Wednesday, September 03, 2008

BOOK | Fool the World

I read the Pixies biography, Fool the World a while back. Instead of a straight narrative, the authors chose to tell the story through a series of interviews with the bandmembers and the people who knew them. The result is a more intimate approach, though it feels like a documentary.

The Pixies was an alternative music band that gained a cult following in the 1980s. They broke up later because of built-up tension and resentment between the members, or more specifically between frontman Charles Thompson IV alias Black Francis, and bassist/vocalist, Kim Deal.

While reading the book, I was reminded of the one constant in life: Change. All bands eventually break up - although some of them just allowed death to to do the breaking up for them. For more than a decade after the Pixies disbanded the question kept coming up: are they going to get back together? Black Francis by then was on his solo career as Frank Black. For years he refused to play Pixies songs during his performances, even though that's what ta lot of the fans wanted to hear. Kim Deal went on to become the lead singer and guitarist for The Breeders and later the Amps. According to the book, she earns more from The Breeders' highly successful single, "Cannonball" than what she got from the Pixies albums. Joey Santiago, the lead guitarist does music for movies, and Dave Lovering later became a magician of a sort. The bandmembers moved on.

The Pixies' music didn't fade into oblivion though. Over the years they earned legion of fans who should have been too young to remember their music. The Pixies was revolutionary when they released their first album in 1987. They were considered "alternative" because they didn't sound like everyone else. They were more popular in the UK than in the US. It took more than ten years before the music scene finally caught up with them. Among their fans were Kurt Cobain, Shirley Manson, and PJ Harvey.

Nothing lasts forever, so in 1992, Black Francis faxed an announcement that the band broke up. Nothing lasts forever, so in 2004, the Pixies reunited for a sold-out tour.

Change means nothing will stay the same. It means loss and separation is inevitable. Yet we shouldn't forget that the other side to change is the possibilities. Forgiveness, reconciliation and healing is possible because things do change.

As a fan I've read some of the stories behind the band, how Charles Thompson placed an ad in the papers for a female band member, and Kim Deal was the only one that showed up. What I did not know was when Deal turned up, she asked them to play something for her - as though she was auditioning them. Right away you can tell Kim Deal wasn't going to be the token female in the band. Black Francis was the songwriter, the lead singer, but Kim Deal was the one winning the adoration of the fans. (Full disclosure: I am a Kim Deal fan, and I have all CDs that Kim Deal did with the Breeders. Just so you know I take Kim Deal's coolness as a given.)

The story of the Pixies reads like a miracle. By sheer chance, a handful of talented people came together and created something powerful and larger than them. In the 80s, the Pixies was just about the music. They eschewed the band uniform. They performed in normal clothes. In faxct, back in those days, Kim Deal worked in a doctor's office, so she would perform in her work clothes: low heels, white shirt, black skirt, her hair all done up properly. She was out of place in a club where the crowd wore mohawks - and she was the coolest person in the room. She redefined cool, just as the Pixies music made you reconsider what music should sound like.

Fool the World was a joy to read, especially if you have the Pixies plugged in on your iPod.

In this video of the Pixies performing "Gigantic" back in 1988, you can see they are really just ordinary people doing a show in sweaty old T-shirts.

Here's the Pixies reunited (I think it's 2004), performing "Monkey Gone to Heaven" on the David Letterman Show. The guys are all bald and some of the band members have put on a bit of weight. But I still love the way Kim Deal just smiles that big, big smile of hers. She still is the heartbreaker in the band.

Here's a final video of one of my Pixies favourite, "Debaser":

Maybe the moral of the Pixies story is that sometimes we need to go away long enough for people to learn to appreciate us. :)


Anonymous said...

hi, i like what you said about possibilities. most of the time people tend to associate change with negative. Change could also mean something good. There is a reason why things changes and perhaps in time we will know that it could be for a good cause. things happened for a reason. have a safe journey. quietletters ; )

darkorpheus said...

quietletters - Hello. Always nice when you drop by and leave little notes like these.

I need to remember that change isn't always bad - just maybe not the way I prefer things. But it's so hard isn't it? We so often want things to stay the same.

Anonymous said...

I understand, it is so hard, isn’t it. sometimes I think because we are creatures of habits and any changes may make us uncomfortable. It could also take a bloody long time to get use to it. Hopefully in time, you will see it is for the good and for your well being. We have a choice. Do enjoy the experience and see how far you will go. perhaps another door will open when the time is right. Meanwhile, enjoy the adventures.

We learnt when we moved a little. Staying stuck may bred boredom and we can do ‘funny things’ when we are bored. There are people who care for you, you will always be remember. regardless where you are ; ) quietletters

darkorpheus said...

quietletters - Thank you.

And I understand what you mean by doing "funny things" - I do that a fair bit.

I hope to get my internet account set up over at Dubai fast. But it may take a while. So if you don't hear from me for a while - well. :)