Dear Stephen Malkmus,
Sorry if I came off like a stalker when I told you that I’d sort of named my child after one of your songs.
It was strangely warm the day we met, in fall of 2005. I was wearing a sweatshirt, and sweating in it as I stood at the corner of Houston Street and Avenue A with a heavy bag of groceries in each hand. You walked up pushing a baby stroller and waited there, maybe five feet away, for the crosswalk sign to change. I got a giddy rush when I saw you. You are one of my all-time favorite rock n’ roll heroes.
Not that I hadn’t seen you in person before. I worked at a music magazine; and my roommate from college used to help put on those Tibetan Freedom Concerts you used to take part in. I interviewed your band mates Scott Kannberg and Steve West once while you sat at the next table over, being interviewed byLynn Hirschberg, I think for Rolling Stone. And I’d seen you backstage at the concerts, and at parties and stuff. Most recently, I’d seen you in my local coffee shop. Full City, the place was called, right across the street from the building where I lived. Full City got their coffee beans from a place in Portland, Oregon, according to a sign by the counter. You lived in Oregon, I knew, so at first I wondered whether you were particular enough about your coffee to have found the one place in New York that carried your preferred product when you were in town for work or something. But then Natalie, the proprietor of Full City, told me you’d in fact moved in to the neighborhood-moved in with your girlfriend, who lived right down the block.
I didn’t know you had a kid, though. I was surprised to see the stroller. This was maybe why I decided to say hello when I hadn’t the other times. I don’t usually approach a famous person when I see one on the street. I figure people don’t want to be bothered. But I was a new father myself at the time; my son had been born ten months earlier. We were standing right next to each other. It almost felt weird not to say something.
“Excuse me, Stephen?” I said, turning toward you. “Hi. My name’s Dave. I just wanted to tell you how much your music’s meant to me. It’s meant a lot.”
“Oh, thanks,” you said, in the same slack, slightly off-kilter voice I knew from listing to your records a gazillion times.
“That’s all,” I said, starting to turn back away. “I just wanted to say hello.”
“So, what’s up?” You smiled and shrugged and sounded friendly. Friendlier than I’d expected.
I was taken off guard. You wanted to talk to me?
“Oh. Umm,” I was totally psyched. But I didn’t have anything else to say. “I don’t know. I was just doing some shopping.”
The light changed. You nodded south and asked if I was going that way. I was. We crossed Houston and started walking down Essex Street together. You asked where I lived and I told you and you told me you’d just moved into the neighborhood. I didn’t say, “Yeah, I heard that,” because I thought that might be weird, but I did tell you that I’d seen you at the Full City coffee shop a couple times. “Oh, yeah,” you said. “They have good coffee there.”
My sweatshirt was much too warm and zipped up and I couldn’t unzip it or wipe the sweat off my forehead because my hands were full of the very heavy grocery bags. I was sweating a lot. It was like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. But if you noticed, you didn’t say anything. We talked about local real estate, which is about the lamest thing you can talk about, but was about the coolest thing I could imagine that day. Me and Stephen Malkmus, boring, bourgeois 30-somethings-together! I mentioned something I’d read and you said you’d read that, too. “We must have read the same article,” you said. I suppressed a thirteen-year-old’s giggle.
We passed Stanton Street and came to Rivington. You were turning east. I turned, too. I could’ve kept going south and turned later; I didn’t have a set route. But I did eventually need to turn east. I was enjoying the conversation. Were you? Probably not as much as I was, that would’ve been hard to imagine. But you didn’t seem to be not enjoying it. So I turned with you. After a couple more steps, I looked down into the stroller you were pushing and saw a baby girl. “What’s her name,” I asked. You told me and I said that was nice. (It was.) I asked how old she was and when you told me I said that I had a little boy around that age at home. We exchanged congratulations and then condolences, agreeing that the difficulty of this first year would mean that our children would be only children.
“What’s your little guy’s name?” you asked.
Sweat streamed down past my ear onto my neck. “Well, it’s kind of funny,” I said, and coughed a laugh in confession. “Because it’s actually a name that I know mostly from one of your songs.” I told you my kid’s name and you said, “Oh, yeah,” and recited the line from the song. This felt very weird to me, like parts of my life were coming together in ways I never thought they would, and I wondered how it felt to you. I wondered whether you were regretting your decision to strike up the conversation, or that you’d told me where you lived and your daughter’s name.
“We really just liked the way it sounds,” I said, hoping that might reassure you.
You seemed unbothered. “I’ve always liked that name,” you said. “I’ve always associated it with the Old South for some reason.”
We walked and talked past Norfolk and Suffolk Streets. You were nothing but nice the whole time. But when we came to the corner of Rivington and Clinton, you nodded to Caffe Falai. “We’re gonna stop in there,” you said. “Okay,” I said. I decided not to stop with you this time.
“What did you say your name was, again?” you asked. “Dave,” I said. You smiled a small, half-embarrassed smile and you indicated yourself. “Steve,” you said, shrugging again. You were just being polite. You knew I knew your name.
You’ve since moved away. Back to Portland and brought the family. Actually, I just learned you did wind up having a second kid. So congratulations and condolences again. I never saw you at Full City again after that day. I sort of wonder why, though I sort of have a hunch.