If I ever doubted for a minute that Pixies bassist Kim Deal is the coolest woman alive, the proof is in Fool The World: The Oral History of A Band Called Pixies by Josh Frank, Caryn Ganz and Chas Bank. The book, published earlier this year, chronicles what seems like every waking moment of the indie rock quartet that formed in Boston in 1985 and went on to redefine rock.
Everyone from Bowie to Bono has rhapsodized about the Pixies’ appeal with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain famously saying his band cribbed everything they did from the Pixies.
I could do without the book’s exhausting recollections by producers and gadflies in the studio, but I relished what everyone, including band members, record execs and other indie rock stars such as Tanya Donnelly and Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses) had to say about Deal, who was so charismatic, it caused turmoil between her and the band’s leader Black Francis (née Charles Thompson).
In the early days, according to several of the book’s interviewees, Deal would show up at gigs in the same secretary skirt and heels she wore to her day job. She was married at the time so she famously billed herself as Mrs. John Murphy in tongue-in-cheek solidarity with the old ladies who corrected Deal on the phone when she called them by their own names and not their husband’s.
Deal’s playfulness is her greatest asset. Her girlish, giddy backing vocals and friendly on stage patter made fans fall in love with her. Next to sourpuss Black Francis, the ever-smiling Deal’s seemed radiant. Crowds in cities from New York to London clamored for Deal for merely lighting a cigarette.
Of course, all this was in the mid-to-late 1980s when a chick in a band came along as often as Haley’s comet. In fact, one of the only other well-known female musicians in a band was another bassist named Kim: Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. What an influence both Kims were. The following decade, every cool indie rock band around had a lady bassist, but not all of them were named Kim: the Blake Babies (Juliana Hatfield), My Bloody Valentine (Debbie Googe), Hole (Kristen Pfaff, Melissa Auf de Mar), Smashing Pumpkins (Darcy Wretzky).
After that, we all, including Deal, started taking over other instruments, too. Deal returned to the guitar (which was her primary instrument all along ) and went on to form the female friendly the Breeders, which in different incarnations featured Donnelly, Deal’s twin sister Kelley and at least one out-and-proud lesbian, Josephine Wiggs, scoring a gigantic hit with 1993’s “Cannnonball,” which only upped her cool quotient. The Deal appeal got so strong the Dandy Warhols wrote a song about her, “Cool As Kim Deal.”
In 2004, Deal regrouped with the Pixies for a much ballyhooed reunion tour and wrote the band’s only new song, the wacky “Bam Thwok!” Fans like me got to see the band for the first time. (In my case, the first and second time, since some friends and I caught the band in two cities).
To say that Deal changed everything for lady musicians is no overstatement. It’s no longer strange to see a girl in a band and she’s one reason why. Are you a rocker? A Deal fan? A bassist named Kim?