The music of The Pixies was part of the soundtrack of my student years. Experiencing their sound for the first time live in 1989 at the Pinkpop concert opened a whole new planet of sound to me. I vividly remember standing in front of Joey Santiago as he was playing Vamos. Cool as a cucumber, he produced the most bizarre sounds I had ever heard come from a guitar.
After the festival I immediately bought their Doolittle and Surfer Rosa CDs and immersed myself into the absurdist musical art of The Pixies. Being only 19 years old I attempted to seek meaning in their lyrics, such as Debaser:
Got me a movie
I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs
I want you to know
Girlie so groovy
I want you to know
Don’t know about you
But I am Un Chien Andalusia
Listening to some of their Doolittle tracks such as Debaser placed a lot of questions into the mind of a 19 year old. What do these words mean? Does Frank Black possess some profound knowledge he wants to share only with those whoc can decipher his songs?
Little did I knew that their inspiration came directly from the 1929 film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. This surrealist work of cinematographic art is a disjointed jumble of weird and disturbing images. It is all too human human to seek meaning in everything we perceive. The makers of Un Chien Andalus were, however, quite clear on their that there was absolutely no meaning attached to the images:
No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted … Nothing, in the film, symbolises anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis.
Absurdist art shows us that there might not be any meaning and that things are just the way they are. Psychoanalysis is, by the way, the ultimate attempt to seek meaning where there is none. Absurdism highlights the meaninglesness that is in our lives and provides a point of reflection on sobering fact. It has taken me two decades of studying philosophy to understand this! Our minds are information processing machines that try to put everything we perceive into some kind of order. In most cases, however, things are just the way they are. And so is the music of The Pixies.
Their songs are symphonic eruptions that sound like a psychotic version of Abba. Joey’s snaring guitar and Black Francis’ frantic screams are counterpointed by the tight rhythms for David Lovering and sweet sounds of Kim Deal’s voice. The music from The Pixies can only be enjoyed head on; not interpreted and analysed, but experienced.
Last week I was fortunate to experience a live Pixies concert once again, this time in Festival Hall in Melbourne. Although the music was played somewhat mechanically, it was a great concert. Although I think I am getting too old too immerse myself in the mosh pit—I have been limping for the past three days—the best way to experience any rock music is through lots of sweat.
At one stage I was standing back, as I was gasping for breath, and was hit in the face by the sheer beauty of their compositions. Reflecting back on my 1989 Pinkpop experience, it dawned on me that The Pixies propelled me on a musical journey which showed me how to experience music in a different way. After discovering the The Pixies, I am no longer afraid of music!
The journey took me from the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten and Karl Heinz Stockhausen to composers such as Phillip Glass, John Adams and Béla Bartók. The Pixes bridged the eighties and the nineties from a Rock & Roll perspective by creating the foundation for what would become known as grunge. Most importantly, their music also bridges a gap between popular music and contemporary art music as their complex compositions are timeless pieces of rock & roll.