Recently Rated Movies #50: My Own MTV (You Know, The Way MTV Should Be... If They Actually Played Decent Music)

loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies
Dir: Stephen Cantor & Matthew Galkin // 2006 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

The Pixies Sell Out: 2004 Reunion Tour
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

Bumping about loudly through Netflix, I realized that I really haven't seen many of the current string of live concert
DVDs that have hit the shelves in the last few years. The thing is, I would have killed for this much band access back in the '80s and early '90s, but video releases were both somewhat haphazard and far more expensive back then in those rental-focused times. The disc changed everything, especially the buyer's market. Now, if I get one DVD about Wilco, there's likely another one around the corner. There also seems to be a cottage industry built around the reformation of the Pixies, with at least three titles that I have noticed bouncing around featuring footage from that surprising 2004 reunion. I clicked on one of these titles, adding it to the queue, and then felt instantly compelled to click on the suggested other title that popped up on my screen. (I guess that's why they have a feature like that... for once, it actually worked on me.)

I will have to admit out front that any band is an acquired taste. I sat in rapt attention to loudQUIETloud, lounging backstage with people who seem to need each other to create their art, at least to the level that fans and critics expect them to, but who can't say even two sincere words to each other for fear of breaking their tenuous truce. They do eventually, but how and why is intensely surprising. None of it was surprising to Jen, who has no earthly idea regarding the Pixies, couldn't pick out one of their songs in a listening station lineup, and doesn't really have the energy to get into new bands (even if they are old bands, and even if I play them all the time anyway). I started this film thinking she was doing something else, but she came out to the couch and sat down. After fifteen minutes of what she likely considered slowly dripping water torture, she asked what we were watching. She then graciously sat there until the 20-minute mark, when I quietLOUDquietly turned off the player and let her watch Seinfeld.

I watched the rest of the film the next morning while we prepared for our trip to San Diego that day, and then I played it as loudQUIETloudly as I could. Flaring past the twin forms of addiction represented by bassist Kim Deal (she also of the Breeders), who is supposedly on the mend during the film and seems like an emotional train wreck offstage, and drummer David Lovering, whose inability to deal with his father's cancer has him popping Valium not-so-secretly, we arrive at the enigma at the center of the Pixies. He is Charles Thompson, aka Black Francis, aka Frank Black, a man who, despite the fact he has released about a dozen excellent-to-good solo albums since
the initial demise of the Pixies, seems as unknowable as ever. Clearly a musical genius on some level, it is amazing how a man of his size and charisma can almost melt into the background in some of these scenes, so uncommunicative is he around most of his bandmates. He speaks in two ways, though... he will offer up a small joke here and there that the rest of the band will politely grin and laugh along with, and he will also impose a fatherly though indirect measure of moral advice when it is called for (such as in a stunning scene in the van with Lovering; it's almost an anti-intervention, so sidewinder-like does he offer a suggestion to David. He needs to take heed of it, giving his amazing blowout on drums midstage earlier in the film. It almost seems like an outtake from Spinal Tap. Incredible.)

Music-wise, the film slightly disappointed me in its selections (and the fact that many songs are cut off in the middle or begin there), but I knew I had a disc full of two hours of music from this tour on The Pixies Sell Out: 2004 Reunion Tour. Compiled from seven different tour dates, this is a true treasure trove for the devoted fan. I was still in Alaska at this point, and lamented the fact I couldn't get to Coachella for their show, but portions of it are here. While all four of the Pixies are quite proficient from a music standpoint, the ringer in the group is Joey Santiago, the quiet, unassuming family man who just happens to be a drop-dead amazing guitarist, in all aspects. This is where my eye went for the duration of the disc, watching and listening for even the smallest scrap of Santiago's stellar playing. You've heard the old cliche about making a guitar sing; here, Santiago makes us keenly aware that every element of each song in the Pixies oeuvre is stubbornly tied to the next, and that his sound is as much of a lead vocalist in the band as either Charles' or Kim's voices.

X: The Unheard Music
Dir: W.T. Morgan // 1986 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

Before the Pixies came along with their male-female lead dynamic, I had X. John Doe and Exene Cervenka
intrigued me so much with their songs of boozers, reprobates and societal dropouts in L.A., and much of it had to do with their odd and very human form of harmonic convergence, never quite together perfectly, but perfectly together.

I had their first four albums -- Los Angeles, Under the Big Black Sun, Wild Gift and More Fun in the New World -- and was deeply in love with every song and knew them by heart. Then my buddy Dion stepped away from his Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd collection (which I, too, possessed) long enough to tell me how much he hated X when they appeared on some NBC television special and performed True Love Pt. 2, their ambitious jamming together of various twentieth century musical movements into a sort of funky stewpot. I, too, had seen the show (I don't remember what it was though) and I had to admit that I felt they did kind of suck on it. But that was X. Live, you never knew what you were going to get, but I could accept it, as I had evidence of their greatness on four discs of vinyl gold in my record vault. (It was actually a couple of milk crates at that time, but no matter.)

Still, Dion's words cut me in such a way that I became, for a while, something of a doubter of my own analytical headgear. The words were memorable enough to first throw me off in that manner for a bit, but secondly also served to make me very cautious in discussing music around the lad, known in our circle for his too cool and cynical way with a scattershot opinion. Later, I also had insight into this musically when playing my new spanking-new, hot off the presses cassette of R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction, which he said they were "Alright...if you like that sort of thing." I could not understand this, and wanted him to be gone from my sight immediately. It was as if any new music that inched within his view had to put down until it was deemed acceptable by the masses, of which he seemed to be a willing participant. I knew fully of Dion's penchant for abstract jokiness, but the truth was that in both instances it didn't seem so much of a put-on, as it was a stance against progress.

So, the opportunity hits me to catch up with X via this DVD. Yes, I fell out with them along the way, but they made it easy -- the ill-thought-out Wild Thing single; a couple of subpar final albums; the usual band member changes and breakup. I got their country offshoot albums performed as The Knitters and liked them, and have grabbed a terrific John Doe solo album here and there along the way. As a group, X still looms large in my heart, but its a different heart I have now. It's changed so much since I fell in love with them long ago. It's seen a lot of the things since then -- hell, a lot of the thing they were singing about long before I really knew what they were singing about. Listening to them now, older, more cautious, more experienced, more heartbroken, and now living closer to the area where they lived and learned, I have come to the realization that I have finally grown up enough to really understand them. They may have been performing for a young crowd, but they were actually secretly speaking to the me that is now. The me that has seen some shit and shed some tears. Not the easy teenage tears of tender years, but tear-your-universe apart sadness. Not as severe as most people I know -- especially the ones who dwell on their own drama -- no, not like those poor bastards, that's for sure. But enough to make me finally identify with characters that were only titles to me: Devil Doll, Poor Little Girl, Johny Hit and Run Paulene. I got the band then, but I really get the characters now, far past the easy hear-and-grab influence of a nineteen-year-old, and I have accepted X soulfully back into my ears and heart once more.

The movie itself. Knew about it; always wanted to catch it. Man, I'm glad I finally saw this film. And you know what?

Dion was dead wrong...


B-Train said…
now if they would only make a
Plasmatics behind the scenes CD

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