[caption id="attachment_4273" align="alignnone" width="630" caption="The Pixies backstage at the Warfield Theater, April 1992. Photo: Clayton Call/Redferns"][/caption]
Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
There are few things in this world quite as pathetic as two adult men arguing about a band that hit its creative peak during the late '80s.
It all started innocently enough, with my friend Dale and I reminiscing about the Pixies’ face-meltingly awesome gig at Detroit's Fox Theatre this past April, which was both a intoxicating highlight of our year and a grim reminder of our own mortality. A Pixies concert circa 2011 is a strange juxtaposition. On the one hand, you have the inherent badassness of the music, and the chance to sing along with lyrics like “He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot / Yep, yep yep yep!” But then you look around and realize that the audience is a sea of 40-something dudes just like you, with Black Francis man-nipples and nowhere to go but down. The wave of mutilation has been replaced by a wave of “I’m going to sit down during the slow songs.”
The sheepish nostalgia turned to animosity when I mentioned to Dale what I thought was good news. According to a recentish interview with Pixies’ guitarist Joey Santiago, the band was, or would be, or wasn’t completely opposed to the idea of making a new record. Santiago even claimed that Bono had begged them to return to the studio. “He’s like, ‘Please make a record!’” Santiago said. “Goddamn, we can’t leave that unturned. That would frustrate me. It would.”
To me, this seemed like cause for celebration. But to my friend Dale, it was like 1993 all over again, and the Pixies were breaking up the band (and his heart) for a second time.
“There is no way that won’t be fucking horrible,” he shouted at me.
“You don’t want new Pixies music?” I asked.
“Why? You really want to endure the Pixies’ version of Steel Wheels?”
“I would, actually. A Steel Wheels about aliens and Salvador Dalí would be pretty fucking cool.”
“It’ll blow,” Dale sniffed. “And they’ll play all the new stuff at their shows, and we’ll just have to wait that much longer to hear the old songs. I don’t go to a Pixies show to see a bunch of 40-year-olds try to prove they’re still creatively relevant. I just want to hear 'Gigantic' again, goddammit.”
Ah, “Gigantic.” It’s the Pixies’ song that hardcore fans and casual listeners alike can agree on. It was the only song guaranteed to be on every set list of their recent world tour, including the Detroit show. And it’s the only song I can’t hear without my hand drifting towards my groin, just to make sure I’m not exposing myself again.
Let me explain.
If you're planning to have casual sex with somebody you met just a few hours ago, it's always a good idea to ask them a few simple questions before jumping into the sack. I'm not talking about STDs and condoms and blah blah blah, although that's not a bad idea either. I mean questions like, has she recently dumped a boyfriend? And is the boyfriend aware that they're no longer dating? Is he the jealous type, or at least jealous enough to spy on her all night and wait until she picks up some guy at a concert and then follow them back to her place and wait outside for the most inopportune moment to burst in and tearfully request that she give their relationship another chance?
If nothing else, try not to take off your clothes in a stranger's apartment without making sure that all of the doors are locked. Because you just never know.
During the early 1990s, I was at a point in my life when I wasn’t discriminating when it came to sex partners. If she didn't make a yucky face when she looked at me, I could be talked into just about anything. On the night in question, I was only attracted to this woman — who’s name I’ve long forgotten — because she had a tattoo of Mayor McCheese on her calf. At the time, it struck me as hilarious and I told her so repeatedly, which I guess she found charming. But I’m pretty sure she misunderstood my compliments. When I said her tattoo was funny, I meant funny at her expense. Funny as in, "Wow, that's going to stop being cool in three, two, one, and now."
After drinking just enough to forget that we had absolutely nothing in common, we went back to her apartment. There was some kissing, and hands were definitely in some places. She turned on a local college radio station "for some mood music," which was probably a terrible idea, as it's almost impossible to feel or act sexy with a soundtrack of They Might Be Giants' "Your Racist Friend" and Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings." She did that thing where she unbuckled my belt and pulled it out of the pant loop in one swoop. I wasn't really prepared for that, so it sent me spiraling across the room like a yo-yo, which was embarrassing but also kinda hot.
I'm not sure how long we'd been having sex when her boyfriend walked in. Or ex-boyfriend, it wasn't clear. When she noticed him standing next to the bed, looking down at us with a dejected expression he'd obviously been practicing for most of the night, she immediately jumped out of bed and covered herself with the blanket. It wasn't the kind of modesty you'd expect from people who still see each other naked on a regular basis. But then again, she was crying and hiding her face in her hands and muttering, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," which isn't something a sane person says to an ex-lover who’s just broken into her home.
But I had more pressing concerns. Ol' what's-her-name had absconded with the only available blanket, leaving me with just a hand to conceal my nudity, which is impossible to do and still look cool and casual. Luckily, neither of them paid much attention to me. They were busy arguing, and crying, and asking rhetorical questions like "Why, why, why?" I probably could've slipped out without being noticed, but I couldn't locate my pants. Had she thrown them across the room like she'd done with my belt? And if so, in what direction? Just as I was eyeing her My Pretty Pony backpack and wondering if it could pass for pants — and then wondering if I'd really slept with somebody who owned a My Pretty Pony backpack, even if she meant it ironically — a familiar melody spilled from her stereo that seemed weirdly fortuitous.
"Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic/ Our big big love"
It struck me as the funniest thing I'd ever heard in my entire life, and I burst into laughter like I’d just been given a hit of nitrous oxide. It might've been the inevitable release of so much built-up tension — it's uncomfortable enough being in the middle of two fighting lovers, but especially so if you're buck naked and still have a condom hanging from your rapidly shrinking member like a deflated birthday balloon. But even with so many valid reasons to feel chagrined, there was something about that particular Pixies song that made everything okay.
Have you ever listened to a song, any song, and thought, "This artist understands me in ways that nobody ever has before?" Of course you have. I can't claim to know what Kim Deal was singing about in "Gigantic." But for those five minutes, in a truly bizarre bit of synchronicity, Kim Deal was singing just for me. She was my cheering section on a truly regrettable penis day. When you're naked and a door bursts open and a guy you've never seen before storms in and starts shouting and pointing and accusing things that should already be kinda obvious, it's natural to feel a little vulnerable. Under that kind of stress, an erection is like the controlled explosion of a building demolition. It's gonna collapse within a matter of seconds. There'll be nothing left but a cloud of dust and debris. And that makes it difficult to assert yourself. It's not really possible to stand up to an intruder and say, "Just what the hell is going on here? I think you need to leave, man." Because all he has to do is let his gaze drift down to that hole in the ground you used to call a penis and blammo, you've lost all credibility.
But then you hear Kim Deal in the background, singing "Gigantic, gigantic, our big big love," and it's like she's standing behind you, giving you a pep-talk when you need it the most. And really, how often does that happen? Kim Deal wasn't in any way correct, of course, which is what made it so funny. And that's why I laughed so hard that even the woman with the tattoo of Mayor McCheese on her calf and her maybe ex-boyfriend stopped fighting to stare at me.
That was almost exactly twenty years ago and even today I still have a Pavlovian response every time I hear "Gigantic." The moment Kim starts singing "What a gas it was to see him," I might as well be naked all over again, my penis retreating into my body like a frightened meerkat. And maybe that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about the band reuniting and making another album. I’m well aware that the odds are against it being any good. But maybe it won’t be their Steel Wheels. Maybe it’ll be their Bigger Bang. Or whatever post-Tattoo You Stones album you don’t think is an abomination. If nothing else, it’s a fresh start. Not just for them, but for me. Those old songs were great, but some of them come with just way too much baggage.
“The Pixies are just never gonna do a better album than Surfer Rosa,” my friend Dale reminds me. “So why even bother? How the fuck are you going to improve on ‘Gigantic’?”
I smile and nod, and my hand instinctively drops to my crotch ... just in case.