In a Perfect World: Every Band Would Have a Bob Nastanovich
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 13, 2008
I’ve got a message for you
Want to save rock and roll? The music industry? The economy? He might not look like it, but Bob Nastanovich is the key. As the odd man out in 90s indie rock stalwarts Pavement (or, if you’d like, The Fifth Pavement), Nastanovich and his group provided an example that all rock bands in their wake should have followed, though few actually chose to do so. But if the millions of groups tooling around in their garages and recording studios right now took the time and expense to find themselves an extra member to fill in all the little gaps missing in their sound, personality and performance, all would certainly increase their sales close to exponentially, while giving much-needed employment and time occupation to millions of directionless and largely talentless slackers. Rock/music industry/economic crisis solved.
Think of a band as an NBA team. (Hey, I said I’d be writing about sports less, I didn’t say anything about sports analogies). Having a good starting five (or four, as the case may warrant) is the most important thing, sure, but you need some sort of relief coming off the bench, right? Someone to spell your starters a little, someone to keep their cool under times of enormous pressure, someone to do all the little things right and keep your team in the game until it’s time for the starters to swoop back in and do their thing. Not the most naturally gifted guy on your team, sure, and not the guy who’s going to get the big endorsements or the magazine covers, but maybe the most composed, and certainly one of the most essential. Going by those standards, Bob Nastanovich was basically the James Posey of 90s North American indie rock.
You know your favorite Pavement song? Yeah, that one, the catchy one with the enigmatic lyrics and the out-of-tune guitar and weird outro. Well, it wouldn’t be half as good without Bob Nastanovich. “Rattled By the Rush”? Who do you think it is doing the monotone title chant at the end? “Silence Kit”? That classic rock cowbell certainly isn’t pounding itself. “Summer Babe”? Do I really need to talk about the three-note hi-hat punctuation mark at the end of each measure? Basically, whenever you hear a Pavement song and can’t immediately mark it as being performed by Malkmus, Kannenberg, Ibold or West(/Young), chances are it’s Nastanovich all over. What’s he doing the rest of the time? Who knows? Who fucking cares? Songs are barely even songs without those little fill-in parts, and how many bands can claim to have one guy behind nearly all of ’em? I even read a SPIN back-cover article a while back talking about how Nastanovich was the most important member of the band, which is probably true and almost certainly false.
And as much of the Pavements of the world need their Nastanoviches, the Nastanoviches of the world badly need their Pavements. Some people aren’t songwriters, aren’t virtuosos, aren’t even really musicians by any true measure. They’re just the guys who can hear an already completed song and say to themselves “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…?” In other words, they’re absolutely nothing on their own. They can’t even claim to be a core enough member to start or organize a band themselves–they need previously existing bands to ask them to join up. Now, in exchange for not really contributing to the songwriting or processes or expending their full energy on stage, they should also probably have to fill in other miscellaneous roles in the band, as Nastanovich did–peacekeeper, coin-flipper, lighter-carrier, to name a few–and that’s fair enough. But imagine if that creative-minded-but-not-specifically-creative cousin of yours got offered a role in a band in which he performed no specific function but was nonetheless a critical member of the group. It’d have to make his life, right?
It’s the right thing to do. You could even sign ’em like free agents if your band had a problem with their original. Hell, you could make a temp agency for ’em if you got enough applicants, which you certainly would. And name me a band that wouldn’t be improved by some additional backing vocals, cowbell and lighter-security?