, waitin’, waitin’, waitin’
Waitin’, waitin’, waitin’, waitin’

But then something weird happens: the singer — either “S.M.” or “Stairs” or “Young” based upon the credits on the back cover — shouts “Go!” and one of the guitars takes off into a solo, a solo that goes on longer that you might originally expect, swirling and swooping around the rest of the song, striking the same balance between beauty and atonality that the rest of the song seems to be aiming for, and then with no warning it crashes in upon itself, and the singer finally has some emotion.

Minerals, ice deposit daily
Drop off the first shiny robe
I’ve got a lot of things I want to sell, but
Not here, babe!
Don’t gooooooooooooo!

Meanwhile, a normal person might be asking what any of this has to do with a song called “Summer Babe,” but instead, I was digging how long the singer held the note on “don’t goooooooooooo,” and how utterly melodic it is, which then segues into the singer joined by yet another singer and they’re not-quite-harmonizing on an entirely new lyric.

Every time I sit around, I find I’m shot
Every time I sit around, I find I’m shot
Every time I turn around I find
Every time I sit around I find
Every time, every time, every time
Every time, every time, every time
You’re my

Summer babe
Summer babe
Summer babe
Summer babe

Finally!! The summer babe makes her appearance! Just in time for the song to end.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about them at the time, but at this point Pavement was just Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kanneberg — billed at the time as “S.M” and “Spiral Stairs” — joined by drummer Gary Young, in whose basement they recored nearly all of Slanted and Enchanted, and I think all of that contributed to the almost aggressive compactness of the sound.

“Summer Babe (Winter Version)” is practically mono, especially the guitars, and the contrast between the prettiness of the tunes and the squall and compression of the sound was truly fascinating. And it was just the beginning.

“Summer Babe”

“Summer Babe” performed live at Glastonbury, 1999

“Summer Babe” performed live in Roskilde, 2010

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