Silkworm - Couldn’t You Wait (Acoustic)
I was introduced to Silkworm with the 1997 compilation What’s Up Matador, an ultra-budget tour of Matador Records’ stable of indie rock. My familiarity with Pavement and fondness for lots of music for very little money prompted the purchase of this ingenious loss leader. In addition to Silkworm, the compilation acquainted me with (deep breath): Yo La Tengo! Teenage Fanclub! Superchunk! Helium! Cat Power! Spoon! Liz Phair! Chavez! Guided by Voices! The Fall! Come! The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion! Fourteen more! The damage What’s Up Matador did to my minimum-wage paychecks was criminal.
The roll call of Matador Records’ 1997 class serves two purposes. First, the popularity and critical approval of many of those bands eclipses Silkworm’s status, both then and now. Second, the range of styles represented with those acts—the muffled classicism of Guided by Voices’ “Motor Away,” the buzzsaw pop-punk of Superchunk’s “For Tension,” the scuffed-up detachment of Helium’s “Pat’s Trick,” the staccato post-punk of The Fall’s “Hey Student”—mapped out this new indie-rock amusement park. In the middle of these big names and exciting new strains, there’s Silkworm, performing an acoustic version of a bitterly funny send-off. Great? Yes. Hip? Oh God no.
Yet “Couldn’t You Wait” stuck with me. Tim Midgett offers an unraveling string of wordplay smarting from personal experience, loaded with the genuine, uncovered emotion that Stephen Malkmus’s cool detachment steadfastly avoided. Its titular phrase was interjected as a dogged insistence, a pained inquiry, and a regretful sigh as Midgett rode breathlessly through the narrative. Its final stanza starts…
Do you still think you’re God?
Is your first day on the job even over yet?
Is the summertime in heaven grand?
Is it fifty-nine past the eleven hand?
…witty barbs in the heat of an argument, even if the flustered reality couldn’t have been so stinging.
Matador didn’t present Silkworm as the flavor of the month; it offered one of their best, catchiest doses of songwriting to date in a decidedly unfashionable manner. I’m repeating this soft sell, in part because it echoes my personal experience, in part because thinking of Silkworm as songwriters first is the mindset I’ll emphasize this week, in part because their earliest recordings are not great starting points, and in part because this recording represents a pivotal moment in the group’s history.
This version was recorded for a 1994 radio broadcast and pressed as the Marco Collins Sessions EP in 1995, their first big release for Matador Records. It’s their last record as a four-piece, since singer/guitarist Joel R. L. Phelps departed for a solo career, leaving the trio of guitarist/vocalist Andy Cohen, bassist/vocalist Tim Midgett, and drummer/occasional vocalist Michael Dahlquist to juggle songwriting duties.
You can move backward from this EP into the Joel years with L’ajre, In the West, and Libertine; move forward with their Matador LPs Firewater and Developer; or jump ahead to their lengthy tenure on Touch & Go, which added another four full-lengths to their discography. Thanks to iTunes, you can do any of these things with ease now, avoiding my two-year search for a copy of Libertine. But speaking from fifteen years of personal experience, I don’t recommend the scattershot approach to Silkworm. It’s what left me initially baffled over the spartan, solo-heavy classic rock of Firewater (an album I now cherish) and what led to me inexplicably skipping every other Touch & Go album upon its first release. It’s a cliché among Silkworm fans that any album could be your favorite at any given time, but understanding how they evolved as a group and as individual songwriters will help choose an optimal path through their catalog. That’s why I’ve chosen a chronological tour of exemplary songs from the major releases in their discography, elucidating the differences between Messrs Midgett, Cohen, Phelps, and Dahlquist.