Cool as Kim Deal

The Breeders are the only rock band I've liked ever since the dark ages. The dark ages were my early teenage years, a hazy period from around 1994 to 1996 when I enjoyed the brief fame of Ace of Base and the reign of sassy black teenagers like Brandy and Monica. It was also a time when I wore crop tops with excessively large pants, and sometimes emulated Courtney Love. Basically, I liked the Breeders before I had any taste.

At the time, the Breeders were a relatively unknown band led by Kim Deal, the former bassist of the Pixies; megastars like Nirvana owed much to the Pixies for paving the way for their pseudo-intellectual neurosis. Kim, feeling hemmed in by Frank Black's male-dominated scene, decided to start a side project named for her old high school band. The Breeders' other driving force was Tonya Donnelly, from the female indie-pop band Throwing Muses.

The Breeders' first album, Pod, came out in 1990. But it was Thanksgiving 1992 when my cousin Joanna pulled me into my bedroom to show me the way of decent music. Each year, Joanna would show up with her hair a different punky color. Whenever Joanna was in town, I would hear my mother twittering things like: "I'm so worried about Jo. I mean, she's just so unconventional. She should just settle down and get a real job."

Their mere existence is an accomplishment.
photo courtesy of Elektra Records
Their mere existence is an accomplishment.

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The Breeders
Title TK
4AD/Elektra

Then my grandmother would reply in her soft Viennese accent (a cross between Doctor Ruth and Marlene Dietrich), "Maybe she's a lesbian."

"No no, Jo just marches to the beat of her own drummer. Well, maybe her own timpani."

I always looked up to Joanna as my coolest older cousin. I mean, she watched MTV before it had commercials. She spent a year in Czechoslovakia. She drank wine at family gatherings. And I didn't just like Jo—I wanted to be like her. She saw me as fertile ground for influence. Ever since fourth grade, she deemed me as the artsy one because I wrote a poem about how much I hated mimes. It was called "I Hate Mimes." Jo made it her personal mission to educate me in the ways of independent rock music and good literature. So that Thanksgiving, when I was 10, she sat me on my bed.

"You really need to listen to this."

I sat on my pink floral Laura Ashley bedspread, among various stuffed paraphernalia, and I wondered what was happening. Then I heard Kim's dulcet tones on the opening track of Pod, "It's glorio-u-u-u-us. It's glorious-u-u-u-us," and it truly was. I listened to the whole album in one sitting, and although I didn't really get it (how could a 10-year-old know that "Hellbound" was about a living abortion?), I knew I had found something that was my own. Kim sometimes shouted, and sometimes whimpered. She spoke to the burgeoning angsty adolescent in me.

And by early 1994, my adolescence had hit hard. During sixth grade, I lost my baby fat and braces, and by the end of the year had the biggest chest in my class. This was the height of grunge, and I had a tough choice. What to listen to . . . "Nirvana and Pearl Jam, or Whitney Houston? Eddie Vedder is such a cutie, but he is always like, so angry! Whitney wears much cuter outfits, anyway. . . . "

But the Breeders made it easy. They were cute girls and rock stars. In late 1993, the Breeders had their biggest hit, Last Splash. Though I didn't quite understand Last Splash either (I thought "I'm just looking for a divine hammer/I'd bang it all day" was really about a big hammer!), that didn't matter. "Cannonball" was a hit single, with a video on MTV. Kim was out in front, looking fetching in striped thigh-highs and a short skirt.

By this time, the lineup had changed significantly. What had started out as Kim's side project had turned into her focus. Tanya Donnelly had left to form her own band, Belly. Kim's twin sister, Kelley, replaced Donnelly, and with Josephine Wiggs still on bass and a male drummer billed as "Mike Hunt," the Breeders were new, and I'd say improved.

When I went into high school, I still retained some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed idealism. But alas, high school beat out of me any affinity for pop music I might have had. I needed something dark, something different. It helped that my first real crush, Ben, was into Pavement. Ben reinforced my idea that all mainstream music was crap to be belittled. We would sit in his basement while he tried to undo my bra, and he would extol the virtues of Stephen Malkmus whining about how much his life sucked.

After Ben went off to Dartmouth and left me behind, my bitterness propelled me into angry lesbian rock. I got more into the Breeders and Belly, then went further. I started listening religiously to Throwing Muses, and to anything Kim Deal-related. Around this time, I found out the Breeders were on a semi-permanent hiatus. Kelley Deal had been arrested for heroin possession back in 1995, and was still in and out of rehab. Kim had started yet another side project, the Amps, who released an album called Pacer—just what I needed. It was rough and under-produced. It had an unfinished, venomous feel to it. In a song called "Tipp City," Kim shouts, "Stop drinkin' my beer!" It was all I could do not to jump up and down and scream for more girl power.

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