- Series: 33 1/3 (Book 31)
- Paperback: 127 pages
- Publisher: Continuum (March 25, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780826417749
- ISBN-13: 978-0826417749
- ASIN: 0826417744
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 6.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Pixies' Doolittle (33 1/3) Paperback – March 8, 2006
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About the Author
Ben Sisario writes about music and culture for The New York Times, teaches at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and is a commentator on the New York public radio station WFUV. He lives in New York City.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Doolittle is, on one hand, among the most violent pop albums ever recorded, if not in body count then in the starkness of its calamities. It features rape, mutilation of the eyes, vampirism, suffocation, smothering by tons of garbage, and the chaos of blind gunfire; for the punchline, everybody gets crushed to death. When not killing or maiming, the album turns to depraved sexual loathing and visions of apocalypse. And yet, even with its screams and its squalls, it is one of the most tuneful and lovable albums in the canon of alternative rock, and Charles Thompson, aka Black Francis, aka Frank Black, has spent the better part of two decades insisting to journalists that there is no real meaning to all the horror and dread, that the lyrics are just words that fit together nicely. "There is no point," he says. "The point is to experience it, to enjoy it, to be entertained by it."
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My only wish is that there would have been more authorial subjectivity and less reliance on interviews/past reviews. Too much reliance/trying to find literal truth on lyrical meaning (which trip up a lot of rock writing). However, after reading this I am looking to forward to reading more in the series. (Inspired to finally read this after having read Dwight Garner's glowing review in the NYTimes a week ago about Gina Arnold's homage to Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville" Why I read "Doolittle" instead is unknown to me. "Exile" is next, or possibly "Murmur."
Thankfully, the format for the Doolittle installment is more straight-forward than the examples I cite above: it's written in the basic long article style you'd expect to read in Spin or Rolling Stone. That's not very surprising since the author, Ben Sisario, is a regular contributor to these magazines. Through interviews with the band members (especially Charles Thompson and excluding Kim Deal, who refused to participate) and others involved, he quickly covers the formation of the band in 1986 and their early and quick success (in England, at least) with Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, before moving on to the main subject.
Not surprisingly, there is a lot here about Thompson's writing influences, especially his interests in surrealistic art (its influence is most notable on "Debaser", which begins "Got me a movie! Ha ha ha ho! Slicing up eyeballs! Ha ha ha ho!" after the Bunuel and Dali film `Un chien andalou') and religious & mythological storytelling, ("Ole Neptuna's only daughter" & "Then, God is seven!") which came to their greatest fruition on Doolittle. Sisario does a good job of getting the story on Thompson's oftentimes obscure, almost impressionistic lyrics. Sometimes, as Thompson admits, words came for no better reason than a rhyme pattern, yet they always seem to coalesce around the themes that interest him.
Of course, there's also a good bit here on the music. Joey Santiago talks about his influences, especially the minimalist note painting of Wes Montgomery and the `Hendrix' chord. (E7 sharp-9, which Hendrix used to add just the right edge to the verse in `Purple Haze'. Santiago went up a step to F7 sharp-9 to create the menacing drone in chorus of `Tame') Sisario also touches on Lovering's assured and bombastic drumming and Deal's thumping bass, which anchored the music while the melodies flew by. Interviews with the producer, Gil Norton, show his genius for corralling the band, especially Thompson, to get the best album possible. (Though the Pixies were well-prepared for the sessions, and it's implied that the relative failure of their next two albums could be attributed to poor band preparation for them. Though how much of that was from the already-rising tensions anyway?)
But it is the contrasts that make The Pixies, and especially Doolittle, so great: Deal's angelic voice as a counterpoint to Thompson's screams, the quietloudquietloud verse and chorus dynamic, the humor tinged lyrics of rape, incest, and violence. Sisario goes into great detail on the musical effects and meanings in a song by song breakdown after the main text, and I found this to be the most intriguing part of the book, required reading for anyone who loves the album. Thompson was the main songwriter and driving force of the band, but Sisario ably demonstrates how all the parts created a whole that pushed alternative rock to a place I would argue it has yet to return. (He talks of the odd paradox that the Pixies have influenced so many without creating a single band that sounds like them.)
This book is a must for any Pixie fan. It's well-written, informative, and an all-too poignant reminder of the genius of a band that left us too soon.