If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Cactus” by Pixies (1988, from the album Surfer Rosa).
Pixies is one of the most influential indie rock bands ever. The formed in the late 1980s in Boston when Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis, aka Frank Black) and Joey Santiago met at the University of Massachusetts. They started writing songs together, but didn’t have a band. Like every other Boston-area indie band, they put an ad in the paper for a female bassist. Like every other Boston-area indie band, the only applicant they got had zero experience playing bass. Kim Deal showed up for the audition without a bass, but they liked her so much that they gave her the gig anyway. Attempts to get Kim’s twin sister Kelley to join the band as drummer were unsuccessful, and they later settled on David Lovering. Although the band has gone through an inactive period of almost eleven years, this has been the only lineup that the band ever had.
Please note that the name of the band is Pixies. Not “The” Pixies.
On the strength of a tour as the support act for Throwing Muses, the band got recognized by some of the right people, and they very quickly found themselves on the prestigious indie label 4AD Records. Back when they only put out post-punk records and only signed British bands. Don’t forget to thank Throwing Muses for breaking 4AD into the business of signing American bands.
The band had self-released a cassette tape — “The Purple Tape”, and many of the songs from it were re-released on their first 4AD release, the Come On Pilgrim EP. They quickly followed that with the brilliant debut record Surfer Rosa. That record won critical acclaim in the press, but thanks to the fact that it was an import album, it didn’t gain much respect among fans. Not until the album was re-issued in 1992. By then, Pixies were riding the high of their game-changing album Doolittle, and fans still never gave Surfer Rosa the respect that I think it deserves.
Doolittle is the one that made thousands of people want to start their own band and “Debaser” is the song that made thousands of people want to learn how to play the bass. Yes, yes, we all know the stories about how Kurt Cobain only wanted to write a song like “Debaser”. I really love Doolittle, but Surfer Rosa is still my favorite album of theirs. And tonight’s song is my favorite song from that album. It might not necessarily be my favorite Pixies song, but you get the idea.
“Cactus” by Pixies
I really detest Blues music, but there’s still something that’s awesome about the blues riff at the drop.
Today’s been a long day, and I’m picking this one out of reserve because writing about this is a layup, but I really don’t have the energy to give it the 1500 words that I would normally give to one of my favorite songs. I’ll apologize for that. Or maybe you’ll thank me for not writing 1500 words.
It’s simple. It’s about missing someone a lot. It’s about wanting a little piece of something that belongs to them so that you’ll miss them less.
This is pretty much all you need to know about this song:
Sittin’ here wishing on the cement floor
Just wishing that I had something you wore.
Bloody your hands on a cactus tree
Wipe it on your dress and send it to me
Kim Deal is not my favorite Pixie. She’s a badass. There’s no doubt about that. However, Joey Santiago is my favorite Pixie. There are loads of other songs that better showcase his ridiculously underrated guitar wizardry, but I still like this one best. Right at the very end of the song, that guitar flourish is just a tiny taste of what Joey can do. Everyone always picks Kim or Black Francis as their favorite Pixie. Nobody ever picks Dave. Even when he was on the tip-top of his game, Dave was nobody’s favorite. Only a few people pick Joey as their favorite, and if I’m honest, he wasn’t always my favorite.
I’m lucky enough that I got to see Pixies three times in my life. Once on the Trompe Le Monde tour (my least favorite Pixies record). Once when they were the support band while U2 was touring the Achtung Baby album. Then I got to see them here in my hometown last autumn when they were on the Doolittle 21st anniversary tour. That was the best of the three shows.
Unfortunately, that’s all I have in the tank for tonight. I have a lot of drinking to do. And by that, I mean “I’m gonna drink like three beer”.
Surfer Rosa has been re-issued and re-released a bunch of times. I think the original 4AD release is going to be difficult to find, but the Elektra 1992 reissue is in print and easy to find in a variety of formats. Get it in the amazon store here.