Articles: Facing the Fire Squad

Black Francis Levitates!
by Ian Gittins
Melody Maker, November 3 1990.
Transcribed by C. Gourraud for Alec Eiffel





OR is there anything to discuss? For 10 weeks now I've known the truth. Ever since The Pixies climbed on stage, late at night, on the last day of Reading Festival and shook the ground beneath the feet of 30,000 awestruck souls with a display of pure rock brutality, I've realised their status. They tore the roof off the sky, and staged a simultaneous earthquake. Just for good measure. The Pixies were one sexy gospel. Nobody else even approached them.
Just as critical murmurings about " Bossanova " were suggesting they were burnt out, The Pixies proved they were still stellar. Still the masters.
Yet Reading was a one-off and touring is a very different business. Could The Pixies sustain their high drama, their cruel intensity, over a night-by-night slog, where non-stop tedium and travel take their toll. When I meet Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering in Dublin, five weeks after Reading, they're already weary and damaged.
Maybe the intensity is the problem. The Pixies are never throwaway. Their cavalier ease on stage is misleading. Their peculiar power requires hard graft. The Pixies offstage may be surprisingly sweet and regular guys, but in shows they work like demons and there's no let-up, no trivia to reduce the pressure. When The Pixies, the best rock band on the planet, go on tour, it's a draining, weighty, painful and an essentially serious process. Or is it?...

BLACK Francis is laying flat on his back in a hall in Belfast. His eyes are closed. Kim, Joey, David, Pixies' support band Pale Saints and myself are standing, in a circle, looking down at the prone singer. Kim sweetly coaxes all of us on to our knees.
" Now, " she informs us, " we're gonna levitate Charles by the power of thought. All of you put two fingers under him, then repeat after me. "
Fingers are slid under Charles bulk.Kim begins her litany. " He looks as light as a feather, " she recites. Seven voices repeat the phrase. Nobody thinks this is going to work.
" He IS as light as a feather! " concludes Kim triomphally. " Now pick him up! " We all exert minimal pressure on the singer's body. Amazingly, Charles rises from the ground and hangs six inches from the floor, suspended only by our token effort. We're all grudgingly impressed. Even Kim looks surprised.
Unfortunately, we try it again a few seconds later without the mystical phrases and it works just as well. Still. It was a good game, for a while. And on the road for three months, The Pixies have realised that you need good games.

LET'S backtrack a little. The night before Belfast, The Pixies played a Dublin hell-hole. It's called the National Stadium, but that's a severe misnomer. It's no home for stadium rock. It looks more like a prefab. When The Edge, splendid in a paisley bandanna, walks by to his privileged viewing vantage, half the audience have to stand up to let him by. And The Pixies flame spectacularly. If this is a hell, then they're the house band.
The Pixies have always been a shotgun wedding of the physical and the cerebral, but Dublin is special. They sound truly racked. " Velouria " is the first detonation. It's a love song from a padded cell, the filthiest, most brooding surf-pop ever.
It's clear what a genious Joey Santiago is. It's too easy for his contribution to be ignored in the rush to heap praise on Charles. Tonight, Joey's scabrous, wickedly cutting guitar edges are vicious and makes every song sound jagged. Once more The Pixies are perpetual motion. Charles is a chunky Gazza, possessed, jerking to every note.

BACKSTAGE is sweat and exhaustion. The Pixies are knackered. The need something to perk them up. Luckily, it soon arrives. A messenger hands them a note with a demeanour that suggests it should bear the royal seal. They open it. Kim reads it out.
" Keep digging for fire, you guys. We love ya. Bono. "
" Wow. How big do you need to get before you send people notes rather than talk to them? " wonders Charles. He's genuinely bemused. He's also a sensible soul. An hour later, as we all take off into the night, drinking, he buttons up his long grey overcoat, tales his leave and goes off to go to bed. He knows the rigours of touring.

HOW easy is it to write a Pixies song? " Charles asks. " I dunno. On one level it's really easy. But I wouldn't want someone to say I just whip 'em out. I spend time on them. I sit with them till they're done. A song's like a crossword puzzle. There were kids at school who always had fun doing math, right? Well, I always hated math, but writing songs is like doing a math problem. I have to solve it. "
Outside, it's teeming with rain. One more godforsaken tour day. We're passing through border country on a coach journey from Dublin to Belfast and Black Francis, staring intently at the rain, is trying to work out why he writes Pixies songs. It's a big question. The biggest. It puzzles him incessantly.
" I don't know how emotional I am about Pixies songs, " he decides. " I really don't. I find it hard to make that jump. It's so abstract for me to try to connect emotion with a pen and a piece of paper. I mean, writing a song is a weird thing to do! I love it, but it's weird. All I can do is keep whittling away. "
You dredge up some strange shit i n your songs, Charles. Some weird stuff. Do you ever wonder where it lives in your mind?
" No, because who even says it's in my mind? Everyone has a certain vocabulary and ability to write. So people always think a song comes from a person's mind. Well, I think songs come from the air. They just run through your mind. They're formulated there.
" You have the power of a pen and a blank piece of paper - you can f***ing create anything you want! " he goes on. " But who's to say that any of it comes from your brain, or your heart? Or your soul? We can talk all night about the soul and whether it even exists or not. "
So you can shed no more light on Pixies' songs than I can? " Not much. There's just this romantic idea for people who are analysing music, a painting or a film, that it's somehow the reflection of the artist's soul, or their experience, when all it is is a pen and a piece of paper. It's like those guys who attach explosives to themselves or bite the heads off mice. I think it's amusing to read about, but I don't take the guys seriously at all. I mean, so what? It's no great feat. Cutting yourself up doesn't mean you're violent. Anyone can do it. A little kid playing with a razor blade can do it. "

I'D still guess your songs come more from your head than elsewhere. Pixies' song develop like a thought process, albeit a fragmented one.
" Right, that could be, " says Francis, " I certainly think in a way that's extremely, extremely fragmented. Just think of the way you and I communicate with each other, then if we go to the movies the way the movie communicates with us. Then compare that to what rambles on inside your head! It's worlds apart. The human being is an amazing computer. It's all about dissemination of information and the organization of thoughts. "
How about the movies? Do they shape your words?
" I see them from time to time. But again, it seems too far removed for me. Paying five bucks to go see a movie, and sitting there watching it seems so removed from sitting with my guitar trying to write a song! I just don't see how they can be connected, somehow. "
Well, without being too obvious, there's always " Debaser " which you wrote after seeing the Bunuel film... " Yeah, sure, " grins Charles. " Okay. So my theory doesn't hold water... "

TIME on tour passes slowly. Every hour can last a day. To fill some time, Joey tells us how to hypnotise a chicken.
" It's easy. You draw a red line on the ground, right? Then you wait for a chicken to come along. When he arrives, he puts his beak right on the line and he's hypnotised! "
Well, I suppose it passed a few minutes.

KIM Deal is a regular sunbeam. She's fun to be with and whatever she thinks, she says. She's the drinkin', smokin', rockin' Pixie, the one who keeps the spirits up. She's also the only person in the world who rolls worse funny cigarettes than me.
" Yeah, it is always me who talks to the crowd, isn' it? she beams. " I don't know why I do that. I dunno why it is. I don't think about what I say. I'm not a one-woman show. I just go out and ramble. Charles never talks and Joey hasn't got a mike. "
Are you enjoying The Pixies a lot nowadays, Kim?
" Sure, it's fun. I'd like to sing more. That'd be cool. But I started The breeders to prove I can do that. Do I write the same kind of songs as Charles? No! Get outta here! I don't care about the Bible! I don't care about UFOs! Who wants to know about that stuff? No, I'm joking. Charles' songs are good. "
What do you think of as you stare out at a Pixies crowd?
" Oh, just that it's weird, isn'it? It's great! You can see from a stage how people are so weird. I love it when people come to see us. It's fellowship. We're like a big campfire they can all sit around! "
After the tour, Kim moves back to Ohio. She wants to be near her identical twin sister. Years back, the two of them were the very first Breeders. Will Ms Deal Mk II rejoin?
" Yeah, I hope so, " hopes Kim. " I'm going to try to get her to quit her job to play on the next Breeders album. She can play tambourine, maybe. It'd be real freaky. Identical twins in the same band! It's real carnival-ish, isn't it? " Isn't it just. We end the interview when David starts playing his 1979 Billy Joel cassette.

TUCKED up in a corner of the tour bus, Black Francis thinks about rock'n'roll.
" That's what we are, " he proclaims. " That what's touring proves to me. We're all about singing and playing. That's the bottom line. People don't give a shit about lyrics. Some people do, critics do, but most people just want to hear rock music. When I was a kid, I never got into lyrics. I just wanted to know is is a good song, or a bad song? You always come back to that point.
" The singalong thing is what it's about. It used to bug me. No, it doesn't, I like it. it doesn't matter to the fans if songs have got content or not. If it's got content, you get a few more cigarette lighters. A few more teary-eyed girls. But if it doesn't have a content, not many people give a shit. "
" Our songs are random, " continues Charles. " So were Led Zeppelin. I mean, what the f*** were they on about? Nothing! But how many kids know every word to every song put out by Led Zeppelin? Or The Beatles? Live rock'n'roll is all about repetition. Kids like the repetition they know. That's how I feel, when I go see a band! " So can it never make sense to hold Pixies songs, out of context, up to the light?
" Sure, " he concedes. " I like people doing that. I see ideas recur. I'd love to see someone do their doctorate on The Pixies. Then we might discover something. You can extract anthropological and sociological info from everything in the world. I love sitting round analysing something to death. It's never a waste of time. But it's no good talking to the source. Don't ask me! I don't know! I'm just writing songs! "
Do you have a large sense of absurdity that The Pixies, a thoroughly leftfield band, now sell out huge concert halls?
" I guess so. People say we're a peculiar band. But you don't have to be smart to like our band. It's easy! There's enough hooks going down. You can be a complete dumbo and still enjoy us. Still get what there is to get. It's not so surprising we're a success. It's natural people should like us. "
How peculiar are The Pixies, Charles?
" I guess we always think we're much more normal than I suppose we really are. I always think we're dreadfully normal. But I guess we're not, when you look at the competition. When everyone starts off doing this, they want to be all wacky, do it all peculiar. Then they end up just doing records and tours. Like us!
" We've at least achieved the tag 'peculiar', but we haven't really done anything different. We do all the press. We want to make a buck out of this. We don't wanna be obscure for the sake of being f***ing obscure. That's easy as hell to do. "
Is Black Francis happy nowadays?
" Yeah, I like to talk. I like to do things. And, y'know, this rock music stuff is the first time I've had a hobby I can pursue a lot. The only thing I'm trying to work out now is how to get more time to pursue it more. It's all that counts. You may think I do it constantly, but then there's all this stuff. "
Charles waves his hand at the coach, the road outside, the Belfast rain.
" I feel like a f***in' trucker, sometimes! "
What's your happiest moment Charles?
" Moving towards orgasm. "
And your unhappiest?
" Immediately after! " he says smiling. " No, that's not true. I'm pretty happy then too. "
Good. Oh, and one last question. Are The Pixies the best band on the planet?
" Nah! "
So what does he know?



Last Updated 02-26-97