Courtesy of Andrew Wall
By the time you read this, Throwing Muses and Pixies will be back in Boston, recovering from the exertions of their european tour. Determined to see them off in style, the Stud brothers joined them last week in Birmingham to bid them farewell and congratulate them on the success of "House Tornado" and "Surfer Rosa" and ended up in a parking lot with Black Francis and Kristen Hersh discussing God and the brownies...
It's tuesday, 7.15 in the evening. We're sitting in a stationary white van (a Renault we think) and talking to The Pixies. The van sits sullenly between a parking-lot and Burberries Birmingham's smaller but equally lurid version of Cinderella's. Inside, Throwing Muses are soundchecking. At 7.18, Kim (Mrs John Murphy) offers us a beer, holding out two yellow, distinctly teutonic cans they'd accidentally imported from Germany. By 7.25 we're talking about God. That's what we're like. We don't f*** about. Charles, otherwise known as Black Francis, became a Born Again Christian so soon after being "birthed" he wasn't actually granted the luxury of testing his resolve in the wilderness the rest of us call Life. Consequently, at the tender age of 17, he Died Again. Now he's just "your usual college dropout agnostic". David Lovering, who drums, thinks he should at least say he believes in God, and does. "I should say I believe in God because I don't wanna go to Hell for saying no." Charles reminds him that God, as is usual with the omnipotent, doesn't see it that way and will doubtless damn him to Hell for lying anyway. Joey, whose placid smile disguises all manner of hideous things, says that he ought to say yes. It's bad to say no. . . but I have to say no for the moment." Kim, who's finished her beer, tells us she does believe in God. "But, um, I don't think God believes in me."
Later, onstage, Kim is so thoroughly and marvellously lost, she appears to have given herself up to something higher. Or lower. Whatever it is, it's certainly not God. She's entrusted her body to something that twists her into odd shapes, some thing that sets her feet together, then pulls her up to tiptoe, extends her neck, shoves her head sideways in a blasphemous imitation of Princess Di and has her spine behaving like some giant wayward centipede. Her face is graced with a wan and beatific smile; it's almost as if she were swinging merrily from some invisible gallows. Charles, soaked in sweat, occasionally approaches her to whisper some private joke. More often, though, he stares hungrily out over the crowd, howling a howl that reverberates through the plastic foliage, that breaks out of his gaping mouth as an explosion that threatens to crack the cocktail glasses and distort his face into a shapeless mass of trembling, reddened flesh.
Charles, whose first time this is in Europe, manages to articulate some English provincial grudge generally held by Birmingham's Pixie People against establishments like Burberries (smart dress essential). If ever there was a band unsuited to playing this multi-mirrored cattle market it's . . . Throwing Muses. Not The Pixies, not quite The Pixies. We can still succumb to The Pixies in a way faintly comparable to our submission to white dance and lager. We can feel them viscerally, en joy them vicariously. There's a part of The Pixies that invites the hooligan element. But, if there's a faith there, it's certainly not one that'll make sense of the Cosmos. The Muses instead appeal to a more ascetic sensibility. They also believe in God.
"Yeah, I do," Kristen had told us at 4.30 that same Tuesday, "though it's hard to say the word. I feel this spirituality floating around my body, just because the only books I had to bring with me were these New Age spirituality books, or books that've been republished under the title 'New Age'. They have these goonie covers and stuff, they're really neat. All I can think about is reincarnation and Zen and feminine psychology." We found this unsurprising only because we'd yet to meet an American who didn't believe in God. Remember, it was 4.30 and we hadn't met The Pixies yet.
Leslie Langston, who'd just bought a yellow beret in London, agreed with Kristen, though she was more insistent and very much more specific. "I believe in God. I believe in God because, if I didn't, I'm almost positive at this moment I'd be dead. Whether he truly exists or not doesn't matter, just my belief in him has allowed me to come out of a lot of weird things. It's not necessarily a Christian god Kristen nodded. "I can't believe how anyone could embrace every aspect of a doctrine. I prefer the idea of myth. It's fascinating how a myth is just a conglomeration of things, stories that have been purified in the retelling until they speak for everybody. Religion would be great if it did that."
Purified, not sanitised, The Pixies do that and so, too, do Throwing Muses. While pop dies from its sense of fair play, rock thrives on its savage sense of self, a selfishness that lends it both enigma and, paradoxically, poignancy, a selfishness that, taken to its logical conclusion, has rejected even the identity of glamour and rendered both the Muses and The Pixies literally imageless. They're now as naked as rock could ever possibly be. What we see though, what we hear, what we ultimately understand, are the fragments of a whole comprehended in a block unconscious communion where the images we take (they're not so much given) are embroidered by our own fears and anxieties
Close your eyes tonight and Throwing Muses' laced darkness creeps into you, its patterns pulsing, a cluster of welcome and unwelcome sensations swarming over you, inviting misery then intruding upon it. What's left afterwards is a heap of broken images - a father's hands pressed against eyes that refuse to see so much pain, screaming mouths and chests convulsed by weeping, the torpor of a child with an old man's face. Throwing Muses say their humour's blacker than that of the Pixies. We think it's so black it's almost undetectable. But, somewhere in the maelstrom, you can dance. Certainly it's no surefooted stomp, more an arhythmic hop or, like in Birmingham, a heaving pogo.
The Pixies are no "nicer" but they are, probably because of what Simon Reynolds called "their surrealist phonetic poetry", funnier. Funny, that is, if you find a bloated stomach suspended from a skeletal frame funny (which, by the way, we do - it's so hugely, horrendously absurd). The Pixies lyrics are often so introspective they seem to believe only in their own perverse logic. They're blacked-out humour. The Muses, to their credit, still preserve undiplomatic relations with some Outside. The Pixies are simply way, way out. "Absolutely, absolutely," says Charles, "there you go. But at the same time I want to command some faith in the audience, I want them to be intrigued, absolutely curious about my music and who I am. That's what makes other music attractive to me, it's the hole you get sucked into when you really get into a song. When you play 'Gimme Shelter' all the analyses about whether rock 'n' roll is legitimate, all the stuff we talk about every day, when you play the song, none of that matters. All that matters is the song. That's it. 'Gimme Shelter'." "It's an entirely physical thing," Kim continues. "There's a little thing in the middle of your head that starts to buzz. I call it an earqasm. It releases a sort of chemical and then you get chillbumps or a swoosh feeling. It's physical." Charles has an especially physical way of writing songs. "I write my songs mostly in front of a mirror. I don't know why, I've always done it like that. When I get tired of the mirror, I stand in the bathtub and draw the shower curtain. Or sometimes I stand very, very close to a wall and I write them like that. I don't even write my lyrics down, I don't pick up a pen, hardly ever. Seventy per cent is just in my head. I don't know why, maybe it's because I like mirrors. I like my face." We look at Charles, smiling over the Renault's passenger seat like a Californian Billy Bunter and, now remembering, try to reconcile that face with the scarlet-faced ape glaring glassy-eyed from the stage "I like to think it's possible to be in touch with old things, ancient things, where you can say to yourself, 'I am experiencing the same feeling as somebody who didn't even have a language felt way back when.' It would be nice to have some physical unknown place to go."
It's five past eight and The Pixies have just discovered they won't be able to soundcheck. Burberries is beginning to fill up with a healthily mismatched cross-section of young Brummies. If we hadn't been sitting in the van, we might have toasted this easy exhibition of fragmented times. Kim is remembering the first time she heard Throwing Muses. "I remember the way I felt when I first heard the Muses on the radio. I couldn't believe someone was making that kind of original music. I thought they were great. It was so much more interesting, so much more different to anything I'd heard before." Sunday at the Town And Country Club would be the last time The Pixies and Muses shared the same stage Commercially, they've outgrown each other. We wonder, Kim, will you miss them? "God, yeah, Kristen and Tanya crack me up. They've had the weirdest lives, they are so weird. Tanya told me a story about how they did segments of the 'Captain Kangaroo Show'. And 'Sesame Street', too. She talked about the 'Captain Kangaroo Show' and how perverse the people were there. She was just 12 years old. She said something was going on there one guy was an alcoholic, another guy was a child molester, somebody killed themselves - it was just weird, okay? She was told in one scene she had to peel back a banana in front of the camera. She had to look up - you should see her do it. she looks about 12 anyway - and she had to peel and eat the banana. It was perverse." "That's where I can see their music coming from", "David explains. "It's very neurotic. They may seem relaxed but it's coming from the inside. It seems like when you're watching them you're watching their insides come out in the sound."
Earlier the Muses had returned the compliment. Or pre-empted it. "I worship them." Tanya had said. It had occurred to us then that Tanya looks like an apprentice Bangle. Only much, much younger. "I always tend to worship people that I know which is probably a really sick thing to do. I worship Kim right now, Kim is my goddess. But I do tend to worship people that I meet. It's probably misplaced, I should try to put it where it belongs." "But they are way the coolest," enthused Kristen, and, in spite of the press and because of the songs, we're still surprised about just how much she does enthuse. "There's not a single person in the van we don't love . . . in most ways. It's been hard playing after them because I feel they get so much done when they play. It's like 'Oh, what else do you need to say now?' I get kinda lax about going up there. I have to kind of get into our set while I remember why we're there too. "Then again, if you have a bad band go on before you, you just can't remember what music is supposed to be. I love having that spark there already when we go on. I never get bored with them, although they will often do 'Gigantic' in the set, and then do it as an encore and then the club will play it afterwards. We're going to learn to play it too so we can do it as an encore and hum it between songs." Dave Narcizo, the Muses' drummer and, incidentally, one of only three intelligent drummers in music, will talk about almost anything and was apoplectic when it came to The Pixies. "Dave," patronised Kristen," says they take a standard of rock and twist it into something obscene. Say that Dave, that's good." Well, Dave? "Talk about dark sexuality, Dave, dark sexuality from the heartland of America." Dave? "Say 'Cement-ridden angst from Beantown', Dave, say that we influenced them. Say that." Come on, Dave. "The Pixies? Jerks." Jerks? No. Dave, wacky, that's what they are. At least that's what we've been assured. We remain unconvinced. They are funny, there is always that belly laugh but . . . back to the present.
'Yeah, I think our songs are pretty funny," says Charles. "I don't think so, Charlie", Kim disagrees. "It bothers me when people go 'All this is a big joke'. I don't think it is. Dave compromises by saying it's a "distasteful kind of humour. But Kim's determined not to be seen as a clown. "But that's not what controls it. Is that the first thing that stands out, because it's not for me. I don't want it to be. I don't mind people thinking we're funny but that's not where it's coming from." So, if The Pixies aren't funny, what are they? David thinks they're confused and serious. Kim says they're boring. Charles reckons they're bored, confused and unhappy. And Joey, who will spend a good deal of the set laughing, says they're horny. "I am f**king horny. Jesus, seeing the countryside makes me horny. It doesn't make me funny".
This has us wondering whether Joey spent as much time enjoying the services offered on those stickers so fashionable now in West London phone boxes, as Kristen has done memorising them. What, we'd asked her, had she liked about them. "The hookers' messages in the phone boxes? They were great. 'Madame Pain, pain for three hours'. That was great. 'Mizz Agony, I hurt you, I hurt you, I hurt you till you die'. Yeah, I'll give her a call. She sounds cute". Joey would never go in for that sort of thing. He is, after all, Mister Pain. "I'd really like to tie somebody up, tie her up and tickle her to the point of death. Or until she begs, begs for it, starts crying 'Oh God, I want it. give it to me now!' That'd be f**king great, I'd love to see that. You guys would too, if you'd admit it." We admit it, but only under duress, only really to proffer Joey a brief moment of company in what we hope is a desperately lonely obsession. He's right. He's horny and it doesn't make him funny.
It was 5.15 and the Muses were reminiscing about schooldays. "Me and Kristen both got kicked out of Brownies after a year," said Tanya. "Isn't that awful. I embezzled Brownie funds, I stole cookie money. It was pure pressure though, it wasn't my idea." "I wasn't thrown out for stealing," confessed Kristen, "I was just a jerk. I had a bad attitude, I didn't have a Brownie attitude." Tanya then regaled us with the sad tale of a Brownie in exile wandering the streets after school, searching in vain for a welcoming camp-fire. "I didn't want my parents to find out I'd been kicked out of Brownies. I'd wear my uniform to school and then walk around for two hours afterwards. I was the Lone Brownie." Leslie's tale was sadder still. "I could've been a Brownie, but I couldn't fit into any of the Brownie dresses. I was so fat, I had six rolls of fat so I couldn't be a Brownie. Later, when I slimmed down, I was a pom-pom girl." Dave intervened. "I used to wear those little socks with the tassles on them. And that little tie." It seemed terribly unfair that Dave was allowed to join the Brownies while Leslie had been . . . "That's the Boy Scouts, assholes. I hated it. I hated everything about it. I hated having to go camping, I hated having to earn merit badges. But I didn't have the guts to quit, I just couldn't do it. Oh God, the miserable, miserable camping trips where it'd be freezing cold and raining and they'd stick you in a pup-tent with two other people and it'd always be someone you hated. I had to stay with one of those scout-masters' sons and he brought all this junk food. And we were in this tiny tent and he threw all this junk food out the door and we had 13 raccoons circling our tent having these vicious fights. And this kid's screaming for his father, screaming and screaming. It was cold and raining and you smelled of smoke and you had to cook your own food and wash up and walk all day and when you got back, they'd call you a lazy bum and say you'd only joined the Scouts for the trips. And I used to think 'If only you'd let me not do this I would kiss you. I was a really wimpy kid," One look at Dave tells you he's cerebrally inclined. He's really not built to be a Scout or, as we suggested rather playfully, a burgeoning running-back in the High School football team singlehandedly steamrolling the opposition. "Nope. I was a pom-pom girl as well."
Seems reasonable. Throwing Muses aren't really a "jock" band. They have a wonderful ability to frighten off dunderheads. Leslie giggled: "We scared off a bunch of jocks once, at a club called The Pelham in Newport." "Yeah, that's right," remembered Tanya, "as soon as we got on stage about six people went 'Girls! The Go-Go's! The Bangles!' They got real close to the stage and tried to look up our dresses. Then we started playing and they went. Three songs into our set and everybody had backed off. There was a big space in front of the stage except for a few of our friends who hadn't noticed." What were they afraid of - three giggling girls and a pom-pom boy? No. we think they showed the sensitivity only dunderheads can - they recognised the lunatic giant the Muses keep battened down so well in interviews. And what they heard as they lumbered back to their Buds were the knockings and batterings giants make when they're let loose. The Muses are a very, very hard group. In every sense of the word. . . Kristen agreed, but couldn't really see the difficulty. "I read about this woman who believed she had a hook in her head that her husband used to use to drag her around. Now, he thought she was crazy but that was her perception, and our perception is our reality. That woman perceived a hook in her head so she really had one. You have to go with the assumption that there's a hook inside her head that needs to be treated and I feel our songs are like that, they need to be treated, they call for themselves to be seen in their own peculiar light."
Like Charles says: "There you go, there you go right there. The best rock music in the world is the stuff that's introverted, it all has to do with the personality making it. As soon as you start taking into account other personalities you pan out, you're bland." And the most introverted music is the noise that deals with pain, pain being the only thing that really senses nothing but itself. Pleasure cannot enjoy itself in the same way pain can because what it enjoys is something beside itself.
It's 8.45, a quarter of an hour before the best gig of the year, and Kim's handing us another Germanic lager. 'What are you guys talking about over there?" Charles looks up laughing. "Heavy, heavy shit."