Everything music-related in my life started with the Pixies, with the album, Doolittle. I cannot possibly equivocate on this issue. Just two years before Doolittle arrived in ’89, I was buying Tiffany’s 45 single of “I Think We’re Alone Now” in the fall of my seventh grade year, a member of glee club.
Yes there were a couple of significant signposts along the road that got me to the Promised Land—listening to the “Add It Up” on a pair of yellow Walkman Sports headphones by a hallway locker. Several albums worth of They Might Be Giants earlier goofiness, Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, the Feelies, Morissey belting out "Every Day Is Like Sunday" from Viva Hate on NBC’s weird Saturday afternoon MTV-ripoff major network video show…
But these were mere appetizers to the main course. I'd discovered Doolittle in a massive spread in Rolling Stone, which I read then strictly for purposes of highlighting what little profile I might’ve hoped to have. At the same time, my cousin, Gary, got the album on tape, and we listened to it in his bedroom after a family dinner one night. I passed on the Black Flag he also bought, but Doolittle had me hooked from the first bars of the first song, "Debaser," a fact repeated ad infinitum all over the globe.
I bought it on CD (I think I had the tape too) and used to play it on my dad’s stereo in the living room when everyone was gone. I could turn it up loud then, louder than my dad normally permitted the speaker level to go. Rocking out alone in perfect, heady bliss to clashing guitars, gutter Spanish-patois, and lyrics that incorporated in the most deliciously blasphemous way all the Sunday School stories from the Old Testament I had been forced to learn against my will my whole life.
This was the key. I had found something in Doolittle—its pointed, explicit, raw inversion of Biblical truths—that I both understood and understood the impulse to pervert. As a churchgoing youth with deeply-believing Christian parents, this was the rebellion I craved. The homilies of the Old Testament, confusing and violent to begin with, were revealed for what they were—the basest examples of man’s continuing vice. By turning it into masterful, addictive songs, Doolittle celebrated the vice and subverted it.
After Doolittle, I bought a double CD that contained both Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa. The three became my major musical tome throughout high school, and along with the totally different Jethro Tull, pretty much stood for all I listened to until college. When I was finally allowed to take a car to Carolina, it had the red bumper sticker that had been there since my junior year of high school: one word—PIXIES.
It’s funny how you can legitimately wear out a favorite band. When you get to a point where it seems like you’ve heard the songs so much, you’re not hearing them anymore. It’s kind of like a revered sports team. You get to a point where the game itself becomes a kind of pain, wrapped up in memories and nostalgia and anxiety even as its happening in the present. You can’t watch. You might as well just wait for the recap and see what happened after the fact.
In some ways this is what happened with the Pixies. Not just for me, but our whole generation. They weaned so many. We were their musical children. So of course we rebelled against those who taught us the attitudes and postures of rebellion in the first place.
I embraced Hip Hop and Sterolab, and turned my back on the sound that configured me.
I felt I honestly didn’t need to listen to the Pixies anymore. Or was it just that I didn’t have the guts to any longer? Several years later, as the CDs collected dust on my shelves, a passing roommate asked to borrow my Pixies collection to burn to his iTunes. Doolittle, Bossanova, Trompe Le Monde… I never even asked for them back when he moved out.
On November 4, 2009, Sara and I caught the Pixies at the Palladium in Hollywood. The first night of their 20th Anniversary Doolittle tour, in which they would play the whole album plus B-Sides from start to finish. I had never seen them live. Throughout my rampant fandom, it had been one of the major bummers of my life. I always seemed to miss them for whatever unlucky reason. I finally accepted it as one of those rules of the universe and moved on.
When the played Coachella a few years back—their first reunion tour in some time—I felt a stirring, a mild anxiety, like maybe this time, it was my fault I didn’t catch them. My fault I wasn’t paying attention anymore.
No longer. The live show was honestly one of the best I’ve ever seen. Thirty-year-olds, amped with nostalgia, moshed during the encore. The entire crowd sung with Kim Deal to close out the haunting echo of “Where Is My Mind?” at the close of the final encore.
It was magical. And it brought back with full force the mad power of this marvelous album. And reminded me what I wanted from music in the first place, when I started the strange journey twenty years ago.
PIXIES DOOLITTLE, 1989, Elektra (2004 4AD vinyl reissue)