When they fall in
They fall in from the roof
They grab on to me tightly
As if I knew the way
When I fight for something
I fight because I care
When I fight with you
I fight but I don't care

Everybody wants the questions to be asked
The questions are the answers
To questions in themselves
Ask me if I really need it
Ask me if you want to get hit
Hit it

Ask me if you want to be...fucked.

Lyrics submitted by WoweeZowee181

Angel Carver Blues/Mellow Jazz Docent Lyrics as written by Stephen Joseph Malkmus Scott Kannberg

Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., WORDS & MUSIC A DIV OF BIG DEAL MUSIC LLC

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Angel Carver Blues/Mellow Jazz Docent song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentLike SM, I also worked as a museum security guard in my early twenties. The tasks are simple: walk around and make sure nobody touches anything (which leaves plenty of time to think up song lyrics). It's not a bad gig, but a guard really isn't expected to know much about art. However, SM did know. He had studied art, made art and was attuned to the creative process in all its attendant pleasures and pains.

    A museum is quite a surreal place. Here are works on display, cultivated from the depths of despair, ecstasy and yearning, stared at by throngs of people who generally don't know what to think of it all. Enter the docent: a volunteer who gives tours and serves as ambassador between the museum's collection and visitors. Being unpaid, docents are usually financially secure, educated individuals with time on their hands. Aging housewives are common in the role. Docents are usually not artists themselves, just nice folks who come from a basic, academic understanding of art history.

    In short, docents are bland and non-threatening -- the exact opposite of SM's musical heroes. 99 out of 100 docents would probably prefer "mellow jazz" to John Coltrane, let alone The Fall or Sonic Youth. A docent is supposed to fix the rift between art making and art experiencing, but instead embodies it. To make matters worse, some museum docents (not all) look down on the security guards. SM probably met more than a few who thought of him as a lowbrow slacker. "You graduated from college and now you play in a rock'n'roll band. Oh, you poor thing."

    With all this in mind, here's my breakdown of the song...

    Most people are passive, especially with matters of cultural consumption. They visit places like museums because someone told them they should, a top-down approach, where "they fall in from the roof." This is in contrast to the grassroots, underground, DIY music scene that nurtured Pavement.

    People don't know what to make of scary things like art (or life itself), so "they grab on tightly" to an assumed authority to makes sense of it all: a docent, for sure... but maybe the passing security guard will know the way. "As if!" He's really a struggling musician, actively fighting for his place in the world. (Another pop star from the same era put it more succinctly: "I can't do nuthin' for ya man, Flava Flav's got problems of his own.")

    SM cares enough about art to seek his own path in it. What he doesn't care about is his dumb job, but he still has to fight its indignities.

    "Everybody wants the questions to be asked" is a further assertion of people's passivity and deference in the face of uncertainty. Being an artist is SM's way of dealing with the questions in his head. "Live the questions" as the cliche goes... Or create more questions, which Pavement has certainly done.

    "Ask me if I really need it. Ask me if you want to get hit" could be an aggressive response to job frustration: "Do I really need to put up with this grief? Do you (co-worker/boss/visitor) really want to provoke me?"

    In a broader sense, "it" is truth as revealed in the making and experiencing of art. Yes, SM does "really need it." The question is, do you? Fair docent, earnest museum goer, average music listener, you claim to have an interest in culture. But do you "want to get hit" with its penetrating assertions, its complexities, its horrors and risks?

    Still thinking? Too late! Here come those wonderful gnarly guitars again: "Hit it."

    As with the Pixies, Pavement employed naughty words very sparingly, but at just the right moments. The word "fuck" has many meanings, positive and negative. To consider them all at once is to understand what real art does to people who care to get hit. That last line, with its hissed ending, is both a threat and a proposition.
    toodleon November 10, 2008   Link

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