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10 Stories Behind the Pixies’ Doolittle

on April 17, 2019, 1:30pm
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“No. 13 Baby”

Back to those pesky numbers and their standing for things. And while in Zoroastrianism the number 13 stinks of wickedness, the rough and tumble woman depicted in this song isn’t necessarily evil. So, what does the 13 tattooed on her chest mean, then? Legend has it that biker gangs in the ’60s used 13 as code for marijuana: M is the 13th letter of the alphabet, after all. So, the chick he’s eyeing with that coded tat could very well have some sort of gang association. Be on the lookout for that tattoo. –Adam Kivel

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“Crackity Jones”

“Crackity Jones” is hardly a minute and a half long, so here’s the short version: Black Francis lived with a “weirdo, psycho, gay roommate” during a six-month trip to Puerto Rico. Ben Sisario’s excellent book on Doolittle has the long version, but suffice it to say that the roommate, Jose Jones, was absent for the first month of Francis’s stay, then ranted about Fred Flintstone and claimed to hear voices in his head (“Chasin’ voices/ He receives in his head!”). Black Francis’s lyrics sufficiently express his fear of the guy (“I’m afraid you’ll cut me, boy!”), but only his assorted shrieks, barks, and howls capture the guy’s apparent mental state. —Zach Schonfeld

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“La La Love You”

I know a couple of friends who have either given or received mixtapes that featured “La La Love You”. At least one of them was tongue-in-cheek, but the other was entirely sincere. “La la love you/ Don’t mean maybe,” drummer David Lovering croons. And that jangly guitar? The whistling? It’s all so sweet and happy. Or not. There, slowly, in the background: “first base, second base, third base, home run.” That ain’t a sweet-hearted ballad. This one’s all about scoring. The change of pace with Lovering at the mic comes from Francis trying to get the band to do “a Ringo thing,” according to interviews in Caryn Ganz and Josh Frank’s Fool the World. While Ringo might have been hitting some homers behind the scenes, this one isn’t about holding your hand. –Adam Kivel

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“Mr. Grieves”

“Mr. Grieves” is among the fuzzier Doolittle tracks in terms of lyrics, but Black Francis shed some light in an old NME interview. Not uncharacteristically, it’s death-obsessed. “Mr. Grieves is the death character of mythology,” he said. “The ‘man in the middle’ is Dr. Doolittle, because if you could speak to the animals you would be the great link between mankind and the animal world.” A “nuclear winter,” Francis added, meant that “Mr. Grieves is going to win in the end.” It’s not a coincidence that Doolittle was written at the tail end of the cold war, nor that “Mr. Grieves” is one of two tracks on the album involving whores (see: “Tame”) and one of several with nautical themes. (I need to give a final shout-out to TV on the Radio’s a cappella rendition, a cover version that dismantles the original so thoroughly and so remarkably as to hold its own in comparison. I hate a cappella. I love this cover.) –Zach Schonfeld

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“Gouge Away”

And just when you thought we were done with the Bible, Francis drags another classic through the riptide, and this time it’s Samson and Delilah. Traditionally, Samson was granted immense strength by God, as long as he wouldn’t cut his hair. And wouldn’t you know it, his beloved Delilah (presumably “missy aggravation,” a woman coerced by the enemies of Sam’s people) wound up cutting off those locks. The Philistines then blinded him (“Gouge away”). Then, once his hair grows back, he summons the strength to tear down the pillars of the temple and kill himself and the people inside (“I break the walls/ And kill us all/ With holy fingers”). It’s as if Francis is telling someone who wronged him to hurt him if she wants to; he can do even more damage. Another twist? The mentions of marijuana, spoons, and bad arms could tie all of that to the ills of drugs. –Adam Kivel

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