Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixiesby Josh Frank, Caryn Ganz
It's the 1980s and the rock landscape is littered with massive hair, synthesizers, and monster riffs, but there is an alternative being born in the sleepy East of America-we just don't know it yet.
Before the Internet, MTV, and iPods provided far-off music fans with information and communities-and before Nirvana-kids across the world grew up in relative
It's the 1980s and the rock landscape is littered with massive hair, synthesizers, and monster riffs, but there is an alternative being born in the sleepy East of America-we just don't know it yet.
Before the Internet, MTV, and iPods provided far-off music fans with information and communities-and before Nirvana-kids across the world grew up in relative isolation, dependent on mix tapes and self-created art to slowly spread scenes and trends. It was under these conditions that four young musicians found one another in Boston, Massachusetts, and started a band called Pixies.
During their initial seven-year career, Pixies would play some of Europe's most gigantic festivals, keep the press guessing, and cultivate a fervid international fan base hungry for more and more of their unique surf punk. The band worked fast, cranking out four albums at a breakneck pace, but ultimately pressures and personality clashes took their toll: Pixies broke up just as bands were singing their praises as the rock'n'roll innovators.
For twelve years, a Pixies reunion seemed impossible, but a sudden announcement in 2004 proclaimed the unthinkable-Pixies were getting back together. Their extremely successful reunion tour finally gave the group something they'd always lacked in their homeland: proof that their bone-rattling music had left an indelible impact.
Fool the World tells Pixies' story in the words of those who lived it, from the band members to studio owners, from A&R executives, producers, and visual artists who worked with them to admirers of their music, such as Bono, PJ Harvey, Beck, and Perry Farrell. With new cartoons by Trompe Le Monde illustrator Steven Appleby, Fool the World is a complete journey through the life, death, and rebirth of one of the most influential bands of all time.
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B.P. (BEFORE PIXIES) (1961-1984)
Kim Deal and David Lovering were born in 1961, one year before the first audio cassette became commercially available and three years before the Beatles made their first epic journey to American shores. Charles Thompson and Joey Santiago were born one year after that pop cultural landmark, in 1965.
They came from different places, but their separate paths were fated to join in Boston in 1985, where all four future Pixies shared a powerful sense of restlessness.
Charles Thompson (a.k.a. Black Francis and Frank Black; Pixies singer/guitarist/primary songwriter; born April 6, 1965, in Boston, Massachusetts): Most of high school, grades nine, ten, and eleven, I was out here in L.A., and I listened to a lot of '60s stuff--whatever I could get at a used record store. Could be an early Cat Stevens record, could be a Bob Seger record, not exactly hip, cool stuff. Just like, "Hey, this is fifty cents, I've never heard this before, I'll buy it." My father had a bar, so we would hear a lot of stuff on the jukebox. I used to go to the library and get records. My very first guitar was my mother's guitar. And she bought it by stealing my father's tips and throwing them into a closet for a period of months back in 1965 or '66, and bought a Yamaha classical guitar. That guitar went on a road trip with my cousin, then it ended up back in my mother's possession when I was 11 or 12, and I started to play it again.
Johnny Angel (born Johnny Carmen; Boston musician, journalist): Charles's dad was a bar owner/libertarian/tough guy and his mom was more of a hippie, and I think the folk rock hits of the '60s were echoing through his head nonstop.
Thompson: I first lived in L.A. as a baby because my father wanted to go and learn more about the restaurant and bar business. He worked in West Hollywood next to the Troubadour, a nightclub I play at today. He didn't end up liking California--there were a lot of other factors, a divorce--but he came to California because that's where people went. At that time there were a lot of people who were older, coming out of the '60s, '70s, hedonistic lifestyles, sexually promiscuous or involved in a lot of drugs, people that had destroyed their lives, they came out of it clinging onto Jesus Christ. Southern California Pentecostal culture, it's fire and brimstone but it's more like, success, like, "God wants you to be successful!" I probably discovered [Christian rocker] Larry Norman when I was 13 because my family had taken up this religious experience, whatever you want to call it. I was going along with it, as my whole family was. I think when you're 13 or 14 you're open to a lot of stuff, and if people say, "Hey, Jesus!" you don't go, "Ooh, I'm cynical!" You just kind of go, "Yeah, Jesus, cool!" Larry Norman is a real oddball guy. He's not like what people would think of him. "Ooh, a Christian, what's that going to be about?" He's totally his own thing.
Kim Deal (a.k.a. Mrs. John Murphy; Pixies bassist; the Breeders singer/guitarist; the Amps singer/guitarist; born June 10, 1961, in Dayton, Ohio): In high school, I hung out with Pat Rohr, this is what I did: We had record albums, he was like three years older than me, and we would sit around. Now I know what we were doing--it's like, what people who love music do--but I didn't know that at the time. I'm like 15, 16, 17, talking about why "Dominance and Submission" is a better Blue Öyster Cult song than "Godzilla" ever was. Just doing shit like that, just pouring over the record collection. Smoking pot. Snowing, constantly snowing, and doing drugs.
Thompson: I used to hang out with some misfits. We weren't the stoner kids, we weren't the jock kids, we were the "we listen to oddball music" kids. I wasn't hanging out at all-ages shows or trying to get into clubs to see bands, and I was buying records at used record stores and borrowing them from the library. You didn't necessarily see a Ramones record at the used record store. You just saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer records. So I didn't know [punk] music but I had started to hear about it in high school. But it was probably a good thing that I didn't know it, that I instead listened to a lot of '60s records and this religious music. It was a different diet. It wasn't mainstream at all, but it wasn't hip, for sure. By the time I did start to make music for real with a band, Pixies, of course I had discovered some things that again, weren't exactly punk. Iggy Pop is not a punk, Hüsker Dü is not punk (they're a post-punk band, they're more related to hardcore), [Captain] Beefheart is not a punk, the Talking Heads are not a punk band (even though they came out of CBGBs, they don't sound like the Sex Pistols or the Damned). By the time I started to write music I heard some punk and punk-influenced things, but it was kind of good that I didn't listen to all these hip records when I was 16. It was good that I was in my own nerdy little world.
Deal: My mom had this, I think it was two-track, quarter-inch tape reel-to-reel that she'd get me and [twin sister] Kelley to sing to when we were 4 or 5 years old. When I was 11, my dad was taking guitar lessons, and the only reason why I know this is because there was an acoustic guitar in the living room and these tablature sheets. I would sit down and look at the tablature sheets, and I learned "King of the Road" by Roger Miller. And he would laughingly say, "Kim, I can't believe you learned that before I did." So that was nice and encouraging to hear that.
John Murphy (Kim Deal's ex-husband; Mente leader; life-long Bostonian): I worked with David Lovering at Radio Shack when I was in high school. He lived in Burlington, Mass., I lived in Wilmington, and we worked at the Burlington mall together. He was a riot, and he really looked at things in a very peculiar way. He always made fun of the customers and did these bizarre things. One time he was supposed to be subbing in for a guy at the store in Stoneham, and it was summertime, and at Radio Shack in the summertime it's dead. He didn't get one single customer, so he set up a little amateur recording studio and made tape loops, put a couple of songs together. He was always a drummer. He was always drumming on something during work.
Thompson: My family moved a lot. Cycled between Southern California and New England. Fifteen times. Just before my senior year in high school we moved to Westport, Massachusetts, which is where I received my Kiwanis Award for being the Teenager of the Year. You know the Kiwanis Club? It's like a neighborhood, community service kind of group. They thought I was a good kid or something in high school. We stood out. We were blond and from California and everybody else was very Portuguese and very brunette.
Deal: I was a cheerleader. I don't know if that makes you popular. I'm not embarrassed. People get the idea cheerleaders are mean. You know who the mean folks are? The smart kids, they were fucking pricks. I graduated with honors, I was still smart. These guys were the fucking freaks, they were the ones that were supposed to be so delicate and like, awkward. They were the Dungeons & Dragons crowd. Mean fucks!
Joey Santiago (Pixies guitarist; Martinis guitarist; born June 11, 1965, in Manila, Philippines): Before I met Charles I was listening to classic rock. The Who, Stones, stuff like that. Bowie, Iggy Pop. In fact, the Velvet Underground, too. I had a brother that was like, ten years older than me, so he had White Light/White Heat and he had a turntable, so I would just listen to it. I liked it. It was the first piece of music that I heard and was like, "This is doable. I can get my hands around this." Just the simplicity.
Thompson: I remember learning how to scream. The guy who taught me was a neighbor of ours when I was a teenager. He was this guy from Thailand and he ran a T-shirt and florist shop. I used to deliver flowers for him. I was playing the Beatles' "Oh! Darling" for him and he said, "No, no, scream it like you hate the bitch!"
Deal: I got, like, a hundred songs when I was, like, 16, 17. I look at 'em and I just think, Oh, you poor . . . The music is pretty good but the lyrics are just, like, OH MY GOD. We were just trying to figure out how "blue" rhymes with "you." When I was writing 'em, they didn't have anything to do with actually who I was. I started thinking that I'd be published and that I'd write for other people, and they just needed silly, stupid songs with "blue" and "you" in it. That's what people sang about. I just wanted to be a songwriter. And I wanted to be a guitar player in a rock band. I didn't want to be a bass player. They always have the tightest pants or something, they seemed moody and weird. And the singers seem like assholes. Outgoing, and on all the time. And the drummers, I couldn't play drums. I can now, I really like the drums. If I could do anything, I'd play the drums now in a band. I have to find a band who needs my kind of drumming. I have no chops, and most bands still like chops, whatever.
Kelley went to the drive-in movie and saw The Song Remains the Same. She did acid, I think. She must have been 16, and in her trip she said that she wanted to do that. I think that was the first time [she said that] about rock. Wasn't my idea, it was her trip.
Kelley Deal: (Kim Deal's twin sister; member of the Breeders, the Kelley Deal 6000): Not the album, the movie. It was '76, maybe. I said, "I want to do that. I want to be Jimmy Page."
Deal: I wasn't good enough to play guitar to other people's songs. I couldn't really figure out how they went. So it was easier to make up your own songs. Then we opened for Steppenwolf at this place called McGuffy's House of Draft. And it was pretty scary seeing all the motorcycles in the parking lot.
Kelley Deal: It was really scary. What the hell are we doing here? One acoustic guitar and two vocals.
Deal: But they were so sweet.
Kelley Deal: Plus, I think they liked music. They liked what we liked. Old blues songs we did. Hank Williams.
Deal: Blind Faith. Everly Brothers. And they were cooler to play in front of than, like, hanging out with the white T-shirt, blue jeans, Converse kids. You know the NGA kids: No Girls Allowed. Motherfuckers. This is Dayton, Ohio. Nobody would play with us. Seriously, dude. No guy would play with us in a band. It was uncool to have a chick in the band. You could only sing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." And if you didn't sing it, if the band didn't have a chick, then the guitar player or the lead singer would sing it. He would change the words: "Why don't you put another notch in my guitar case?" I'm serious!
Kelley Deal: It never changed.
Deal: Mainly, I just started writing songs to be published. The songs that I wrote I would never think we would perform. All those country songs and stuff, I just thought that would be a publishing route. Hell, Nashville's close, it's seven hours away. There's a lot of country music around here, the fucking songs are easy to write. We didn't know there was indie rock. It was just spandex here.
Kelley Deal: We moved to Boston. As we grew older we started listening to other music. Just knowing friends who listened to other stuff. Sex Pistols, which I hated, because I like melody and I wasn't an angry 18-year-old British man.
Deal: But see, being in Dayton, Ohio, you have to find your own stuff. There was no zine here. None. I mean, none. The Undertones were on a tape Ron Rider [a friend in Dayton] gave you . . . Rockabilly was kind of popularish about '83, '84, you know, Stray Cats were on MTV and stuff, Johnny Burnette. Dayton is not a place to tour. And the fact that we had a friend who knew people on one of the coasts, and he would make mix tapes, tapes where you love these songs and nobody's heard them and you give them to your friends--that's how you know about things. They weren't on the radio. There were tapes.
Kelley Deal: I'm kind of glad that happened because it forced us to discover our own voice instead of "I want to do that." There was no scene. You made up your own fun.
Deal: It was more like, "I know I don't want to do that." That was the motivation of decisions made. I know I'm not going to do that. The role for chicks in Dayton at the time was to sing the Pat Benatar song and shake a tambourine. Maybe a couple of keyboard parts on the other songs. Really cute, real tight skirts and stuff. Just really makes you puke. But you know, the guys were doing the same thing, that made you puke, too. You'd see their package and stuff. Really gross.
Kelley Deal: I guess that's the difference, why did we know it sucked? There was no talking to anybody about it. Nobody. Me and you. Very lonely.
Deal: Madonna came out, it was more '80, '81, that's the school of the gay clubs, and I went to one here in Dayton. They would have women with no tambourine now, no keyboard in front of them, and no backup band. And these girls would come with a tape from the studio. The clubs didn't have the electronic equipment to do the digital pitch-shifting and whatnot, so they could pretty much carry the tune of their club hit. And they would sing two songs dressed really, really provocative. It would be all in fun. Nothing about rock. It's not rock. But nobody said it was, that's the good thing about that.
Kelley Deal: We had our room, and we had mics and our eight-track tape player, our mixing board, effects, we had speakers and amps--we had this whole thing set up when we were 17. Kim made the cords.
Deal: My dad showed me how. He wasn't stoked. I'm making my own cords on the kitchen table, my dad's helping, splicing the end of cables and soldering the chips to save money for cords. The way we were able to get the equipment was we knew a birthday was coming and we went, "Okay, what are we going to get? We need a board." Okay, we really want a board for our birthday. Or she'd save her McDonald's money and I'd save my Taco Bell money and we bought a board. When my granddad [who was a former coal miner] was dying of black lung disease and he was living with us, he was a little bit senile and he had a potty chair. And we used the bottom of the potty chair to put the Yamaha board on.
Kelley Deal: The Aria bass [Kim] used for the Pixies, I went and bought. Dad went with me, and I actually bought it, sixty bucks for that and an amp.
Deal: Then what happened was I got a drum machine, an Oberheim DX, and I would play around with programming the drum machine so it would feel more like we were in a band. And then I got a quarter-inch four-track machine and then I stepped up and pretty soon I had a one-inch eight-track machine, and I had a recording studio in the house in Huber Heights.
Thompson: I read an interview with J Mascis, we both went to the same college at the same time and all that. Somebody asked him about me, and he said since I didn't know a lot of punk rock, I was innocent, that I could just do whatever. I think he was right.
J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr. singer/guitarist): My roommate at the time was Charles's roommate the semester before. I think they knew each other from grade school, so he just brought me over to his room to meet his buddy. I remember he said he had an acoustic guitar, he was talking about buying an electric guitar and starting a band. [Compared to] all the people I knew in bands, [Pixies] didn't seem to know as much about music. They seemed like they got dropped from somewhere, they came out of a bubble or something. I couldn't figure out what kind of music they were into.
Deal: I went up to Ohio State University and there's a High Street there, and I cleaned toilets at the Agora [nightclub] in '79, and that was the first safety pin I'd ever seen in a cheek. It was a Halloween party there. Not that that was cool.
Thompson: [Before Pixies I was listening to] an XTC album called English Settlement and the first Violent Femmes record. In the mid-'80s RCA started to release two records by the same artist from their catalog into one package. I bought on vinyl Iggy Pop's Lust for Life and The Idiot. My freshman year in college I really just had my oddball little collection of records, which wasn't a lot, an orange crate's worth of records or so. Up to college, I didn't have a CD player or anything, people weren't listening to CDs, people were listening to cassettes and records.
Santiago: Charles and I had a suite at the college dorm. We'd go to shows, I remember seeing Black Flag and Angst. Initially I think we just liked each other. I did notice right away that he was playing music. I didn't want any more distractions, but I took my guitar up and we started fooling around with it. He'd write 'em, and I'd throw down my ideas on the guitar.
Thompson: I loved the Cars, and I remember there used to be a song I used to sing around the dormitory there with Joey, I used to sing Cars songs. It's kind of embarrassing now to think about it because I was probably a real dork, sitting around my dorm room singing Cars songs. They were cool to me. Not being a real accomplished guitar player, they didn't have a lot of punk rock attitude, but they had this kind of reserved gun gun gun gun kind of thing going on, that I connected with, I related to it. I was like, oh, that's how you do that? You just go (sings), "gun gun gun." I started doing it senior year of high school. I'd moved back to Massachusetts and discovered the Cars a little bit, and I started to do that same thing that I heard the rhythm guitar doing. The Cars were very, very influential on me and the Pixies. I heard the way they did their rhythm guitar: muted, and clicky, kind of that new wavey vibe. You can hear that on early Pixies stuff, especially "Is She Weird." That's totally Cars.
We lived in a dormitory, and Joey and I and a couple of our other suitemates rented a house. A professor was on a sabbatical or something, they were out of the country, and that was the house that we found to rent in our sophomore year. Joey moved up to the converted attic. The room I got was directly downstairs from Joey and had a stereo in it with vinyl, so I could continue to listen to my records. I listened to the first two Iggy Pop records heavily, in the dark, in my room. I wouldn't say I was depressed, but I was becoming disinterested in college, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Probably sexually frustrated. All of those things that a 19-year-old, 20-year-old is going through. But those records were like gospel religion to me. I wasn't a drinker, I didn't take drugs, there was a lot of clarity there.
I dropped out after the first semester of my junior year and went to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had taped a few of these records to bring with me on a cassette walkman. There was a Talking Heads record called Little Creatures, I had a cassette of that, I had a cassette of a Ramones album, and I thought I had a cassette of these couple of Iggy Pop records I was really into, but for some reason I didn't record them right, so they were blank. So that's all I had. A walkman. A Ramones record, a Talking Heads record, and whatever music I heard in Puerto Rico, salsa and meringue.
Santiago: I stopped listening to radio, I like to say after [Elton John's] "Philadelphia Freedom" it just went to shit, I thought. Charles was a DJ at UMass, too. Just for a semester or so. He started listening to more interesting records. He started getting into the Violent Femmes, stuff like that.
Thompson: University is just "young, dumb, and full of cum." That's what I thought when I was in college. It was just like Grade Thirteen--it didn't really feel very intellectual to me. I was really bored.
Mascis: It was horrible. Definitely the low point of my life that I can think of. I stayed three years, then I went to college in New York City for two spring semesters.
Thompson: I don't think the songs started getting good until Joey and I dropped out of school. As a matter of fact, some of them are really embarrassing. Some of them are on the Internet now. Some fan who I e-mail once in a while sent me a tape someone had sent him, and he said, "Yeah, it's all these songs you wrote a long time ago," and I was like, "Huh? What's this all about?" And it was a tape I had made myself on a boom box, and it ended up in someone's luggage at the end of their college career, and it circulated around somehow. It was all these really bad songs I wrote when I was a 16-year-old.
After several months in Puerto Rico (where he developed affinities for the Spanish language and rice and beans--the name he later selected for the Pixies' publishing company), Thompson was faced with a decision: go to New Zealand and await Halley's Comet ("It just seemed like the cool, romantic thing to do at the time."*) or return to the States and start a rock band. He wrote a letter to Joey urging him to join him in a band upon his return.
GETTING (BACK) TO BOSTON (1984)
Thompson: When I moved to Boston to actually start a band I used to go to a used record store and I had a little boom box, so I used to buy cassettes, and I discovered a couple more Iggy Pop records, and I discovered a Captain Beefheart record, and I discovered a couple of Hüsker Dü records. That was my punk stuff that I got. Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, Spotlight Kid by Captain Beefheart, and the couple of Iggy Pop things again, one of them was demos that had been widely bootlegged called I'm Sick of You. Those were the main records that I listened to right before I started a band.
Santiago: Charles and I moved to Boston, we dropped out of school and we had normal jobs. I worked at a warehouse and he worked at a warehouse. We liked to say that I was managing wood for a butcher block company and he was managing buttons on teddy bears and stuff. We were both warehouse managers. We always met halfway for lunch on the pier in Boston. We were, like, 20. That's basically what we were doing. In school we were suitemates, but when we moved to Boston we were roommates for just a year. The apartments there were small, so then we got our own apartments. He would just be writing songs all the time on his acoustic guitar. He used to write his lyrics on the subway train, too. So he'd just take a line and go around this loop and write his lyrics.
Murphy: I moved to Ohio, supposedly for six months, and one of the guys that I worked with that I met the first week, his name was Kevin Deal, and that's Kim's brother. One thing led to another and I ended up staying in Dayton for a year and a half. I worked for a defense contractor on their computer systems for the Air Force. Wasn't really my bag, but it paid well, and they paid for me to fly back and forth to home. And I got to meet Kim, so, added bonus.
Deal: So, what year did I get married? Oh Lord. Oh my God. Eighty-fuckin'-four, '85, maybe? He had worked as a computer programmer, writing language. 'Cause Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is in Fairborn, Ohio, so there's a lot of need for that. And my brother was at the same company, or similar company, I don't know, they met. And my brother introduced us. So we got married on Memorial Day, '84, and then we stayed in Ohio and then his transfer--he wanted to go back to Boston--so we moved back to Boston in January.
Thompson: I went to Boston. A lot of people think UMass is in Boston, but it's not. It's in Amherst. They have a campus in Boston now, but people think we went to school in Boston and started a band. It's just a technicality, we were in college in the Amherst area, then we dropped out, went to Boston, and started a band.
Santiago: I actually remember one night when I started learning about the job and I was like, "Hey, this job is pretty cool, the way they make these chairs and stuff." I was telling Charles how they made these stupid chairs: "It's kind of neat." He's like, "God, Joey, you're getting real excited. We gotta move on the music so you stop talking about these damn chairs."
Deal: "Hoverin' " was a song that me and my fiancé at the time did. I remember I used to copyright the songs by registering with the United States copyright office, but also mailing my cassette tapes off, return mailing it, and never opening it. I kept doing that.
Murphy: That was a little trick. Then you have the post office stamp of the date and everything, and if you don't open it, it's proof that it's never been tampered with.
Santiago: It was, like, dead of winter, around December, and we really didn't have any plans other than just, okay, we dropped out of school, let's go to Boston. So Charles picked me up, we drove to Boston, and, like, hey, we're here. He had sent me a letter from Puerto Rico saying, "We gotta do it, now is the time, Joe, we gotta chase our dreams. This is the time to do it." He was sick of what he was trying to do, being a student and stuff. And I was tired of finding out what I want to do. I know what I want to do, which is music. I think I wrote him back, and I said, "Yes, now's the time." And this stupid corny thing, starting quoting the Who. I don't know why. We gotta go!
Copyright © 2006 by Josh Frank and Caryn Ganz
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