Under The Influence
Blinded by Pixie dust
People tend to forget that the year Phil Collins won three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for his album No Jacket Required (“Sussudio,” “One More Night,” “Don’t Lose My Number”), a bunch of young musicians got together in Boston to form The Pixies. I certainly tend to forget that fact each time I’m listening to any of their stunning albums (I don’t listen to Phil Collins much). I only remembered their full force once again when I listened to their single, released in June this year, “Bagboy.”
Like most people now shamming it on their sofas, I also discovered the Pixies late, only after being recommended in gushed tones by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Cobain pretty much admitted that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with its mumble-warble followed by chorus roar was an attempt to ”˜rip off the Pixies.’ And listening to the 1988 Pixies album, Surfer Rosa, with its absolutely haunting tracks like “Where Is My Mind?”, “Break My Body” and the blistering “Vamos,” one enters a strange tunnel of sound where pop hooks, cracked leather choruses mix readily with a folkish, prog-country air.
At the centre of this storm lies the genius (not to be confused with Genesis) of Charles Thompson a.k.a. Black Francis. His song-writing skills, a mish of William Burroughs-ish cut-up surrealism with a mash of Old Testament imagery of bodies and violence, got the likes of David Bowie sitting up before the likes of me fell off the chair in rapt awe. There’s a whole lot of caterwauling that goes on that’s really dangerous Siren song. The Pixies’ gig at the Town & Country Club in London on May 1, 1988, remains one of the most stirring pieces of live music that would set off a chain reaction in the world of music where a generation, without ever having heard the Pixies, would hear the Pixies sound through more famous besotted bands such as Radiohead and Nirvana.
In that London gig, the quartet – the already balding and rotund ultra-unrock’n’roll frontman in a sweaty tee-shirt Francis, Joey Santiago breaking into his swirling mescalin-soaked guitar, David Lovering pounding and brushing on his drums like on a spin cycle in the basement, and Kim Deal with her slightly twisted harmonies and hardknuckled fingers on the basslines ”“ was from a different planet, not only different from Planet Phil Collins but also from those asteroid chunks left behind by punk rock.
The band disbanded in 1993, around the same time I first heard them via Nirvana. I figured that was it. In the meantime, I would be hypnotised by their albums Doolittle (1989) ”“ with tracks like “Debaser,” “Wave of Mutilation” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” (a song I once heard on a constant loop on a six-hour whiskey-fuelled flight) ”“Â and Come On Pilgrim, from which the track “Levitate Me” will be my epitaph, if I ever choose to go in for a tombstone. Black’s solo albums also provided much comfort.
But when out of the black I heard that Pixies had reformed in 2004 and were touring again, I started waiting. Earlier this year Kim Deal’s departure made me believe that it was kaput again. But then in June, with Kim Shattuck on bass, there was “Bagboy,” a song that, with its Orwellian-Norman Bates-ish incantation of Â “Cover your breath/ Cover your teeth/ Cover your breath/ Polish your speech,” jerked me back to joy. There’s no album announced yet. But perhaps for the first time I can look forward to new Pixies music and reclaim my verse-chorus-verse.
This column appeared in the September 2013 edition of Rolling Stone India.