The Music Blog: Black Francis and the Real Deal

So imagine a kid from the east coast, a high school age kid and his father gets a job working as a high level educator in the west so the family moves. He is angry but his dad buys him a ham radio to stay in contact with his friends back east only no one really wants to do that. The school that his father raves about is really a horrible place. The principal and vice principal are quick to expel undesirables all for better test scores which means more attention and more money. Its not about education. Full of anger and angst, the teen age kid begins to make purchases at Radio Shack and starts an underground radio station.  He picks a frequency and sets a few safeguards in place to avoid the FCC and starts at the same time each night. Some nights he stays on a few minutes and sometimes longer. His target audience is the high school students that are his peers and especially the undesirables. He introduces them to new music and the ideas of standing up for yourself speaking out mostly against the school. He focuses on certain administrators and he suddenly gains a bigger and bigger audience. He begins every show with Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows but his show plays hardcore punk and new underground music most everyone at the school has never heard. He plays Concrete Blonde, The Descendants, Cowboy Junkies and when he is particularly melancholy a song titled Wave of Mutilation. That is the premise and the basic story line for the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume starring Christian Slater.

For the longest time Wave of Mutilation was like a prayer for me. I played it all the time, starting my day with it, the first song I played when I got off work or went on a date and before I went to bed.  It just resonated with me. I loved that song, and I still do. It still means something to me, something always undefined but a something that makes my heart slow and quiets my mind.

Black Francis and Joey Santiago were two friends from Boston who both played guitar and who wanted to form a band. Black Francis (Charles Thompson IV) had been writing songs and they were looking for a bass player. They put out an advertisement looking for a bass player who liked Peter, Paul and Mary and the band Husker Du. Kim Deal was the only one who answered the advertisement. She didn’t own a bass, as she played guitar but she loved the songs that Black Francis was writing.  So the Pixies were born. They recorded a string of albums beginning with Come On Pilgrim in 1988. It took time to really build a following for their brand of music, a mix of surfer rock, pop and punk. There was tension almost immediately. It was Black Francis’ band and he was both the singer and the song writer. At one point Francis threw a guitar at Deal on stage during a performance.

Yet while I love the songs the Pixies recorded, the albums they made the vocals of Black Francis, the humor the absolute sarcasm of the words it was Kim Deal who made it work. Its often her voice that stands out as background to Black Francis. It is most certainly that wonderful combination that made them special. Monkey Gone to Heaven is a perfect example. Without Deal that song would not stand out although it might make you chuckle. From the first album with the great song Caribou to the album Surfer Rosa which is wonderful with songs like Gigantic, Where is My Mind? And Tony’s Theme its Deal’s happy vocals in contrast to the darkness that is Black Francis that make the Pixies special.

In 1993 the Pixies broke up. Deal learned of this via fax from Black Francis, which is quite hilarious. Kim Deal had a side project the Breeders and she went on to score a majpr hit bigger than anything the Pixies had done with the song Cannonball. During this break up period the Pixies popularity grew until they finally got back together for reunion shows. They recorded a couple of singles and toured for years but Deal refused to record an album and eventually Black Francis fired her for good. Since then the Pixies have recorded without her beginning with the album Indie Cindie and the music is the same, good songs full of humor and satire but no Kim Deal to make them work the way they should. I still love them although to me the music is less vibrant.

This is one of those bands that you would love for them to find a way to make it work but they won’t, and that’s just the nature of the business.

Mike Out

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