The Pixies in Budapest

After buying a good ticket (up on a terrace, with an excellent view) about a year in advance, I almost didn’t go to the concert last night. I was tired and in the mood for rest and reflection. But come on, now: this was the Pixies, playing in Budapest for the very first time in their thirty-six years of existence. I was introduced to their music in late 1991. It changed my idea of what a song could be. There was no one like them, and they influenced huge swaths of what came afterward. Their lyrics: morbid, funny, endearing, bizarre, full of curious stories and verbal twists; their music, driving and dreamy, screaming and whispering, fast and slow, sometimes all of this in a single song. All four band members brought a lot to it: a special drum sound, a screeching, wailing, minimalist guitar, Black Francis’s (the lead singer’s) utter conviction in his own words, and Kim Deal… well, I think most Pixies fans have been at least slightly in love with her down-home brilliance. I never got to see them live before last night, but I listened to their albums over and over and saw the Breeders (the band Kim founded) many times, and even contributed lyrics to their song “Head to Toe.” Back to the Pixies: Black Francis broke up the band in 1993. They reunited in 2003; Deal left the band in 2013.

So yes, this was to be my first Pixies concert, more than thirty years after first hearing them. I got out the door and onto my bike and zipped off to the train station. Getting to Budapest Park from Szolnok is a bit of a challenge when you’re in a hurry. I took the train to the Keleti station, took the M4 metro from there to Kálvin tér, switched from there to the M3, which I took out to Népliget, and walked from there (20-30 minutes) to Budapest Park. Fortunately they started about ten minutes after the announced time. I had missed the opening band, but no matter. The Pixies took the stage and plunged right in with “Gouge Away.” It gave me a strange thrill to be hearing them after so many years, among thousands of cheering, dancing fans. The terrace was less crowded than the ground level, and the people around me were having a great time. Many of them knew the lyrics.

I knew all the songs from their albums through Trompe le Monde (1991) and none of their later songs. The earlier songs included (in no particular order) “Caribou,” “Ed Is Dead,” “Bone Machine,” “Break My Body,” “Gigantic,” “Where Is My Mind,” “Velouria,” “UMass,” “Planet of Sound,” “Subbacultcha,” “Debaser,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Here Comes Your Man,” and “Hey.” Actually, I’m not entirely sure that they played “Hey”; my memory might have interpolated it. There’s some catching up to be done, though not an awful lot (it has been quipped that the Pixies have become a Pixies cover band—slightly true, but not really justified, as they are still releasing new albums). I love their “new” bassist, Paz Lechantin, who first joined them as a touring bassist and became a permanent member of the band in 2016. She’s a tremendous musician, and it’s clear that she honors the legacy of Kim Deal while bringing herself to the songs.

I remember trying (here and there) to introduce people in Kyrgyzstan to the Pixies back in 1993. One couple, who became friends with me, took a liking to the songs; I remember walking with them late at night in downtown Bishkek, drinking warm champagne, and talking about all sorts of things. They were joyous that such music existed.

That is what the Pixies left with me, both thirty years ago and last night: the music itself, the knowledge that it is possible, and the many different times and places of listening, and friendships formed through that. And along with it, who knows what else. I listen to different music today, I think of music differently today, but something has carried on from that era, and something has been let go.

Note: Officially the band is “Pixies,” not “The Pixies.” But everyone I know says “the Pixies,” including top-level Pixies connoisseurs. In the context of a sentence, “Pixies” without the “the” sounds strange.

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

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    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

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