The Pixies: “U-Mass”
Yes, it’s Day 5 of Reselect.com’s special Pixies Week, and of course, as we all know, all good things must come to an end. Much like the Pixies recording together in the studio did after Trompe Le Monde, the album whose release 20 years ago this Saturday inspired this week. And it’s time to come back to that album to wrap things up.
Now as you regulars here know, Friday has typically been “Cover Friday” on Reselect, and I could have opted to work that into Pixies Week by selecting “Head On,” the cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain song that the Pixies did on Trompe le Monde. However, I have to admit that it’s not among my favorite songs on the album, and when it comes down to it, that’s what Reselect is all about: great songs. Or, foregoing that option, I could have instead chosen the song, “Trompe le Monde,” since it both represents the album in name and includes the appropriate lyrics (since I’m based near Seattle), “…which samples this song from Washington State.” However, after some deliberation, I just have to go with “U-Mass,” one of the most garage-rocking songs the Pixies ever did and probably the song that jumped out at me most the first time I listened to the album all the way through.
“U-Mass” is written about the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, which both Black Francis and Joey Santiago attended — it was there that they met and started planning the band. (Apparently, they met while living next to each other in a suite; weird how fate works, isn’t it? How little things like the placement of students in a dorm can end up making such an impact on, say, the course of music history?) It doesn’t come off as the most complimentary song about UMass — essentially it’s a sarcastic comment on how “educational” many colleges claim to be but maybe aren’t so much in reality. My personal spin on this song is that I spent my teen years (and many more beyond that) living in Massachusetts, and have family and many friends who attended UMass–Amherst, including my wife — and although it certainly has some reputation as a party school, it’s really a pretty good school. So I think that while the song is pointed at UMass specifically, it’s not really their only target — and the song is targeting certain types of students as much as the school itself.
So why was this song with the rock-crunching guitar riff not all over the radio when it came out? Well, I’ll hazard a guess: the one line of the lyrics that isn’t fit for consumption by the youngsters. That would be the “Kiss me…” line, of course (no need for me to fill in the “&@$!” parts). If you’re not really paying attention, you probably wouldn’t notice those lyrics, but if you were, well…you would. And sure, they could have blanked those parts out for the radio, but maybe the Pixies just didn’t want to compromise the song. Who knows. It’s a f&%king great song, anyway!