When I was considering an epigraph for Bitters I quickly rejected using the much-referenced 1806 definition of the word cocktail (“…a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters…”) and instead went with two inscriptions that, for me, capture the spirit of the book. The first was the classic SAT analogy, “Salt is to food as bitters are to [blank]…,” which I nicked from Kurt B. Reighley’s The United States of Americana, and the second was a lyric from Pavement’s “Gold Soundz”: “So drunk in the August sun, and you’re the kind of girl I like…”
At first it felt a little high-school yearbook quote of me to use a song lyric. (In the time capsule that is my own high-school senior yearbook you’ll find tombstone-worthy classic-rock quotes from The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Seger along with deep thoughts from of-the-era artists like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Howard Jones.)
I also remember a reading in a college poetry class where a tortured theatre major friend of mine, who was mid-gear between his Jack Kerouac and James Dean phase, took to the podium and solemnly presented the lyrics of U2’s “Running to Stand Still.” I fought back a church giggle when after he finished reading he bowed his head in reverence and attributed his work to “Bono and The Edge.” The professor stared at him a for beat then offered, “Next time why don’t you bring in some Percy Bysshe Shelley.”
A song lyric may be shorthand to conveying a mood or emotion but that’s exactly why so many people can connect with and recite Bruce Springsteen rather than Randall Jarrell—but it’s also about how one interprets it. A while back I e-mailed my dear friend Tom Nissley some pages from the front matter of Bitters (the Tipsy Nissley cocktail in the book is in honor of him) and he was kind enough to write on his blog that the “photographic dedication page to his dad may be the most endearing I’ve seen since Franny and Zooey” and complimented the design and layout—”even the creepy Pavement quote.” Creepy Pavement quote? How could Tom misread a spirited ode to late-summer nostalgia as a sloppy drunk guy hitting on a girl?
Pitchfork put “Gold Soundz,” the second single from 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, at the top of their mammoth 200 Greatest Songs of the 1990s list. In Pitchfork’s coronation of the song they describe it as “tinged with nostalgia” and say “It sounded like a memory in the best possible way.”
The scope of this brief 2:40 minute song is heartbreaking and often inspires an immediate repeat listen, especially after that jangly, hang-your-head-out-the-car-door-window guitar break eases into the verse at hand:
So drunk in the August sun
And you’re the kind of girl I like
Because you’re empty, and I’m empty
And you can never quarantine the past
Granted, having the word “drunk” in the opening pages of a book on cocktails doesn’t exactly come across as “please drink responsibly,” but for me it’s not about the booze, but the aching hangover of nostalgia with a hint of promise that things will be okay. I listened to Pavement an awful lot while writing Bitters and they continue to be in heavy rotation on my iPhone during my morning commute. And while I did my best to avoid pun-filled names for the original drinks in the book, I did approach the drink selection like I was assembling a mix-tape and there’s more than a handful of cocktails inspired by song titles from Pavement, Bowie, Yo La Tengo, and the Velvet Underground.
As Pavement fans know, their videos were far from groundbreaking and definitely put the low in lo-fi. The official video for “Gold Soundz” is an odd account of the band dressed in Santa Claus suits frolicking around an Irvine, California, office park and features bows and arrows, a water fountain, a convertible, and a raw chicken.
August is ticking away, so whether drunk on nostalgia or a stiff bitters-soaked cocktail, enjoy the August sun while it lasts. Here’s Pavement rocking “Gold Soundz” from a 1999 Seattle gig at the Showbox.