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.