Death to the Pixies

Frank Black moves forward, even though we all want to keep pushing him back.


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CALL HIM CHARLES MICHAEL Kitridge Thompson IV, call him Black Francis, call him responsible for the songs that soundtracked your early 20s, but don't call him a rock icon. And whatever you do, do not call him responsible for modern alternative rock.

"Hi, my name is Frank," says the man with the aliases. It's his way of apologizing for a couple of confused moments at the beginning of our conversation. His tour van idling in the alley of a club in Minneapolis, Frank talks to me on his cell phone from the driver's seat. There are some discrepancies as to where the van should be parked. These days, he isn't going to leave it just anywhere; a few weeks ago thieves in Pennsylvania made off with over $75,000 worth of Black and the Catholics' guitars, amps, and other equipment.

"There's not really much to tell; it was there, and then it was gone," he says, shrugging it off. "Without really making a mountain out of a molehill, you spend the better part of 10 years tweaking your setup; that's just what you do naturally, and you sort of have a certain way. And then when it's gone, well, even if you buy new stuff, it's not really the same."

Which strikes me as a pretty good metaphor; when he split with the Pixies in 1992, Frank eventually got a new band together, and, well, they aren't the same. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Dog in the Sand, the record that Frank and his band are currently supporting, is the third album filed under Frank Black and the Catholics. Recorded live to two-track, Dog rolls with the blues rip and rootsy warmth of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and contains just enough of Frank's lyrical formula—half foreign language/half fucking lucid—to remind you who you're dealing with. The fact that Joey Santiago shows up on a few songs to break through a few of those gone-but-not-forgotten guitar riffs provides all the encouragement I need to start dredging up the past. And let's face it, talking to Frank Black and not talking about the band that he fronted for six years during the Reagan/Bush era would be like talking to the Pope and not mentioning Catholicism.

"I'm still living under the shadow of my back catalog. There's nothing I can really do about that. It's like that for a lot of people. I'm not really sad about it," says Frank. And I believe him. He continues, so I let him.

"We did pretty good. I'm not complaining. We played to 10,000 people one weekend in Paris. We definitely had a lot of fans around the world. And we still do. A lot of people think, 'Yeah, if you would've stuck it out a little longer, you woulda been huge!' and I don't really think we were that kind of band. The music was a little too eclectic. People say, 'Oh, Nirvana took their cue from you.' Nirvana liked our records. You can say they were influenced, but there's a big, big difference between your classic Kurt Cobain composition and your classic Black Francis composition. You're really talking about apples and oranges."

With that, someone else from the club approaches the van and begins talking to Frank about the recent theft. Stories like this one spread like stink through the rock community, and anyway, there are some things he just can't seem to get away from.

"Every last guitar pick," he says to the man. Then, "Yeah, one of them was about 12 years old."

He apologizes again for the interruptions, and we resume our abridged and randomly annotated history of modern rock. He's so kind, so rational and even-keeled, that I find I need to keep telling myself that I'm talking to the guy whose howl convinced me that man is actually five, the devil is actually six, and god, of course, is seven.

"Believe me, I'm very egotistical and very full of myself. What am I supposed to say, 'Yeah, I am a genius'? I don't feel anything about it. That's just the way music works; people buy records and listen to them, and then maybe they make records. I'm not the only guy who's influential. We could talk for days and days and days about influential people. If people tie it in too much to the whole current alternative rock music scene, I mean, I'm really afraid to get into that because my true response is, 'Oh my god, I've created a monster. I don't want to take credit for all that shit we hear on the radio.'"

See what I mean? It's best if you just call him Frank.

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