Pavement’s Former Drummer, Gary Young, Gets His Filthy and Delightfully Quirky Day in the Sun [SXSW]

Mar 14, 2023

“I took LSD 375 times.” These are the first words said in “Louder than You Think” by subject Gary Young — drummer, producer, drunkard, and all-around enigma, likely best known as being the original drummer for the lo-fi 90’s alternative band, Pavement. The words, accompanied by the image of Young as he appears now, are all you need to understand the kind of documentary you’re in for – one hell of a strange trip, man. Serving as director Jed I. Rosenberg’s feature debut, “Louder Than You Think” is a chaotic, offbeat, 90-minute ride through Gary Young’s life that’s told in a scattered, non-chronological manner befitting the mind of its subject. 
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By the time of Pavement’s inception, Young was already creeping up on forty, selling waterbeds and dealing drugs to fund a home studio. Enter Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, two local Stockton, CA, twenty-year-olds looking to record some demos on the cheap and needing someone to play the drums. What followed was a wild whirlwind of awesome music, anarchic live performances, and ungodly amounts of alcohol (consumed mainly by Young). The film attempts to paint Young as an unlikely underdog whose charisma and vices are simultaneously what makes him great and also toxic. You’re left with a look at a man you cannot take your eyes off of, but you’d likely want to avoid being alone with him for too long. Has Gary Young lived one hell of a life? Absolutely. Would you recommend it to anyone else? Hell no. There’s a reason Young has earned the nickname of “the rotting man” amongst Pavement fans. From his breath to his general demeanor, Gary Young is a man in decay.
So, you have a beloved, unique subject from a band that so many revere, but you have very little in the way of actual footage beyond a small trove of archival footage and photos. How do you fill in the gaps? First, you have the obligatory documentary interviews from Gary Young and his former bandmates – yes, even Pavement leader Stephen Malkmus. From there, bring in the stop-motion animation & puppets! Marionettes, to be exact. Produced by Adrian Rose Leonard (“Crank Yankers”) and her team, the marionettes bring an undeniable sense of strange, whimsical fun and a way to connect with Young’s sweet innocence. It’s clear that the puppetry is coming from a skilled team that worked their proverbial tails off. Even Stephen Malkmus’ unique features are precisely produced to delightful effect. 
Under the pop-art puppetry, however, lies a filthy human portrait bent on giving you an honest look at Gary Young in all his still-drunken glory. Yet, it’s always been a question amongst fans, “Did Gary Young quit Pavement, or was he fired?” Pavement always said one thing, Young’s story often changed. The film makes it reasonably clear what happened from both perspectives. What it chooses to largely gloss over is the 2010 Pavement & Gary Young reunion that would have made for a more upbeat note to end on, instead opting to veer more into Young’s post-Pavement solo work and shabby home life. Remember Young’s song “Plant Man?” Well, you will now, and it may never leave your head.
Ultimately, the film is as unique and wide-ranging as its subject’s venerated drum skills. You’re captivated as a viewer when it’s working, but when it’s not, you’re just watching “the rotting man” rot. But will the documentary please Pavement die-hards looking for any morsels of information that they can get on their precious alt-gods? The “Gary Young or bust” crowd will likely delight in every minute, while those looking for a more all-encompassing Pavement-centered documentary will leave more slanted and less enchanted. [B-]
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