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The Pixies: Where is my mind?

The Pixies were an unlikely group; however, the chemistry of all four band members proved to the perfect foil towards the creation of this legendary alt-rock act, with a singer-songwriter who found inspiration in Surrealism, Dadaism, The Beach Boys and Iggy Pop, a drummer heavily influenced by Neil Peart, a bassist who never played bass [...]


The Pixies were an unlikely group; however, the chemistry of all four band members proved to the perfect foil towards the creation of this legendary alt-rock act, with a singer-songwriter who found inspiration in Surrealism, Dadaism, The Beach Boys and Iggy Pop, a drummer heavily influenced by Neil Peart, a bassist who never played bass prior to joining the band and a guitarist that rejected the standard blues-based playing adopted by so many prior.

The Pixies formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986 when Charles Thompson AKA Black Francis met future guitarist Joey Santiago while they were both attending the University of Massachusetts. The duo would go onto recruit drummer David Lovering and bassist Kim Deal. Deal responded to an ad in one of the local papers that stated “band looking for bassist, influences: Peter, Paul and Mary and Husker Du.” Two weeks following the Thompson and Santiago pairing, Deal joined having not played bass in a band prior; she quickly developed a straightforward style that would play a large role in the Pixies sound.

Charles Thompson (who was now going by the moniker Black Francis), the bands primary lyricist and songwriter, found inspiration in the tales of the Old Testament, surrealist film, UFOs and death. Borrowing heavily from the cut up technique adopted by Dadaism, Thompson’s lyrics were far from the standard topical fair adopted by many a songwriter past and present.

The group developed a reputation quickly and would record their debut EP Come On Pilgrim soon after forming, followed by Surfer Rosa, then in 1989 the band released their masterpiece Doolittle (previously titled Whore).

Doolittle is where everything came together for the band; with a nuanced yet powerful production courtesy of British record producer Gil Norton and a larger recording budget, Doolittle came to life effortlessly and remains a high water mark for alternative rock.

Doolittle opens with “Debaser” in which Thompson yelps “got me a movie/I want you to know, slicing up eyeballs/I want you to know.” The tracks lyrical content was largely inspired by the surreal film made by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel titled Un Chien Andalou. Opening with a cacophony of guitars, followed by a sinewy lead guitar line accented with Deal’s bouncy bassline and Lovering’s crisp drum performance, Debaser remains a classic example of alternative rock that was coming into full fruition towards the end of the Reagan era.

Track 3. “Wave of Mutilation” is truly inspired. Opening with a straight ahead drum beat, followed by a Santiago overdubbed guitar army. Thompson’s lyrical focus is on suicide attempts made by Japanese business men, something he had read about earlier on the day he wrote “WOM.” The suicide attempts were made via driving a car off of a dock straight into the deep blue sea.”Wave of Mutilation” was also released as a B side titled “Wave of Mutilation” (UK surf mix) which is a slowed down surf-rock sounding rendition of the original. “WOM” remains a timeless ode to death and destruction via a high octane dive into the ocean in a four-wheeled anchor.

Track 7. “Monkey Gone To Heaven” remains The Pixies best known track, and the closet the band ever got to writing a topical pseudo-politically inspired song. Thompson’s lyrics focus on highly lauded topic of the era, Armageddon, and death by nuclear holocaust. In 1989 Russia was still under communist rule and the Berlin Wall had yet to come down, so the threat of our country falling prey to a nuclear demise was still a heady topic. “MGTH” also contains references to our increasingly violent nature towards our environment with the threat of an ever-expanding ozone layer and reckless nature of our own wasteful lifestyles.

Track 5. “Here Comes Your Man,” is the Pixies most straight ahead pop number, opening with a lone sustained guitar chord similar to George Harrisons opening chord on “A Hard Days Night.” HCYM bounces along with a chord progression consisting of D A and G accented by Santiago’s reverberated Duane Eddy-ish lead guitar lines. Thompson’s lyrical focus alludes to the nuclear bombing of Japan, with the tracks references to a Bockscar which is the name of the airplane that dropped the Fat Man nuclear weapon of the songs title on Nagaski. The metaphorical use of ‘Man’ and ‘Bockscar’ can easily allow us the listener to mistake HCYM as a love song about the reconciliation of two lovers via a long journey on a rail line boxcar.

Every act that has since employed loud and soft dynamics within a three to five minute pop song owe a great deal to the Pixies. Kurt Cobain lead singer/songwriter of Nirvana has credited his bands success to the Pixies; Weezer sounds an awfully lot like the Pixies, especially their second album “Pinkerton”. Modest Mouse have made a career by updating the Pixies sound for the 21st century with Lead singer Isaac Brooks vocal yelps and howls sounding eerily like Black Francis. The three man lineup of three dudes and a female bassist has been adopted from the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins to A Perfect Circle.

In the end while the Pixies were often imitated, they have yet to be duplicated. Their sound is unique, their chemistry too hard to come by and their legacy too strong. Since reforming earlier in this decade, the Pixies are finally reaping the recognition and praise that has been long overdue.

If man is five, then the devil is six, and if the devil is six, then god is seven ~ This Monkeys Gone To Heaven


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