I suppose that if you don’t like the Pixies, you won’t really care about this book. And that’s fine. If you don’t think they were one of the greatest bands of the 1980s, you’ll probably get really sick of people talking about how they were one of the greatest bands of the 1980s. And, you know, that’s cool. If, on the other hand, you DO think the Pixies were one of the greatest bands of the 1980s, this is a pretty cool book.
The authors, Josh Frank & Caryn Ganz, tend to stay out of the way. Outside of a brief introduction, the authors rarely have more than a paragraph in their own voice — which, in an oral history like this makes sense. Unlike The Box, everyone reading most likely already has the basic context and idea of the rough history of the Pixies (The Purple Tape begat Come on Pilgrim, which begat Surfer Rosa, which begat Doolittle, which begat Bossanova, which begat Trompe le Monde, which begat a messy break up, which eventually begat a reunion). Partly because of this, it makes for a quick read; the authors combine interviews with all four Pixies as well as their friends and collaborators from throughout their entire career — and they’re there to talk more about the events rather than setting them up and telling you that they happened. It’s about the how, not the what.
The interviews are recent when the animosities between Kim and Black Francis/Frank Black/Charles Thompson have cooled, though there are occasionally tense moments where you can feel Kim get agitated from past slights she felt from Charles (who, for his part, tends to apologize and admit to being wrong, albeit occasionally in a guarded, defensive manner). There’s very little in the way of “dirt” – Kim’s drinking and drug use comes up somewhat in that it could sometimes be a sticking point with the rest of the band (though it’s typically referred to in passing), although nothing is mentioned of David’s troubles, for example. On one hand, this could be seen as whitewashing the past a bit, but on the other hand, it’s arguable as to how relevant it is… although, part of the book seems to be about how the Pixies were such Great Guys — and at some point you wonder if it’s true that they’re just Really Such Great Guys, or if it’s a bit of they doth protest too much. But in the long run, if they were all complete jerks, it doesn’t matter, since they made some great records. But I think it’s human nature to wonder about the true personalities of people who create things we like — and all bands can’t be the Residents… and the handful of anecdotes in the book of the sort of “Well, I kinda got shafted, and we fought a long time about that, and we’ve never been the same since, but they’re really great guys” does make you wonder…
Whitewashed or no — and I’m not even sure if it IS — it’s still an interesting read. It could be a bit meatier — the info on the production of the albums tends to be a little light, and there seem to be a bit too much from people who weren’t there (some music reviewers and Stephen Perkins, the sometimes-interesting-sometimes-insufferable-to-read drummer of the incredibly overrated Jane’s Addiction constantly promoting how great his own band was) — but it’s still much better than I’d expect an “unauthorized” biography of the Pixies would be. And, well, it did feed into my own pet theory that the members of U2 are hypocritical jerks, but hey — the chapter on the disastrous U2-opening-slot tour is one of the more tense and gripping chapters.
There’s a bit more in this book than you could get from reading lots of articles online, but I think the most useful, best thing about this book is that you’ve got all this info and trivia in one place. It might not be the best book in the world, or hugely illuminating, but it does provide a bit more information on a band so famously private and unwilling to talk much about themselves.