Listen to this song by former Pavement pres Stephen Malkmus. It’s “The Hook” as taken from his 2001 debut album, Stephen Malkmus. To me, it’s one of the most astutely observed songs about being in a band without actually being a song about being in a band. And with plenty of cowbell, too!
In some ways this is kind of a meat-and-potatoes rock song, with Malkmus’ Lou Reedesque spoken-sung vocal and the drums-bass-guitar (and cowbell!) trudging along languidly, with a groove that pulls you right in while not taking away from the story. Yet, this is a story-song, with an additional level at work.
Actually, this isn’t the only song on the record that takes a storytelling approach, and it seems as if the Ray Davies school of songwriting is particularly pervasive, which is nice. Like Davies, Malkmus writes characters very well. And the once-innocent soul captured by Turkish pirates is like an indie-rock take on the Boy’s Own Adventures.
Rock stars and pirates share some similarities, which may be why Johnny Depp decided to base his Captain Jack Sparrow character on a reading of Keith Richards. That connection worked out pretty well. The associations are pretty well established – a gang of men seeking treasure and adventure. That’s rock ‘n’roll. And of course there’s a dark side too, alluded to in the song – “I had to pay the piper with my wedding ring/And I would never see my family again”. That’s another aspect of the whole metaphor – life at sea, life on the road. Things change once you come back.
For more information about Stephen Malkmus, check out stephenmalkmus.com.