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Speaking in tongues

A look at the funny, crazy, scary lyrics of the Pixies

Just a couple of years ago, the members of the Pixies — a band whose fan base has exploded over the last decade without the release of any newly recorded music — were toiling in relative obscurity. Mastermind Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis) was recording music as Frank Black. Thompson's foil, bassist Kim Deal, who battled alcoholism throughout the '90s, was working with her more commercially successful band, the Breeders. Guitarist Joey Santiago was scoring for TV and film, and drummer David Lovering was a magician.

These four characters' work from 1986 to 1992 — famously ending when Thompson faxed his bandmates announcing the group's end — had its roots in the music of the Cars, Violent Femmes and Iggy Pop. But then the Pixies became arguably more influential than any of those acts. The Boston band was continuously name-checked by Kurt Cobain during his brief time in the spotlight, and numerous other bands have looked to the group's albums, especially the seminal Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, for their soft/loud dynamics, spiraling guitar solos and lyrics that mystify, boggle and often make no sense.

In an oral history of the Pixies, published in the September issue of Spin, Thompson referred to his songs as "simple," and lyrically, he might be right. To sing-along to a Pixies song is to put aside a want for poignant prose. In a lot of cases, the words are chosen just to keep up with the dive-bombing rhythms. It makes for some childish, nasty, and even ridiculous word combos. Here's a short guide to a few of the Pixies' most interesting lyrical moments:

Rhyme time

Examples: "She's just rotting in stupid bliss/With music on her bars/Her face burning in the L.A. sun/She got no got no fear of cars"

-- "Ed is Dead," Come on Pilgrim

"I make you break/You make me hard/Your Irish skin/Looks Mexican/Our love is rice and beans and horse's lard"

-- "Bone Machine," Surfer Rosa

"I can look at the sun if you give me some bad sunglasses/I'm back on the road, I cut my grass like I'm told/After classes"

-- "Tony's Theme," Surfer Rosa

"If man is five [3x]/Then the devil is six [5x]/Then God is seven [3x]/This monkey's gone to heaven"

-- "Monkey Gone to Heaven," Doolittle

"Oh dance with me oh don't be shy/Oh kiss me cunt and kiss me cock/Oh kiss the world oh kiss the sky/Oh kiss my ass oh let it rock"

-- "U-Mass," Trompe Le Monde

Analysis: The pressure for songwriters to rhyme is intense, and Thompson was not immune to its difficulties. Occasionally, Thompson probably had to bend the rules of grammar — and common sense — to make his lyrics flow along with his terse rhythms. In "Ed is Dead," "the fear of cars" — an actual, treatable phobia — matches up with the head-scratcher "music on her bars." (It probably does not refer to sheet music.) As far as "Monkey Gone to Heaven" is concerned, Thompson fielded that one himself in the group's oral history: "Why does it say, 'Then God is seven?' Because it rhymes with 'heaven'!" "U-Mass," originally written by Thompson in college, is perfectly whimsical and it's even got a little profanity in it. But it's not recommended for impressionable children.

Incest obsessed

Examples: "He took his sister from his head/And then painted her on the sheets/And then rolled her up in grass and trees/And they kissed 'till they were dead"

-- "The Holiday Song," Come on Pilgrim

"Estaba pensando sobreviviendo con mi sister en New Jersey/Ella me dijo que es una vida buena alla/Bien rica bien chevere, y voy! Puneta!"

Translation: "I was thinking surviving with my sister in New Jersey/She told me it's a good life there/Very good very nice, here I go! Jerk off!

-- "Vamos," Come on Pilgrim

Analysis: Thompson was apparently obsessed with incest in his early career. In interviews, it's been suggested that he liked both David Lynch and nudity, so it's probably not a surprising preoccupation. Hours of Internet searching and article reading have yet to prove conclusively if Thompson has a sister, so it could all be idle chatter. The key here is that he was able to express his forbidden lust in multiple languages. What versatility!

Fake French

Examples: "Don't know about you/But I am un chien Andalusia/Wanna grow up to be/Be a debaser, debaser"

-- "Debaser," Doolittle

"Pioneer of aerodynamics/They thought he was real smart Alec/He thought big, they called it a phallic/They didn't know he was panoramic"

-- "Alec Eiffel," Trompe Le Monde

Analysis: A debaser is one who moves down in social class or reputation, but what does that have to do with being an Andalusian dog? Besides, though "chien" means "dog" in French, the correct term for Andalusia is Andalousie. Thompson should have said "un chien Andalousie." Someone was sleeping in French class. On the song "Alec Eiffel," Thompson suggests that the tune's namesake was responsible for the design/building of the Eiffel Tower. In actuality, the Eiffel responsible for the structure was Gustave Eiffel. Why not name the song "Gustave Eiffel"? Probably sounds too pretentious. In 1990, Thompson and Deal gave an interview to MTV where they mentioned that they had "made lot of francs in France" that year. Apparently, the French don't mind when you misuse their language and misidentify their national heroes.

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