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Members include Black Francis (born Charles Michael Thomson Kitteridge IV in Long Beach, CA) guitar, vocals; Joey Santiago, guitar. Former members include Kim Deal, bass; David Lovering, drums. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Entertainment, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

Considered one of the most vital American alternative rock bands of the late 1980s, the Pixies attracted a huge European audience, as well as a moderate underground American following, between 1987 and 1993 with their combination of brash, intentionally tasteless punk and post-punk indie guitar rock, classic pop, and surf rock. Although the band never established strong commercial success in the United States, the Pixies' hard rock melodies and subversion of conventional song structures influenced many bands of the 1990s. The band disbanded in 1993, yet its raw, unstudied approach to music, combined with singer/songwriter/guitarist Black Francis' bizarre rants on religion, UFOs, mutilation, and pop culture, spawned a host of imitators that have summarily failed to match the Pixies' in either popularity or reputation. David Fricke of Rolling Stone called the Pixies "Boston's best gift to trash pop since the great Mission of Burma, and a roaring foursome who mix and mash abrasive guitar propulsion with {Francis's} quixotic melodicism and brutal, beguiling lyric surrealism."

The Pixies was founded in 1986 in Boston, Massachusetts, by roommates Charles Michael Thomson Kitteridge IV and Joey Santiago. The pair, who had traveled to Boston to attend the University of Massachusetts, decided to publish an ad calling for musicians to form a "Husker Du/ Peter, Paul & Mary band" after checking out the local club scene. Bassist Kim Deal (then Mrs. John Murphy, who reclaimed her maiden name following a divorce in 1986) joined the band shortly after, also introducing drummer David Lovering to Thomson and Santiago. According to Michael Azerrad in Rolling Stone, "One day Thompson's father joked about naming his next child Black Francis, and Thompson claimed the name as his own. Santiago chose the band's name by riffling through a dictionary."

Born in Long Beach, California, Francis grew up in Southern California listening to such classic-rock legends as the Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop and attending a Pentecostalist church that instilled in him a congruent sense of religious fundamentalism. An anthropology major at the University of Massachussetts, in Amherst, he dropped out to found the Pixies (originally known as Pixies in Panoply) and quickly became its mouthpiece. Although most press has tended to focus on Francis, Azerrad declared guitarist Santiago "the lifeblood of the Pixies' sound, as well as their unhinged spirit. As someone close to the band only half-joking puts it: 'Joey is completely psycho. He's a dangerous character.'" Ian Gittins in Melody Maker characterized Kim Deal as "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." Lovering, perhaps the most reticent member of the band, was often praised by reviewers as well as the purportedly egotistical Francis as perhaps the most gifted and exacting musician in a band of self-taught players.

In 1986, the Pixies played in Boston clubs and recorded a demo tape that eventually found its way into the office of a British independent label, 4AD Records. on the strength of a series of superior demo tapes. Although according to Deal the label found the Pixies' sound "too American, "i.e. loud and obnoxious," the company was quick to sign the quartet and released the demo intact as a mini-LP titled Come on Pilgrim in 1987. The album prompted an ecstatic press response in the United Kingdom, with its abrasive, powerful sound and Francis' surreal lyrics. Blotcher noted that "the album offered twisted rockers and ballads, guitar-scarred and coodled, celebrating incest and animals and sex so fine (with an elevator operator). They're charged with a sound as rewarding as scabpicking was when you were a kid. Gleefully reckless. Good nasty fun. The Pixies have the eerie depth of old souls, yet their average of 22, explains their eagerness to offend, to aurally jar and generally rock people off their mental axis."

The Pixies' next album, Surfer Rosa, produced in 1988 by Big Blacks' Steve Albini, was more raw and voluminous in sound than its predecessor. The band generally attributed the change to Albini's dislike for "anything human sounding," which led him to elevate fractured, Jurassic guitar riffs over vocal melody in such hits as "Bone Machine" and "Gigantic." Francis commented to Marlene Goldman in Alternative Press: "Albini turned the guitars up real loud. That's not any criticism to him. That's a very basic thing. We' ve worked with a lot of other people and a lot of other people wouldn't dare do that."

Despite Surfer Rosa's instrumental emphasis, Francis's lyrics managed to attract some critical attention for their bizarre juxtaposition of religious and grotesque images. Francis mentioned in OPTION #21 of the repeated incest motif: "'I dunno, Jim Morrison sang about it a lot, didn't he?' He looks around for backup. 'I don't have any sisters or anything! I just had a lot of Bible upbringing. Real hardcore Pentacostal... you can't get rid of a lot of stuff. You have all the letters of the alphabet to choose from and all the words in the dictionnary, and you start putting things together and it begins to look like something--sort of--but there are lots of missing parts because you're starting off with arbitrary syllables."

With 1989's Doolittle, the Pixies burst into the British Top 10. This album retained the rough sound of Surfer Rosa, yet reveals a softer touch in Francis's smoother melodies."You just get tired of listening to yourself scream. You just want to sing. So we sang a lot more," Francis told Marlene Goldman in Alternative Press. In 1989, the Pixies played over 150 dates on their world tour and became a highly fashionable attraction as much for their emerging grasp of melody as for their hard-driving sound. Their live performances evoked a strongly enthusiastic response in the press and enhanced their growing reputation with such standards as "Debaser," "Wave of Mutilation," and "Bone Machine." Fricke contended that "the way Thompson shoehorns sexual obsession, graphic violence, goofy humor, and religious iconography into musical telegrams--bursts of rage and revelation in 'Wave Of Mutilation,' 'I Bleed,' and 'Monkey Gone To Heaven,' a corrosive, compelling meditation on God and garbage--transcends mere naivete."

The latter song, perhaps the band's most endearing single, became the title cut of the Pixies' next album, Monkey Gone to Heaven (1989). The song plays on the designation of Man, the Devil, and God into numerological values in Hebrew scriptures (5, 6, and 7, respectively). Speaking to Goldman, Black characteristically disclaimed the significance of his lyrics while hinting at a deeper meaning: "It's a reference from what I understand to be Hebrew numerology, and I don't know a lot about it or any of it really. I just remember someone telling me of the supposed fact that in the Hebrew language, especially in the Bible, you can find lots of references to man in the 5th and Satan in the 6th and God in the 7th. I don't know if there is a spiritual hierarchy or not. But it's a neat little fact, if it is a fact. I didn't go to the library and figure it out."

The Pixies' 1989 album, Here Comes Your Man, attracted less attention than its predecessor. The same year, the Pixies contributed to Neil Young's 1989 tribute album, The Bridge (covering "Winterlong"), and Deal formed her own all-female band, the Breeders. Over the next two years, Deal found an outlet for her singing and songwriting that she later implied had been stifled in the Pixies, which came to be increasingly dominated by Francis.

The Pixies' 1990 album Bossanova which put the Pixies back in the public eye as one of the most widely acknowledged top albums of the year. Deal described the Bossanova album as "more Steven Spielberg than David Lynch," with several songs in Bossanova reflecting Francis' life-long interest in extraterrestrials. Francis told Roy Wilkinson in Sounds: "We've tried to elevate the sci-fi thing, make it more opera-ish, more of a serious rock thing.... We want UFOs to be an acceptable topic. They're romantic." "The Happening" is about aliens in Las Vegas, for example, and "Ana" describes an otherworldly surfer girl. Bossanova also reflects another of Francis' obsessions, surf music. Michael Azerrad commented in Rolling Stone: "Bossanova opens with a cover of 'Cecilia Ann,' an early-Sixties obscurity by the Surftones, and the twangy sounds of the genre snake throughout the record."

Despite its generally positive critical response and emphasis on patently popular themes, Bossanova failed to make an impact on the mainstream charts. Wilkinson commented: "For although a brilliant performance at Reading proved that large-scale shows were no problem to them, Pixies' music remains too quirky, too abrasive for the perceived dictates of daytime radio." Long-time fans of the band's harder-edged early albums complained in some quarters that the Pixies had sold out to commercialism. Francis retorted: "So many people comment on the drastic changes between this record and the last one. And they really aren't listening, because to me it's the same 'old sh**,' sort of. There are certain things that have changed, but those are obvious--like having more money to spend on your record, so your 'production values' get a little more sophisticated. But it's the same TYPE of material."

The Pixies' next major release, Trompe Le Monde, returned to the Sturm und Drang of their earlier works, prompting some critics to describe it as "the Pixies Heavy Metal album." The rage apparent to many in the 1991 work was perhaps due in part to increasing tensions within the band. Deal barely sang on the record and was reportedly angry that she wasn't allowed any space for her songs on either Trompe or Bossanova. Following a tense final tour opening for U2, Black Francis disbanded the group in early 1993. Azerrad had reported earlier in Rolling Stone: "Frictions reportedly developed within the band toward the end of Doolittle tour and the beginning of Bossanova sessions," and general rumors in the press were finally confirmed. Speaking on Mark Radcliffe's Radio 5 show "Hit the North," Black admitted: "Nothing really happened. I decided to disband the group because I didn't want to be in the group any more. I just think that some groups are maybe cut out for the long haul and being together for ten or twenty years, but no way am I going to do that. I don't even know whether I'm going to be in the music business for that long."

Admitting that he failed to inform the group of his decision before announcing its demise to the press, Francis said that he had simply become "bored" with the Pixies. Black Francis inverted his stage name to Frank Black and released his first solo album three months later. Lead guitarist Joey Santiago played with Black; drummer David Lovering also played intermittently with Black before joining Cracker. Deal returned to working with the Breeders, which soon became a much bigger commercial success than any Pixies record in history.

by Sean Pollock

Pixies, The's Career

Band founded as Pixies in Panoply by Black Francis; secured a recording deal on UK independent label, 4AD Records, based on demo tapes, 1986; attracted a wide underground popularity for blend of hard-driving, guitar-heavy rock sublime melody and bizarre, surreal lyrics, 1986-1989; burst into the British Top 10 with Doolittle, 1989; Bossanova widely acknowledged as one of the top albums of the year, 1990; disbanded, 1993.

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