- A 'Fifth' Catholic -
Posted - 09/14/2010 : 07:57:50
| The first part of this recycles an earlier article, so I'm gonna cut to the chase:
RAWK TAWK: Dissecting Doolittle With Black Francis.
In honor of the Pixies kicking off their Doolittle tour at the Tower next Tuesday, I got Black
Francis/Frank Black/Charles Kittredge Thompson III on the horn to break down the 21-
year-old classic for us track by track.
PHAWKER: We are rolling. So let’s start at the beginning. “Debaser.”
BLACK FRANCIS: “Debaser.” It’s sort of my cliff notes version or the short version of the
real thing. My song Debaser would be like The Cliff Notes of the Salvador Dali and Luis
Bunuel surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou.
PHAWKER: The film obviously impacted you enough to make a song about it; when did
you see it and what did you make of it the first time you saw it?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well, I guess I probably saw it in college in a film class, and I think I just
probably thought it was kind of cool, like anything I saw in my artsy-fartsy film class.
Anything that reeked of bohemia or you know, Paris in the 1930s or whatever.
PHAWKER: Okay, moving forward, “Tame.”
BLACK FRANCIS: I guess it’s kind of a particular
certain kind of girl maybe that I encountered while
living in Boston, sort of like the female version of a
jock. When I say jock it doesn’t necessarily mean
that they’re athletic, more like a frat girl, just sort of
what I would call a knucklehead; a female
knucklehead. They wear a lot of makeup, high
heels, kind of doing all this artificial, sexy stuff that I
guess I wasn’t finding very sexy and just finding it
kind of crass.
PHAWKER: And this woman needed to be tamed?
BLACK FRANCIS: No. Tame, it’s not t-a-m-e-d, but
tame as in mediocre.
PHAWKER: Oh, okay, like “that’s tame.” On a related note I wanted to ask you about the
screaming; where did that come from? When did you get started with that, and did that
take a lot of practicing by yourself to get to that?
BLACK FRANCIS: I’m laughing because you’re asking about screaming and my kids are
coming out of this market now, they’re all screaming and a couple of them have really
loud screams. [talking to his children] Hey, que paso muchaco! Why don’t you get in the
car, alright?… Hi little boy, hi little girl!” [responding to the question] Well, I don’t know.
It’s just something I just started to do at clubs back there in Boston. It was just a way to
get attention. I don’t know how I arrived at that, but I probably just discovered shortly
thereafter that I did it well, and very loud.
PHAWKER: Were you able to do that without totally wrecking your voice for the rest of the
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah. I do it in a way, usually you have a PA and a microphone to help
you, but the key, I think is probably you don’t really need to go full tilt. It’s like the opera
singers. They look like they’re going full-tilt, but they’re not.
PHAWKER: A trained singer can scream like that without hurting their throat, but I’m
wondering if you had any of that kind of training or are you just making it up as you went
BLACK FRANCIS: I had some of that training later in
more recent years but I suppose whatever I was
doing and getting away with it probably
physiological, you know what I mean? Genetics.
PHAWKER: Okay, because it sounds pretty
BLACK FRANCIS: Some people are genetically able to
do certain things with their body that other people
PHAWKER: Fair enough, let’s move on. “Wave of
BLACK FRANCIS: I guess I would call it so-called
nautical songs, has a lot of references to things from the ocean, you know, playing The
Beatles, “Octupuses Garden”, “Yellow Submarine.”
PHAWKER: So the “Wave of Mutilation” would be a tidal wave, a giant wave that came
through and killed many.
BLACK FRANCIS: Any kind of wave; it’s the process of the wave. It’s the process of the ocean,
the churning of the ocean. It’s the movement of the ocean that turns the mountain
into sand or the mighty tree into driftwood.
PHAWKER: On a side note here, explain to me the “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf Mix),”
which I love. How did you decide to do that? Was it a separate session than the Doolittle
sessions, or was it just an alternate take?
BLACK FRANCIS: It was recorded in Scotland in the middle of a tour, and you know, the
record company they want to promote a record so they release these singles that are
supposed to somehow highlight the record and they want extra tracks to boost the sales
of that single, so people pay more attention to the songs, they ask you to make extra
tracks and sometimes you don’t have them so you slow it down and call it “UK Surf Mix.”
PHAWKER: “I Bleed.”
BLACK FRANCIS: “I Bleed.” Not sure what all that means.
Fatalities, but there’s a lot of references to
experiences coming from my brief period in Arizona
where I worked on the archaeological dig and visited
some other famous archaeological sites. That’s part
of it. I can’t give you the whole enchilada. Sometimes
when you’re writing a song you are very in the
moment and it all seems very clear and obvious and
then when you are done it’s sort of like a dream
and the memory deteriorates very quickly and it’s
hard to remember what that was all about.
PHAWKER: Could you tell me a little about these
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah it was a famous one, a cave dwelling, I forget the name of it, but
it’s a national historic site. I wasn’t working on that, just visiting. The one I was working on
was near Shoefly Village.
PHAWKER: And what were you digging up? What were these the remains of?
BLACK FRANCIS: You know, bones, burial offerings.
PHAWKER: Native Americans or was this just early man?
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah, Native Americans. We are talking 800 years old.
PHAWKER: Okay. “Here Comes Your Man.”
BLACK FRANCIS: I wrote that when I was about 14 or 15. It’s on an earlier demo. Not sure
what it’s about. I think it has to do with the hobo lifestyle. It’s all very abstract, the hobo
lifestyle and the Great California Earthquake or something. Something crazy and weird
PHAWKER: Very good. Alright, we’ll move on; “Dead” is the next one.
BLACK FRANCIS: Hmm. That’s a bible story about King David and Bathsheba, Uriah, all
PHAWKER: What’s the story with Uriah hitting the
crapper? Did they have crappers back then?
BLACK FRANCIS: The one that was sort of murdered
by King David was sent off on a suicide mission into
battle because he had been sleeping with his wife.
PHAWKER: Have you read the bible from beginning
BLACK FRANCIS: Have I read the bible?
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah, of course.
PHAWKER: And would you characterize yourself as an agnostic, an atheist, or a believer?
BLACK FRANCIS: Neither, I’m just me.
PHAWKER: (laughs) Okay. “Monkey Gone to Heaven.”
BLACK FRANCIS: I think it’s sort of my ecological song. Told in a sort of abstract story
form, sort of about mythical creatures that live in the sky and live in the ocean. It’s the
ecological disaster story.
PHAWKER: I always wanted to ask: When you wrote that line about “ten million pounds of
sludge from New York and New Jersey,” was that inspired by the drive into New York
where you see all this kind of shitty swampland and refineries? That’s what I always
pictured when I heard that line.
BLACK FRANCIS: It was actually a reference to a news story at the time about the pile of
garbage or whatever off the coast of New Jersey and New York. It was a barge or
something, I think that’s an actual reference to something in the news at the time.
PHAWKER: Okay; “Mr. Grieves.”
BLACK FRANCIS: I would say it’s sort of a sister song
to “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” Same kind of thing;
ecological disaster, with references to mythological
figures like Neptune, Neptune’s daughter, really
abstract, you know?
PHAWKER: Does Neptune have a daughter, or did
you make that up?
BLACK FRANCIS: (laughs) I don’t remember.
PHAWKER: (laughs) What about the name “Mr.
Grieves?” Where does that come from?
BLACK FRANCIS: Grieves is a variation on ‘grief’ and
it rhymes with belief — it’s kind of what you’re
asking me to do right now is just kind of associative connections between words. That’s
what you employ when you write songs in couplets — they have meaning, but the words
are chosen because they rhyme. And of course when you’re being ruled by rhyme
scheme and things like that when you get to the meaning part of it, it can be open-ended
or it can have double meaning or triple meaning or whatever. And why not? You are not
writing a science paper where one plus one equals two. There is a science involved where
one plus one equals two, but you don’t have to spell that you just have to kind of like,
PHAWKER: Okay, I guess you kind of answered the other question I meant to ask about
“Monkey Gone to Heaven,” that was the “Man is five, the Devil is six, God is seven,” part —
I was wondering if there was a significance to assigning those numbers other than
establishing a hierarchy or is it just that seven rhymes with heaven…
BLACK FRANCIS: In the Judeo/Christian tradition beliefs there is a lot of numerical value
placed on certain words. Numerology.
PHAWKER: Okay, and it also helps that seven is a two-syllable word. “If God is seven”
sounds a whole lot better than “if God is eight.”
BLACK FRANCIS: Well it wouldn’t make any sense if
God is eight, you’d be getting away from the whole
numerology thing. It’s a balance between rhyme
scheme and meaning. If it’s too heavy on either one
then it gets out of balance. If it’s too heavy on the
meaning then you have no poetry, and if it’s too
heavy on poetry then you lose all meaning, and it
just becomes pure abstraction. If God is seven, you
know, the Devil is six and God is seven, then that is
the numerology that it’s referring to; there is no God
is eight. I was tapping into Christian numerology that
already exists: the five, six, seven thing. Now seven
does rhyme with heaven, so that’s a poetry thing.
PHAWKER: I got it. Let’s move on: “Crackity Jones.”
BLACK FRANCIS: That’s a biographical song. It’s a song about an old roommate that I had
down in San Juan, Puerto Rico when I was when I was going to school there briefly in
PHAWKER: I think I read somewhere you called him “crazy, psycho, gay roommate?”
BLACK FRANCIS: I never said that, actually; that was a misquote, and one of the many
misquotes that seem to happen with the music press. He did have some mental health
issues, but I would have never characterized him as gay. He wasn’t gay.
PHAWKER: Okay, fair enough, and “Crackity Jones?” Where does that name come from?
BLACK FRANCIS: I just made it up.
PHAWKER: It’s a good one. “La La Love You Baby.”
BLACK FRANCIS: I don’t know if the songs means
anything, it’s kind of one of those Martin Denny
songs or something; it’s just a cartoon kind of
sound. You know, partially referencing a wolf whistle
[whistles] to kind of like, you know, “I love you, baby
don’t mean maybe” is just sort of a dumbing down
the pure essence of a popular love song. “All I’m
saying pretty baby, la la love you don’t mean
maybe.” I mean, that doesn’t sound very serious,
does it? It’s mocking, I suppose, but I’m not really
making fun or anything; it’s not really inspired by
love, it’s inspired by the idea of a love song, I
PHAWKER: Okay, moving on: “No. 13 Baby.”
BLACK FRANCIS: It’s probably about like, you know combination teenage girl crush, low
rider girls, gang culture, the number 13. I’s just a combination of teenage feelings
combined with where I was growing up where there was a lot of gang activity and all the
gang kid at school, so you know I think it was just sort of absorbing the symbolism that
was around me.
PHAWKER: Where did you go to school? Are you talking about Grammar School? High
BLACK FRANCIS: Junior High and High School.
PHAWKER: And where was this? In California?
BLACK FRANCIS: Los Angeles.
PHAWKER: Okay, moving forward - three more songs and we’re done… I’m sorry, no no
no, I lied. Four songs. “There Goes My Gun,” speaking of gang imagery.
BLACK FRANCIS: It’s an abstraction. “Yoo hoo, yoo
hoo, yoo hoo,” “there goes my gun”, “Look at me,
look at me, look at me, there goes my gun. Friend or
foe, friend or foe, friend or foe, friend or foe… there
goes my gun.” That’s the lyric right there, so it’s
minimalist. What does it mean? I don’t know, it’s
associative. What does the sentry cry out? He says
“friend or foe?” You give the wrong answer - pow! -
right? “Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at
me. Yoo hoo, yoo hoo…” I don’t know, does that
mean anything? Yeah it means something. Is it so
meaningful that you can hang your hat on it? No, but
that’s a very typical kind of song for me, as far as
writing one, especially at that time.
PHAWKER: Okay, next song: “Hey.”
BLACK FRANCIS: Not really sure. It’s just a lot of psycho-sexual psycho-babble,
mother/father stuff. I don’t really know; I think you can deduce your own meaning from
any particular line, anything you want. Remember these songs are more than 20 years
old. This is one of those situations where meaning of what is being written is so far
deteriorated I have no idea what I was thinking about when I wrote it. I can no longer say
it’s about “this.”
PHAWKER: Well, you don’t have to just tell me what the songs mean; if there’s an
interesting anecdote about recording it or playing it live or how you feel about it now
compared to then.
BLACK FRANCIS: It’s certainly turned out to be one of the most popular songs at one of
our gigs; there’s rarely a gig that we don’t play that song. People love it; it’s The Pixies
R&B song. It’s a sort of break-it-down, slower tempo, bring-it-on-down, guitar solo
playing the vocal melody… actually it’s not much of a vocal melody. The song breaks
down and the guitar player plays a lowly, gentle guitar solo, and everyone goes “woooo!”
PHAWKER: Okay, two more songs: “Silver.”
BLACK FRANCIS: Don’t know what that one’s about. I
think it’s a co-write, only one of two that I’ve ever
done with Kim [Deal] you know, I think it was
probably just some kind of excuse to harmonize. It’s
a “ye olde folk song” in 3/4 tempo, you know. I don’t
really know if the lyrics have much meaning. I think it
was all done kind of very quickly and with very kind
of automatic writing. I think that’s one of the few
tracks where the band swaps instruments a little bit.
When we recorded I seem to recall David playing the
bass, Joey playing like the drums or something.
PHAWKER: Kim played lap steel I believe.
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah. That makes sense.
PHAWKER: Okay, last one: “Gouge Away.”
BLACK FRANCIS: Again, one of my Bible stories. This is just, again, a kind of Cliff Notes
retelling of the story of Samson and Delilah.
PHAWKER: And they were smoking marijuana?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well, I took some artistic license with that. Maybe they were; there was
the Philistines were brought down by Samson. They were in the middle of a three-day
celebration, where during that three day celebration people came to the pillars so that
they could taunt him and mock him during that party. So, conquering Philistines, if you’re
partying for three days, chaining up Superman for all the world to see, I mean I imagine
there’s lots of imbibing going on.
PHAWKER: (laughs) You’re saying after three days of partying they might have gotten tired
of imbibing wine and moved on to other substances?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well no, it’s just a word to evoke atmosphere.
PHAWKER: Okay, last question here. Is it true that
the original working title for the album was Whore?
BLACK FRANCIS: I suppose if you want to call it that,
a working title, yeah. It was a memorable enough
working title that it was the only working title that
anyone could remember. I’m sure there were
probably a dozen different working titles.
PHAWKER: And why did you not go with that?
BLACK FRANCIS: I think it seemed too strong of a
word. Seemed sort of trying to draw attention to
itself or something, you know, it was trying too hard.
PHAWKER: Okay, last question is: 22 years later,
where does this album rank in your subconscious? Do you still love this record? Do you
like this record? Do you think it’s overrated? Do you think about it differently now than you
BLACK FRANCIS: I’m so far beyond judging it. Whatever judging I’ve done about the
record I did 20 years ago, and now it’s just part of my armament. It’s part of my bag of
tricks. It’s part of… a good album like that album, it’s like, what I’m known for.
PHAWKER: (laughs) It’s a good bag of tricks, Charles.
BLACK FRANCIS: Well thanks.
Edited by - Carl on 09/14/2010 08:05:29