The Complicated Role of Puerto Rico In Pixies' 'Surfer Rosa'

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This 12 months, Pixies have a good time the 30th anniversary of their debut album Surfer Rosa with intimate performances in London and New York City, and Come On Pilgrim…It’s Surfer Rosa, a deluxe field set of each the LP and their mini-abum Come On Pilgrim. But with out Puerto Rico, Pixies’ debut album Surfer Rosa wouldn't exist.

The island is a part of Pixies' genesis, altering the course of Frank Black's life throughout his school years. In a 2013 interview with Spin, Black explains that he determined to commerce the New England climate for an trade program in Puerto Rico, the place he lived for six months in 1986, finding out at Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR), the island’s predominant public college. Eventually, he confronted the selection of both visiting New Zealand to see Halley’s Comet or returning to Boston for college. Instead, he opted to drop out and type Pixies, writing guitarist Joey Santiago a letter that learn “Screw this teachers, let’s simply begin the rattling band!”

The island didn’t simply function a catalyst for Black to type the band -- it turned a prevalent theme on each Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa.

He pays homage to his short-term residence in Come On Pilgrim’s “Isla De Encanta,” butchering the island’s nickname “isla del encanto” (“island of enchantment”), and “Vamos.” In the latter, Black adopts Puerto Rican slang, utilizing “chévere” (which means “good” or “cool”) and “puñeta,” an exclamatory curse phrase that's typically used equally to “fuck!”, whereas shifting from damaged Spanish to English.

The island is referenced additional in Surfer Rosa, reprising “Vamos” and singing about swimming within the Caribbean ocean in “Where Is My Mind?” Then there’s “Oh My Golly!” Akin to “Vamos,” it’s peppered with references to Puerto Rico in damaged Spanish, the place Black sings about visiting Piñones, a seaside city common with vacationers. He mentions kissing and “chingando” (slang for “fucking”) Surfer Rosa, which means that the fictional character the enduring album is known as after is supposed to be an islander.

Black continued to delve into his expertise in Puerto Rico with Doolittle’s “Crackity Jones,” which followers acknowledge as one in all Black’s most autobiographical songs, about having to share a dorm with a psychotic roommate, José Jones, who believed he was associates with Fred Flintstone (referred to within the music as “Paco Picopiedra”) and made Black concern for his security. 

It’s very uncommon for Puerto Rico to be referenced in any respect in rock, apart from a blink-and-you-miss it reference to seaside city Rincón in Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari.” For native followers, listening to Black sing utilizing our slang and reference cultural elements that the common non-Puerto Rican listener might simply miss instills satisfaction. “To have one of the vital essential bands in rock, who has by no means really performed the island, with only one member having lived right here, with simply that reality, that’s wonderful,” says Cristian Zayas, frontman of Puerto Rican band Las Abejas. 

“[Puerto Ricans] will all the time be the minority [within music] however having Frank Black keep within the island is an excellent praise,” Zayas says enthusiastically. “I nonetheless haven’t seen Pixies play however I think about that the boricuas (slang for Puerto Ricans) who've seen their reveals should say within the moments they play the songs [about the island] 'Oh these gringos might know this music however I come from this place and I do know precisely why he says "cabrón, puñeta, me voy."’ It’s superior to be within the minority of claiming ‘yeah, he’s singing about my residence.’”

But followers like myself who're from Puerto Rico have a posh relationship with Pixies. The band has by no means performed the island, regardless of how a lot it formed a few of their most iconic songs, depriving followers of the privilege of listening to these songs about their homeland there. The band additionally did not acknowledge the island after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

When I requested native bands Campo-Formio and Las Abejas—who're closely influenced by Pixies—about this, they talked about feeling slighted by the band’s lack of acknowledgement of the island’s position in Pixies’ historical past and never having the chance of seeing them play. “There's little doubt I'm an excellent huge fan of theirs, however there's a sure kind of resentment in direction of their abandonment from their bookers on not making Puerto Rico a precedence on their excursions,” says Campo-Formio frontman Fernando Quintero.

But, to them, having Black sing about Puerto Rico continues to be an enormous honor, whatever the band not embracing the essential position of the island. “I feel that when somebody has a sure rank in popular culture and folks [from Puerto Rico] discover out that they've some form of involvement with Puerto Rico, folks get excited with these details,” notes Quintero. “Puerto Rico is an remoted island, surrounded by water in the midst of the Caribbean. It’s fairly fucking distant.”

Besides Black not making his return to the island that kickstarted the band, native followers additionally acknowledge that there's some veiled criticism of the island within the songs, with Black hinting at his want to depart in “Vamos,” as he sings in Spanish about considering shifting to Jersey. Turns out, Black’s expertise in Puerto Rico wasn’t precisely constructive.

The ebook Gigantic: The Story Of Frank Black and The Pixies mentions an interview the place Black says “Puerto Rico is bizarre…as a result of it’s American! It’s a welfare state, so the individuals are actually screwed up -- they’ve been on the dole for one thing like 500 years…And they’ve bought a very dangerous identification downside. Some of them wish to be Indian [Taíno natives] however extra consider themselves as American. And as a result of it’s primarily Catholic, that fucks issues up much more.”

According to the aforementioned ebook, Black had initially loved his time within the island, however grew bored with being in a spot that felt so overseas. Having to share a dorm with somebody like Crackity Jones didn’t assist a lot, both.

But maybe the largest catalyst for Black deciding he needed to depart the island was the shortage of music accessible to him throughout his keep. At the time, the island didn’t fairly have a booming rock scene, and Black had deliberate poorly when it got here to selecting which information to take to the island. “So that’s all I had: A Walkman. A Ramones file, a Talking Heads file, and no matter music I heard in Puerto Rico, salsa and merengue,” Black informed The Ringer in a latest interview.

Given how his expertise wasn’t the paradise he was anticipating, it’s straightforward to see the way it ended up disillusioning him. You can sense his sarcastic tone in “Isla De Encanta,” as he sings about how the island earned its nickname by being a land with out struggling the place you could find a “river of rum” (“Rio de ron pasa por la calle”) and a “native creature who sings to the island totally free” (“Nuestro propio animal canta a la gente para free of charge”), referring to the coquí frog.

But Frank Black’s emotions in regards to the island don't change the impression it had on Pixies’ historical past. The band and music critics typically point out the island in passing, but it surely performed a big position in Pixies’ music, and it’s time for that to be acknowledged. The island wasn’t simply the place the place Frank Black briefly lived earlier than forming Pixies -- it gave Surfer Rosa life.