Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
I remember the first time I saw the video for the Breeders “Cannonball.” It was summer and I was home from camp early and watching MTV, which I rarely got to do. There it was: an actual cannon ball rolling down a suburban street followed by shots of these two cute brunettes and their friends hanging out and playing music. The scene was so quirky and intimate and the music so big and emotional, I was mesmerized. Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I grew up, was not a hotbed of alternative culture. Access to a world in which a pretty girl could also be goofy and strange and wearing deliberately dorky knee socks didn’t exist to me then. This video was like peeking through the looking glass: who were these fascinating creatures?
The answer, of course, is Kim and Kelley Deal, also known as the Breeders. In 1993 Kim was fresh off the breakup with the Pixies and had finally roped her sister Kelley into playing with this other band of hers. The Breeders’ second album, Last Splash, released on esteemed indie of all esteemed indie, 4AD became a surprise success and went platinum. In an era where selling out was still a meaningful accusation, these girls had done the impossible: reach millions by being themselves. It didn’t hurt that they wrote incredible songs – sunny and grimy at once – or that they had really cool friends. The “Cannonball,” video was co-directed by Spike Jonze and Kim Gordon.
“That was the first time I saw Kim Gordon in person and fell madly, passionately in love with her,” recalled Breeders drummer Jim Macpherson, from the back of the van in the middle of America somewhere. The Breeders are currently on tour in support of an exquisite 20th anniversary reissue of Last Splash. In honor of the release, the band poured through a bunch of extra material and found the recording of an infamous live show in Stockholm, in which Kelley instructs the crowd on how to make mudslides. “Kelley cringed a bit upon hearing her slurred rendition of the recipe, and when someone in the audience asks for her phone number she gives out her actual phone number,” Josephine Wiggs (bass) says when I ask if anything they’d come across in putting this all together was embarrassing. “What’s funny is that at the time, the rest of us found it cringe-worthy, but now we think it’s hilarious. We persuaded her we should keep it in for the re-release.” When I ask Kim about the pros and cons of touring with your twin sister (and your dad, who also joined them on the road from time to time) she doesn’t hesitate. “It’s wonderful to have family around. However, the drawback is that when you don’t hire a professional bus driver you run the risk of leaving a man behind as we did when we forgot Kelley in Miami. She had to hitch a ride to the next show in Nirvana’s bus [during the In Utero tour].”
When I first saw the Breeders onscreen all those years ago they seemed like physical manifestations of a fantastic potential future in which you were allowed to be all things at once: a rocker, a girl who likes lipstick, and a goofball. All these years later, not much has changed. After struggling with drugs, Kelley eventually got clean and took up knitting. I ask her about the last thing she made. “I just finished a couple of fence-post covers,” she writes, then emails a photo. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Twenty years after I discovered them, I’m still learning from the Deal sisters. Here’s to another 20 years.