They were, ya know, ironic, but in a sweet communitarian way. When Black Francis indolently entreated, "Rock me Joe," before the faux-triumphal solo on their first MTV hit, "Monkey Gone to Heaven," his irony was right in step with Bret Michaels smirking through mirror shades, "CC, pick up that guitar and talk to me," or Prince Paul poking fun at hip-hop cliché in the "I put this together to rock you" collage on 3 Feet High and Rising. And just like CC's hair and Prince Paul's pastiches, Black's persona refracted rock history's most beauteous battered dreams, ensuring any able-eared suburbanite that the Hüskers' new day was just around the corner. A few years too late and right on time.
The late '80s were, all in all, a pretty loopy little cultural moment. Paul Wellstone's 1990 ads had an everything-allover bubble-up urgency that looked like a Jungle Brothers song sounded, and a trickster novel had made Salmon Rushdie a marked man. If you flipped on the tube at 10:30 on weeknights you could see "Monkey Gone to Heaven" or "Here Comes Your Man" on something called, ahem, "Post-Modern MTV." And then you could flip over to Channel 11 (briefly KUSA) to watch a room full of white, middle-class Bostonians bellow for a social and cultural "Norm!" If Dinosaur Jr. fan George Wendt's Norm Peterson was Josef K. by way of Bill Buckner, then his portly bizarre-world other, Black Francis, was Josef K. by way of Jonathon Richman, innocent to the point of disrepair, in love with the old world and running headlong into the flesh market. The cover art of Surfer Rosa--a topless Italian prostitute preening before a crucifix--sums this up nicely, the lapsed Catholic too in love with the forces pulling her apart to even try to fight them.
Wondering what to do about your body is an ageless punk theme, perverted quite wonderfully by shame syndicates like Am-Rep (well on the rise when the Pixies got together). But when Francis and (especially) Kim grabbed the mic there was no shame involved. "Wave of Mutilation" and "Gouge Away" and "Debaser" were too in love, too gooey and flippy-floppy playful to be anything but come-ons. Like in the Jonathan Richman song, they had come out to play. Which brings us to the Pixies song the chosen few will get to shout for come next Tuesday: "Gigantic," Kim's twist on the Shirelles' "Tonight's the Night," a cuddle-core "Black Dog," a song about taking your estranged little bad self into the world. To stand with ant-hands aloft. What a gas it is to see them. One more time, all together now.