George Lucas and Pavement: My Imaginary California

When I started dating a girl from the Sacramento Valley, there were only two northern California towns I really knew and cared about.

One was Stockton, the town that produced the great band Pavement.  “Cesspool,” the people who’d been there told me. “Avoid at all costs.” And even Pavement seemed happy to leave (although I was saddened to learn that their great “let me outta here” anthem “Box Elder” is not an ironic reference to escaping to Missouri as I’d always thought/hoped).  Still, I can’t imagine a place that produced a band like that to be all bad.  And if it is bad, it surely must be in a fascinating “this place incites oblique rebellion and edgy guitar lines” kind of way, right?

The other was Modesto, the town that produced George Lucas, who I blame for practically every cool thing that happened to me from ages 7 to 15.  That includes my ongoing obsession with music of the 1950s/1960s and old, pulpy science fiction–to me those two things are conjoined in my consciousness, mostly because of Lucas.  Taken collectively, American Graffiti and Star Wars are the products of Lucas’s nostalgia for his own boyhood in Modesto and the inspiration for countless nerds like myself who grew up too late to experience it firsthand, but who ate up Lucas’s re-imaginings of those relics of his past.

When I taught American Graffiti in my nostalgia class a week ago, I was once again sucked in by its evocation of Modesto’s strip, filled with old cars and doo wop.  And I’ve been rediscovering Pavement’s later stuff, particularly Brighten the Corners.

Now, I find myself married to the California girl, and we’ve relocated within spitting distance of Modesto and Stockton.  I’m driving to Riverside for the Eaton/SFRA conference in a few weeks, and I’ll pass through them.  Do I tack a few hours onto the 7-hour drive to stop at both cities, even if it blows the allure for me?  Or let the nostalgia remain completely untainted by reality?

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