Wednesday, February 12, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 43):"GOUGE AWAY" (1989) The Pixies

It wasn’t until about midway through the day that I realized it’s Lincoln’s birthday. I toyed with putting up Johnny Horton’s “Young Abe Lincoln,” but that was never one of my favorites by Horton, even if I did transform the lyrics, when I was a kid, from “young Abe Lincoln make a tall, tall man” to “young Abe Lincoln had a hot dog stand.” I meant no disrespect. I kinda think Abe would not see a hot dog stand as beneath his dignity in the least. Especially when one considers hot dogs as staples of the ball park and all that.
The song I choose for today may have nothing to do with Lincoln or any other American holiday, but it does capture my mood of the moment. And I think that the mood is fitting for a cold but sunny government-issued holiday in the dead of winter. What's more it's the song that ended The Pixies playlist I was exercising to, so there.

It’s the one-and-only Pixies’ “Gouge Away” from their untoppable LP from 1989, Doolittle. In recent years, The Pixies, who released an EP and four excellent LPs before disbanding (Doolittle is still my favorite), have rejoined, going on tour like any other nostalgia act, and, I guess, to beat that rap they finally produced some new music. I haven’t heard it. Maybe I will some day. But for now this is about The Pixies as a legacy that extended through the Nineties. In fact, I was slow to pick up on The Pixies though I taped the first two LPs from my friend Tim—Surfer Rosa and Doolittle—some time not long after the latter came out. “Gouge Away” was one of the songs that made an early in-road into my consciousness.

Lovering, Deal, Santiago, Francis
But it took me awhile to warm to the rest of it. Those were the days when I was applying into grad school and then undergoing the rigors of grad school and music took a back seat for a time. And the songs on those two albums were so intense and so short, it was hard to grasp them. The Pixies were history by the time my placement of this song on a tape for Kajsa got her interested, and that led to us swiftly acquiring all the CDs, in those days of beaucoup de used disques. We relished The Pixies, and then Frank Black’s solo stuff and saw him live at Toad’s Place in 1998. And a great show it was too.

The Pixies in 1989
Later, we caught the first Pixies reunion tour in 2004, the year after Kajsa graduated college, and I guess the circle was complete, or something. Since 2011, I’ve gotten all four LPs on vinyl, which I should have done way back when. Live and learn.

Anyway, this song, written by Black Francis (aka Frank Black) burned its way into my mind because of that lyrical and distorted—contorted really—guitar line that snakes through the song before Francis starts shouting (it first comes in around 0:32); then there’s that chugging bass and drum intro and the way it under-girds everything, and Black Francis belting it out with characteristic vigor, but it would all be for naught without Joey Santiago’s haunting guitar bit that sounds like its leading you into some kind of threatening Neverland of the Id. The song is one of those “eyeless in Gaza” sort of things, with Samson, who got his eyes gouged out and his locks shorn (“you stroke my locks”) and who got “chained to the pillars.” But that’s just the imagery. There’s also this sense—which is what I got from the song on first hearing it, long before I ever looked at its lyrics, and which is what stayed with me—of a kind of passionate limbo, a state between grace and damnation. That comes to me from the chorus: “Gouge away / You can gouge away / Stay all day / If you want to.” To me it says, sure, you can hang out with me, and gouge away at my peace of mind, my security even, that’s OK, I wasn’t really doing anything anyway.  Maybe we'll learn something together.

Samson and Delilah by Rubens
So the “sacred questions” and the “holy fingers” speak to me of “holiday” time (remember that song of theirs called “Holiday,” about “a boy who fell from glory / and how he was a wicked son”), in the sense of grand fecklessness—“some marijuana if you got some.” If we’re just going to be hanging out, we might as well be high. Or, because we're high, we don't really give a shit.

I guess what’s in the back of my mind, what with a holiday for Lincoln’s birthday, is also “snow days” and no school. There was a kind of respite in them that, even if not always a breath of fresh air, at least played to my tendencies to hibernate and avoid my fellowman. Which is how this song makes me feel too. Like: “A 3-day party” / [or weekend] “I break the walls / And kill us all / With holy fingers.”

And wouldn't we better off that way? Anyway, we could be, thanks to Joey Santiago’s holy fingers. “La La.”

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