Song of the Day: Visual Arts in Music (Day Seven). “Slicing Up Eyeballs”.

“Got me a movie, I want you know, Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know”.  The movie that Black Francis wants you to know about on Debaser, the opening track of the 1989 album, Doolittle, is Un Chien Andalou, a 15 minute long silent movie by Surrealist painter Salvador Dali and Surrealist filmmaker Louis Brunel made in 1929.  Un Chien Andalou was the pair’s first film and became very popular after its first showing in Paris, running for 8 months.  The film’s premiere was attended by Pablo Picasso, Le Corbusier, Jean Cocteau, Christian Berard and George Auric, as well a vast majority of Andre Breton’s Surrealist group.

The film has no discernible plot, with a disjointed chronology jumping from “Once upon a time” to “8 months later” with tenuously related scenes in a dream-like narrative structure.  The most famous line in the Pixies’ Debaser, “Slicing up eyeballs” is a reference to the film’s equally famous opening scene in which a woman’s eyeball is cut by a straight razor.

In Debaser, Black Francis changes the name of the original movie, Un Chien Andalou, to “Un Chien Andalusia” because he thought that ‘Andalou’ ”sounded too French”.  Un Chien Andalou means “An Andalusian Dog” in French.  As expected of both Salvador Dali and Louis Brunel, Un Chien Andalou was a highly experimental film, quite unlike anything the cinema audience of that time had seen before.  The film was seen to debase morality and the art community of the time, hence the title of the Pixies’ song, Debaser.  According to Black Francis, the earliest version of Debaser featured the line “Shed, Apollonia!” instead of “Un Chien Andalusia”, in reference to a scene in the Prince film Purple Rain (1984).  Talking about Debaser with a Spanish magazine following the release of Doolittle, the songwriter said:

“I wish Brunel was still alive.  He made this film about nothing in particular.  The title itself is nonsense.  With my stupid, pseudo-scholar, naive, enthusiastic, avant-garde-ish, amateurish way to watch Un Chien Andalou (twice), I thought, ‘Yeah, I will make a song about it’.  (He sings:) “Un chien andalou” … It sounds too French, so I will sing “un chien Andalusia”, it sounds good, no?”

The lines “I wanna grow up to be a debaser” are telling of Francis’ desire to subvert the world of rock music in the same way that Dali and Brunel subverted the visual art world.  This was feat that the Pixies continually managed, particularly on their earlier albums such as the Come On Pilgrim mini album (1987), Surfer Rosa (1988) and the aforementioned Doolittle, with their oddly twisted tales of sex, incest, reincarnation, mutilation, death and disease as well as bizarre spins on Biblical stories and plots from films, all carried out with a distinctly Surrealist feel.  The Doolittle album is very much influenced by Surrealism, something that heavily influenced Black Francis during his college years.  In a 1989 interview with the New York Times, he said of Surrealism:

“I got into avant-garde movies and Surrealism as an escape from reality … To me, Surrealism is totally artificial.  I recently read an interview with the director David Lynch who said he had ideas and images but he didn’t know exactly what they meant.  That’s how I write”.

Song of the Day: The Bible in Music (Day One).

The Pixies were never shy of writing songs about subjects you wouldn’t expect a rock band to touch and their song Dead, from their 1989 album Doolittle, is no exception.  There are a number of biblical references on the Doolittle album, including the assertion in Monkey Gone To Heaven that “If man is 5, Then the devil is 6, Then God is 7” and the retelling of Samson and Delilah in the album’s closing track, Gouge Away.  Dead is another Biblical retelling, this time of the story of David and Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 11.  The fascination with Biblical themes on the Doolittle album can attributed to Black Francis’ teenage years, during which he and his parents joined an evangelical church linked to the assemblies of God.

Dead is written from the perspective of King David.  In the first verse of Dead, David seduces Bathsheba (“You crazy Bathsheba, I wancha”).  The song goes on to tell of how after Bathsheba tells King David that he has impregnated her, David sends for Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittie, a soldier in David’s army.  David tells Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet”.  David asks Uriah to do this in order that he will go home and sleep with his wife, thus covering up the pregnancy.  Unfortunately for David, Uriah, being a faithful servant refuses and sleeps outside the entrance to the King’s palace.  The song is called Dead in reference to the way in which David sends Uriah to the front line of battle, where he dies.  The incredibly quotable line “Uriah hit the crapper” refers to the death of Uriah, with “hit the crapper” being a crude way of saying ‘died’ and “hit” also being a reference to ‘Hittie’, Uriah’s ethnicity.

If we were to take the way in which the French refer to the orgasm as ‘the little death’, then the use of the word ‘dead’ in the song could also be making the connection between the themes of death and sex in the story of David and Bathsheba.  This can be seen in the following verse:

We’re apin? rapin? tapin? catharsis

You get torn down and I get erected

My blood is working but my

My heart is, dead, dead.

Further to this, following the death of Uriah, thus covering up Bathsheba’s infidelity and David’s dishonesty, David and Bathsheba’s baby dies.  This could to be the inspiration for the song Hey on Doolittle, where Black Francis sings “Uh is the sound that a mother makes when the baby breaks”.  Also included in the song Hey are the lines “Whores in my head, Whores at my door, Whores in my bed” and “whores like a choir” before Black Francis asks, “Mary ain’t you tired of this”, which could infer that this song is also Biblical and that this song is a continuation of both Dead and the Pixies retelling of the David and Bathsheba story.

Dead is a suitably dirty song for a dirty Biblical tale, one of illicit affairs, extramarital sex, pregnancy, betrayal and death.  Due to Black Francis’ religious background, the Pixies had a longstanding fascination with religion.  This fascination was first seen on 1987’s Come On Pilgrim with songs such as Caribou, Nimrod’s Son, The Holiday Song and Levitate Me, all of which feature either religious references or language.  On Doolittle, these references and language are expanded into full songs, tiny bite size retellings of Black Francis’s favourite stories from The Bible, told in only a way that the Pixies could.