#227: Pixies, "Doolittle" (1989)

The only time I saw the Pixies was in 2004 when they stopped hating each other long enough to reunite and make money off the nostalgia. One of my best friends worked as a music journalist for a local “culture” magazine and got me in for free or else I wouldn’t have gone. There were songs of theirs I liked, stumbling onto them either in Fight Club, during the closing scene where the buildings explode to “Where Is My Mind?”, or whenever the DJ at Independent Bar played “Monkey Gone To Heaven” as a way to get everyone on the dance floor, or at least get everyone to drunkenly shout “And God is seven” over and over and over again during the climax of the song.

My mom introduced me to a lot of good music, like Talking Heads, Guns N’ Roses, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Metallica (pre-haircut), and Pantera. She listened to Led Zeppelin so much, I couldn’t stand listening to them until I finally moved out of the house. When it came to discovering music on my own, I fumbled my way through it. Some of my initial discoveries included New Kids on the Block (I can still hit the falsetto in “Please Don’t Go Girl”) and Robert Palmer’s solo album Heavy Nova before I discovered Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and the band that changed my life, the Cure. Growing up, the Pixies were never in my listening rotation, partially because I didn’t really know about them, partially because my friends and I were listening to the aforementioned bands (with the exception of my other best friend, who was really into No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom and Marry Me Jane).

The impulse to see the Pixies wasn’t out of need, it was more of something to check off my concert to-do list. This reunion, on the surface, was supposed to be a historical moment. I got the sense from my music journalist friend that this was a pretty big deal. I don’t remember, though, much of the show, which is both good and bad. I remember the good and bad shows in vivid detail (like the horrendous feedback during a Modest Mouse show years later in the same venue that the Pixies played years later or the rare experience of the Cure playing their first three albums with one of the original members playing with them for the first time in over 20 years). They sounded fine, and played the songs their fans wanted to hear. I didn’t hate the show, but I didn’t run out and buy their CDs afterward.

Part of this apathy towards the Pixies comes from a lack of an emotional connection on my end. Black Francis’s lyrics are weird and too high concept, like how, according to Genius, “Gouge Away” is the retelling of Sampson and Delilah. I write poetry and I wouldn’t have been able to figure that out without going to Genius. The music in “Gouge Away” is amazing, building to an all-out assault, and it’s because of the music that the song works. I feel like that sums up the Pixies in general. With the exception of “Here Comes Your Man,” their most straightforward song, the music carries the songs. The lyrics get in the way of enjoying the music fully.

Here’s how I know how the Pixies didn’t resonate that night, and the years after. I faithfully blogged about my life on LiveJournal from 2002-2010 and I had to do some digging to figure out whether 25-year-old me disagreed with 38-year-old me about my assessment of the Pixies show and their music. A few days before I saw the Pixies, I saw Pearl Jam for the first time during the Vote for Change tour. I remember a lot about that show (Bob Roberts, Tim Robbins’s band opened the show, then Death Cab For Cutie, then Pearl Jam played for over two hours in a venue that seated only 3,000 people, and it was during the long musical outro of “Black” that Eddie Vedder slow danced with Susan Sarandon on stage). I didn’t document a thing about the Pixies show probably because my concert bar was set really high only a couple of days prior. I even wrote in the journal entry on October 9, 2004 at 3:54 am (still awake from the high of the show, probably): “oh...my...god. the show was amazing. amazing. however, i saw many of the doctrine of rock concerts violated at said show by the audience and that will be touched on tomorrow when my ears are not ringing, my neck not so stiff, and voice not so lost from all the rocking i did. best concert of the year, hands down (i don't think The Pixies can top the 2.5 hours of solid rocking Pearl Jam committed on the 3000 people in the Silver Spurs Arena). Pearl Jam, thy name shall be inscribed in the hallowed halls of Rock and Roll Valhalla for your feats tonight. oh yes, it will!” Pearl Jam was a high point in a tough year (three hurricanes, quitting a weird job, working temp work while juggling a new relationship at that time).

To the diehard fans, there was magic probably seeing and hearing the Pixies live for the first time in a long time. I didn’t feel that magic and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you need to experience things that are just OK, even bad, because it gives you a rubric to compare other experiences. I’m glad that I experienced the Pixies that night but I don’t plan on experiencing them again.

I’m sure after you read this, you’ll want to pull me aside and tell me why I’m wrong, how the Pixies are one of the greatest bands ever, how they influenced so many other bands, but I’m not into the so-called canon of anything. Something isn’t great because someone else tells you that it’s great; it’s great because you feel it is.

—J. Bradley