Friday, April 8, 2005

Apple #57: The Pixies


For those who don't know, the Pixies was a four-person band in the late 1980s and early 1990s which is often credited with laying the foundations for what we now call "indie rock." They mixed punk and pop and surf rock with a sprinkling of Spanish and came up with inventive, catchy, and crazy songs. As many music reviewers have put it, it's hard to imagine Nirvana without them. Nirvana the band, that is.

Doolittle (album cover photo from Pixies Music)

  • Lead singer Black Francis was "inspired by Iggy Pop" to change his name from Charles Thompson.
  • While he was still Charles Thompson, he was an anthropology major at the University of Massachusetts. He went to Puerto Rico to study Spanish, and after six months there, he decided to go back to the US, drop out of college, and form a band.
  • Guitarist Joey Santiago was his college roommate. Santiago named the band by flipping through the dictionary.
  • They advertised for a bassist and found Kim Deal. She and sister Kelley were in a garage band called The Breeders long before Kim ever joined the Pixies.
  • On Kim's recommendation, they recruited drummer David Lovering, and that was the Pixies.
  • As they recorded and toured together, tensions between Francis and Deal grew, especially when it came to songwriting.
  • Their albums, in chronological order:
    • Surfer Rosa
    • Come on Pilgrim (an EP, released with Surfer Rosa)
    • Doolittle
    • Bossanova (no songs by Kim Deal)
    • Trompe le Monde
    • Death to The Pixies (post break-up)
    • Best of the The Pixies (ditto)

  • They became known for being quirky and a little nuts. On their second American tour in 1989, the band often played their entire set list in alphabetical order.
  • All the touring and the sudden burst of fans wore them out and they took a break for a while.
  • After Doolittle, Kim formed her other band, the Breeders, with her sister Kelley and two other women from other bands.
  • Trompe Le Monde, the band's last album, was reportedly inspired by Ozzy Osbourne, who was using a nearby studio at the time.
  • Following this album's release, the band opened for U2 on its Zoo Tour.
  • Black Francis started working on solo stuff, and then he was interviewed as saying the band was breaking up. The next day, he faxed everyone else in the band the text of his interview, and that was it for the Pixies.
  • They did get back together for a tour recently, and they've written a couple new songs, but it looks like that might be as far as the reunion goes.

I don't know what I expected to find when I started this, but I thought I'd see something that would explain where those crazy-great songs came from. These people are not insane like David Lee Roth, they're not messed up like The Replacements. It looks like they're pretty much normal people who made fantastic songs.


People have asked me, "What about the heroin? Isn't Kim on heroin?" As far as I can tell, based on interviews and public documents (it's hard to know for sure what people do in their private lives) the answer is no, that is not her, that's her sister, Kelley.

Kelley was sentenced to mandatory rehabilitation for heroin use. This was after the Breeders' big hit album, Last Splash, and its subsequent tour. She did her time in rehab and came out clean, and this was why the next album, Title TK, was delayed for so long. Unfortunately, based on what I saw at a Breeders show after that album was released, it looked like Kelley didn't really have it together yet.

Kim gets ticked when people get her and Kelley mixed up. I'm not going to reproduce what she said in an interview about this because it includes many swear words, but the short version is, "I hate that!"

She also said, "If something ever goes wrong with Kelley again, everything stops until we fix it."

So, getting back to the original point, heroin was not a factor in the weirdness of the Pixies. The weirdest thing I know about Kim is that she uses black shoe polish to dye her hair black. She says that regular hair dye doesn't get it black enough to suit her. So it looks like the thrilling weirdness of their songs just comes straight from the personalities they were born with.

The Pixies' Biography on Yahoo Music (republished from Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide)
Rolling Stone bio of The Pixies and discography

Satan Stole My Teddybear blog of music reviews, page on the Pixies
J. Eric Smith interview with Kim Deal, 1997
NME's Review of All Tomorrow's Parties, on an unofficial Breeders website,


  1. Here is a comment I will post, because I enjoy your blog: Rather than posting randomly interesting research topics, I think you should cull interesting, but slightly esoteric, topics from big or controversial news stories that lots of people do google searches on. That way you could increase site traffic while providing people with an interesting slant on current events.

    For example: Different types of Pope hats, or the history of the feeding tube, or how many pedophiles addicted to plastic surgery have their noses fall off? I think that would be fascinating, and I would stop by every day to see what new cool window into the news you have provided.

    Good luck, Apple Lady!

  2. Thanks for the suggestion. I have considered researching topics relevant to the news, but I keep deciding against it. It seems like when something is in the news, it is everywhere. I considered looking into how the conclave for the papacy works, for example, but I was seeing explanations of that everywhere I turned. Since my original goal for this blog was to provide an anodyne for the glut of media, whose news stories I often find depressing, I decided to stick with researching topics that pique my curiosity during the day.

    My additional goal, related to this, is hopefully to encourage readers by example that you, too, can pursue whatever gets you curious and learn something new everyday.

    If a lot of people agree with your suggestion, however, I might consider changing my mind. Additional opinions?

  3. Fork Stealer4/13/2005 2:44 AM

    I completely agree with the Apple Lady. Though I think of it more as an antidote than an anodyne, though I could be splitting hairs.

    Don't get sucked into the artificially manufactured news cycle. The news covers one one-billionth of the interesting things that happen every moment in the world. It's nice to once in a while visit a site that does its part to cover the other... uh... 999,999,999 billionths... uh...


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