Gary Young, founding drummer of the band Pavement, a producer, inventor, and possibly the only man ever to wear a suit made of AstroTurf, died Thursday of cancer. He was 70.
Young died at his home outside Linden, right beside his Louder Than You Think recording studio where, at a Stockton location in 1989, Pavement’s original duo, Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, invited him to drum for their session, probably not knowing his favorite band was Yes.
“Gary would like, press ‘play,’ then run into the studio, then drum, then run back, y’know, and do his thing,” Kannberg recalled.
Young’s studio “thing” is now called lo-fi: minimal studio production, unsophisticated, raw, even deliberately flawed. It’s widely used.
Combined with Pavement’s brilliantly off-kilter songs, it earned them Top-10 spots on all the major lists of Best Indie Bands of All Time. Numerous critics hail Pavement as the best band of the ’90s.
As for Young’s drumming, said Kannberg, “He had a knack of getting our songs. He kind of came from the prog/Yes thing and Zappa and stuff. I think he tried to kind of throw that in there a bit. So with our kind of new-wavy punkish songs, it added this tension to them.”
Young drummed on Pavement EPs and their 1992 breakthrough album, “Slanted and Enchanted.” He toured with the band through ’93, becoming famous, or notorious, for his quirky antics on and off stage. Before shows he would appear outside the venue with a plate of something — cheese, cabbage, cinnamon toast — for queued-up fans, saying, “Hi, I’m Gary Young, and I’d like to cordially welcome you to the Pavement concert.”
Onstage he would come out from behind the drums to do handstands. Or randomly wander offstage and into the crowd. Or stop mid-song and ask the audience for a cocktail.
“We didn’t know what he was going to [expletive] do every night. It was kind of our entertainment as well,” Kannberg said.
Matthew Caws of the band Nada Surf told an online site about seeing Pavement in New York. “Gary Young had multiple trash bags of leaves collected that day in Central Park,” he said. “In the middle of the set, he paraded in circles around the drum kit, throwing leaves out onto the stage and into the audience.”
Caws also said Pavement’s loose sound, left-field but melodic, and obliquely poetic lyrics rocked his world, sending him off in an entirely different musical direction for life. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of musicians would say the same.
Young’s hijinks helped distinguish Pavement early on. But he was fired from the band in ’93 over his alcoholism and disagreements over the band’s label.
“We could have never gone on with him unfortunately,” Kannberg said, adding that maybe ousting Young was best for him, too. “I think he would have died back then if he would have stayed in the band.”
Young was born in Mamaroneck, N.Y in 1953. His father was a materials specialist who worked on Howard Hughes’ famous Spruce Goose aircraft.
His father also — somehow perfectly for Gary Young’s father — invented the process by which the crème centers of Oreo cookies are extruded between the black wafers without melting them.
Moving to orchard country east of Stockton, Young set up a recording studio with the help of his brother, a sound engineer. He played in local bands such as The Fall of Christianity, a joke band called Death’s Ugly Head, or DUH, and Crrrl. He brought memorable punk bands to a shabby southside venue, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag.
After Pavement, Young released three solo albums, “Hospital,” “Things We Do for You,” and “The Grey Album.” His absurdist music video “Plant Man,” in which he dressed in an AstroTurf suit, was lampooned on a 1995 episode of Beavis and Butthead.
Young continued to record artists at Louder Than You Think. He wrote a “Dear Abby”-type advice column for a Tokyo music magazine (read that again, if you need to). He invented and patented an inexpensive shock mount, a device that keeps microphones from shaking during the recording process. They sold like hotcakes.
And he dreamed of touring with another successful band. “There’s nothing I wanna do other than get on an airplane again,” he told a local music writer in 2016. “I’m dying to go back to Europe.”
That didn’t happen. Though he achieved periods of sobriety, the monkey seemingly had VIP seating on Gary Young’s back.
“At times it was pretty crazy, at times it was wonderful,” said his partner of 48 years, Geri Young. “Gary was a guy that liked to push the limits. And I’m not quite that way. So I guess I was the calming factor. The calming wife. The balance.”
Young reunited with Pavement for two shows in 2010. He rocked the drums.
Earlier this year an award-winning documentary about Young was released. “Louder Than You Think” is playing at film festivals. Young saw it at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Just before he took sick.
“Gary Young, drummer for indie-rock icons Pavement, injected a wild-card unpredictability into the band’s breakthrough, lo-fi sound,” the movie poster says. “But those same gonzo impulses derailed his rock star dream.”
Change seldom comes from the center. It comes from the margins where Bohemians, artists, and misfits are free to ignore the rules. There’s a price to pay for that, but also a reward. Obituaries and appreciations for Young are running from Rolling Stone to Europe. The reward for everyone else is a musical influence that will come out of radio, streaming, and concert halls for years to come.
Columnist Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views do not represent those of the Stocktonia management and staff. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: email@example.com.