❉Proustian remembrances of things past, this particular musical madeleine being the Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde.
“Here, listen to this,” he said, pressing a C60 cassette into the palm of my uncomprehending hand. It was 1994, and we were in the middle of a particularly dreary Technology lesson – the room smelling of sawdust and sadness – and Dave was passing me a tape he’d recorded.
“You’ll like it”, he said. We’d chatted about music before, at school, bonding over our mutual love for REM and Green in particular – but this was my first actual recommendation. My first ever tape that someone had given me (he’s married now, but I consider this our musical courtship in many ways). It was Trompe Le Monde by the Pixies. I’d vaguely heard of them, of course, but apart from knowing that they’d released a song called Debaser, not many musical arrows had pierced my shell of REM, Smiths, Housemartins and Joy Division (I was a happy child, I swear). But this was it. This was my initiation – my musical Year Zero.
I remember sitting down in my bedroom and putting the tape into the ghetto blaster hi-fi contraption that served my musical needs – the source of all of the John Peel Festive Fifties that i still have on cassette to this day – and hit PLAY and lay back on the bed, as was my wont when musical times are occurring (and still kind of is). From the plangent, echoing, opening chords of the titular track, and its Olympian drumming and insistent bassline, I was sold. This was very much My Music. Dave was right – why hadn’t I heard this before?
Alec Eiffel solidified this – it seemed to have the quickest chord changes of any song I’d ever heard (and I’d heard the Wedding Present, dangnammit!), and was still utterly – almost hypnotically – melodic. I can still play some it on the old Korg M1, I can. It left its mark, like many a girl. But the next song – The Sad Punk – was what sold me. From the opening thud of the drum.
‘‘I… smell… smoke… that comes from a gun”, Black Francis screams, “Named EXTINCTION!”
That was it for me, I was 100% sold on this, gyrating and flailing and pogoing along to the thrust of this justified pounding sound.
But then it came.
A sudden halt, a hiccup in time, and the relentless thrashing was superseded by arpeggiated minor chords, plucking out a sad melody.
“And evolving from the sea…”
Visions in my head of pre-Cambrian sea life, of primitive and primaeval starfish and jellyfish.
“Would not be too much time, for me…”
The lungfish throws itself in my mind from the primordial seas upon the Cambrian sands.
“To walk beside you in the sun…”
Two hominids, freshly evolved as higher intelligences, walk together hand in hand upon prehistoric sands.
And I’m rolling around the bed, my limbs all entwined, loving everything that I’m hearing. This is music, this. Where has it been all my fourteen years of life? Where?
At least I’ll be here and a fan, when the Pixies bring out their next album.
(And somewhere, high in some Otherworld plane, the Fates cackle amongst themselves just as they did in 1989 when I started liking Doctor Who).
But still: The Jesus and Mary Chain cover Head On is brilliant, too – it’s all made of brilliantine and purists be damned. Palace of the Brine is wonderful as well – and is actually the song that Dave asked me if I liked when i next saw him. He expected it to be my favourite. I like it a lot, but no not quite. And the fun we had a couple of years later at college singing (screaming) U-Mass on karaoke was well worth the wait.
Letter to Memphis is an eternal fave (as Susanna Hoffs so nearly sang), as I went into it looking at the title and expecting something to do with Elvis, only to be met with an epistle from an apostle of Horus speaking of his reincarnation and pining for his own personal Ankhesenamun back in old Egypt, walking the land of Khem in all her strength and beauty. It always makes my heart swell a bit, like the Grinch when he makes that measuring device break. Then we meet the extraordinary Bird Dream of Olympus Mons. I recall – vaguely, through the moody mists of memory – a story in a friend’s paperback SF anthology, about a man going to Mars and having to be physically adapted to the environment of the planet to the point where he no longer considers himself human, and scales Olympus Mons to die. That’s the imagery this sad song always conjures to me.
“Into the mountain…. I will fall”
The next great song (excluding, cruelly, Subbacultcha, because much though I like it, it was my anthem whilst getting into the whole underground/Goth scene and there are memories there, so let’s… Let’s just move on, yeah?) is the superlative Distance Equals Rate Times Time. Because it’s mathematically accurate, and because it’s great, with such insistence and conviction of what will happen if one has no vision, television and looks into the sun.
“Looking into the sun…”
Dave and I attempted a few times to form a band after this. We wrote a lot of songs together. One of the stipulations was that none of the songs we wrote should be more than two and a half minutes long, maximum, as “It’s good enough for Buddy Holly and it’s good enough for the Pixies”. I still have those wise, unwise, words echoing in my head to this day when I write sonething. There might be gold in them thar words.
I still love Kim Deal.
❉ Glen McCulla has had a lifetime-long interest in film, history and film history – especially the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He sometimes airs his maunderings on his blog at http://psychtronickinematograph.blogspot.co.uk/ and skulks moodily on Twitter at @ColdLazarou