When I originally conceived this column for Geek Versus, I honestly didn’t have music geekdom in mind. The focus was going to be on previously thought of as juvenile things now being held onto through adulthood like comic books, super heroes, toy collecting, etc. Rock and roll, while an expression of youth culture, usually gets a bit of a pass in the negative social stigma department. Incidentally, the passing of Prince and the surprise release of a Radiohead record gave me immediate geek-worthy reasons to interject the audiophile’s point of view into my column about becoming an elder statesman in the nerdsphere while my other articles, already (mostly) written, were being published.
If there’s a band that glues those two points-of-view together for me, it’s The Pixies. They’re both directly and indirectly responsible for bridging my youth from childhood to adolescence, where my interests moved from the fantastic to the bombastic. It’s when my geeky energy moved from ingurgitating cartoons and getting lost in my own toybox to staying up late on school nights to watch obscure videos on MTV’s 120 Minutes and seeking out any remotely cool music magazine I could find. It wouldn’t be until the first time I experienced nostalgia for those toons and toys around 16-17 that I realized the geeky inclination was the same for all of it.
The Pixies are significant in this instance because, while listening to their recently released 6th studio album, Head Carrier, I noticed just how much geek baggage I brought into listening to this new release. This is a concept that I mentioned briefly in my article about The Joker and character integrity. I wondered what it must be like to just put this record on cold, simply thinking that this is just a band that a parent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling digs. Those first weird barely-on guitar licks against the straight-forward bassline that are familiar to me but may be out of place to someone unfamiliar with the Pixies formula. What does it sound like to someone who doesn’t have to drag bags and bags of drama and influence into the living room, hoping there’s a spare bedroom to also keep the Frank Black records? What does this record mean to someone who only knows The Pixies from seeing their shirts at Hot Topic? Do these distinguished noises even make sense anymore?
I can’t approach this record so easily, and it’s not unlike walking into any superhero film hoping they don’t muck up the character whose name is in the title of the flick.
For the sake of context, it must be established here that The Pixies are an important band. A lot of what happened in the 90’s was inspired by them. This is the band that Kurt Cobain went on record stating he ripped off to write Smells Like Teen Spirit. Guitarist Joey Santiago is directly responsible for Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead’s guitar style among countless others. Bassist Kim Deal is an icon for a bajillion reasons. You probably at least know “Where Is My Mind?” with the haunting “OOOoooo” vocal melody from the end of Fight Club. They’re a big deal.
(Note: I highly recommend the documentary “loudQuietloud: A Film About The Pixies” for further context. David Bowie, U2, Radiohead, and tons of other people talk about their impact in the film. It should be pretty easy to find if you can operate a Google.)
I discovered The Pixies in 1992, at 12 years old, roughly a year after the band had already broken up in tumultuous and seemingly permanent fashion. My friend Jared and I raided his older brother’s CD collection and he played me their single “Dig for Fire” from their record Bossa Nova. It was quite the bummer to find out that this cool new thing I’d just discovered was already over, but I loved it nonetheless.
I wouldn’t actually own a Pixies album until 2 years later when I got Doolittle in my first 5 free CD’s in my BMG subscription, a “CD club” that sent you a CD each month for roughly $14.95 that most people just cancelled after getting their 5 free ones. BMG eventually supplied me with the remaining Pixies records with the exception of Surfer Rosa which I bought on cassette in 1996 because I had a tape deck in my ‘87 Camaro. I wore these albums out and learned every nuance I could on guitar. There were definitely times in my life when they were the answer to “Who’s your favorite band?”.
The Pixies were always the weirdest band in the room. They were never stylish, usually dressed as if they were just coming from their day jobs or from an afternoon 1101 university lecture. Their sound wasn’t exactly heavy, but when singer Black Francis (real name Charles Thompson) would often scream so loud on stage you could visibly see both Deal and Santiago back away from the stage monitors in retreat from the force of it’s volume. You wouldn’t describe their songs as “pop” songs, but they were structured like Buddy Holly-esque 3 minute pop diddies. Their lyrics were vivid and violent, intermittently bi-lingual, and often biblical in reference. They were unique, to say the least.
In the midst of the band’s demise, singer Black Francis’ (now going by Frank Black) solo albums and bassist Kim Deal’s band The Breeders were certainly suitable replacements for the absence of The Pixies. In many ways, The Breeders, whose album Last Splash is a personal all-time favorite, were a superior substitute. Their single “Cannonball” (You know, the one that goes like “AaaOOOOOooooo,AaaOOOOOooooo”) was a runaway hit in 1993.
In late 2003, The Pixies surprised everyone by announcing they would be getting back together and in 2004 began touring again. In the summer of 2005, at 25 years old, I got to see The Pixies perform for the first time. This is a band that, from first discovery at 12 years old until 25 when I physically got the tickets, I believed I would never see. This is a belief about one of my favorite bands I carried around for what was more than half of my life at the time. They played the hits. I cried tears. It was beautiful.
I saw the Pixies a second time in 2010 for the 20th anniversary of Doolittle, at 30 years old, and
remember looking around at the audience and noticing how “adult” everyone looked. It was the first time I recalled going to a show and realizing there wasn’t a bunch of drunk teenagers hanging about. Lots of blazers over t-shirts, jeans, and Converse All-Stars. There were reserved seats so there wasn’t a lot of pushing and shoving. No one was particularly smelly. It didn’t necessarily make me feel old, but I left the show feeling at peace with my adolescence. Like I had accepted that it was okay to be a grown-up, and I didn’t really need The Pixies anymore. It was a strange experience, but one I felt good about after the fact.
In 2014 The Pixies released their first record without bassist Kim Deal, Indy Cindy, and I probably listened to it twice and put it away. That feeling of not needing The Pixies had persisted. I think it’s stuck around in the case of Head Carrier. In spite of it’s interesting moments, I just can’t muster the spirit to really enjoy the band like I used to as a teenager. It’s not music made for teenagers, but I’m no longer the teenager that originally connected to them in the first place.
Maybe that’s okay, though. I don’t think Head Carrier is a bad record at all. It wouldn’t be fair to The Pixies for me not to recognize that not really being into what they’re doing right now is probably more of a “me” thing than some negative mark against the record itself.
I think we often take for granted that we bring all this history with the geek properties that we love around with us every time we engage them. It may not feel like it most of the time because there’s usually one of them and potentially millions of us, but it truly is a relationship between us and the artist. Remember, you’re not just a consumer. What you bring to the relationship also matters. That thing you love may have already done what it needed to do for you so you may not need a new installment. Maybe the thing you love only has a time and place relevance and that’s fine. I discovered The Pixies after they broke up so I know I can always go back if I need. I can at least appreciate that the new stuff is there, hopefully for someone new to discover.
Hey, The Breeders just finished recording a new record, too, so maybe it will feel better to dump all my baggage out on that one when it comes out instead.
Versus The New Half-life is a satirical feature series documenting the experience of modern geek life beyond the 18-34 demographic. Are we simply nostalgia driven super-consumers refusing to embrace adulthood by indulging childhood fantasy or have the expectations of being an adult changed? Writer J. Aaron Poole over-analyzes various geek fandoms to explore common themes and appropriate behavior from limbo as an indubitable grown-up under the age of 40.
J. Aaron Poole is a 21st century writer, musician, and geek culture advocate. He is a member of the American Sociological Association with an academic interest in the relationship between media, technology, and modern culture. Currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Aaron can be found making absurd comments on Twitter, PSN, and other social media platforms as @JAaronPoole.