Albums of Our Lives: Three Songs from the Pixies’s Surfer Rosa


Halloween afternoon, my senior year of high school. At the end of the school day, shadows already stretch from the huge white pines near Newton Square. The Pixies’s record Surfer Rosa came out in the US at the end of summer, and, as we climb into my friend B.’s old blue Toyota in the upper parking lot, we slide a cassette of that album into the tape deck and crank down the windows.The unseasonably warm air makes us frisky, as do the Pixies: last month we would’ve played Rocket to Russia or This Is Boston Not L.A., but now the speakers in B.’s car vibrate and shudder with Joey Santiago’s rough, whiny guitar. Unlike those other records, this one, still new and undiscovered, feels like it belongs to us alone. “Now let’s not get too preachy-preach about kissy-kiss,” Black Francis advises. I sit shotgun; Tim, floppy bangs covering half his face, sits in back. On the floor at my feet, half a dozen cans of Silly String roll: B. has stolen them from his part-time job at Cumberland Farms.

Cars from two parking lots slowly creep downhill toward Highland Street and wait to turn. A year ago, two years ago, I would’ve been headed to cross-country practice, my running sneakers and shorts and T-shirt in a duffle bag at my shoulder; Coach Donahue would’ve handed us training schedules still damp from the mimeograph machine. A year earlier than that, I would’ve been walking home in Converse All-Stars, pegged jeans, and my dad’s US Navy wool shirt, trying to look cool though I felt anything but. Now, I grab one of the cans of Silly String and shake it. Younger, backpack-burdened kids stream around the cars in twos and threes: I have no idea who any of them are. From the speakers, Black Francis shrieks and sputters. By the time he and Kim Deal harmonize, “Break my body, hold my bones,” we’ve turned left onto Highland Street, still barely rolling in an almost entirely adolescent traffic jam. I hang out the window, then spray ribbons of pink foam on a troop of younger kids walking by: they lift three-ring binders as shields, shout at me, give me the finger, turn and run. Inside the car, Tim cackles, doubled over, and B. pounds the steering wheel. I haven’t yet buckled my seatbelt—we’re going five miles an hour, then maybe ten as I grab another can. We leave behind the foam-wreathed kids as, ahead of us, cars slip through the Newton Square rotary in four different directions.

“Somebody got hurt, somebody get hurt, somebody got hur-r-r-rt!” Kim Deal and Black Francis harmonize again, and then immediately the next song starts with a twangy guitar lick and a ferocious drumbeat. Black Francis’s voice, run through some filter, sounds monstrous, chromed: “I’ve got something against you!”

“Get them, get them,” Tim says, pointing at another cluster of kids.

We’re heading up Pleasant Street toward Coffee Kingdom, starting to pick up speed. My arms and shoulders out the window, I aim the nozzle at the kids. Silly String shoots over the sidewalk as the kids try to dodge it, but I get their jeans, their sleeves, their shoes. I ease back into the car, laughing, and look at B. He’s facing me, eyes nearly closed as he chokes out laughter, one hand on the wheel, the other pointing at the kids I just sprayed. Then I look through the windshield—where, a few car lengths in front of us, a pickup truck has stopped to make a left turn.

“Stop!” I shout, and then B. looks too and stomps the brake pedal. Screeching tires drown out the Pixies. I don’t know how fast we’re going when the hood of his Toyota crumples against the pickup truck’s bumper: when I open my eyes, I see B. hitting his chin with his hand to force his face out from where it’s wedged between steering wheel and dimpled safety glass. I too have left the impression of my skull in his windshield. In the backseat, Tim has torn his pants and cut his leg. We totter out of the car and sprawl on the strip of grass between sidewalk and curb, clutching our heads and groaning. The middle-aged guy driving the pickup truck comes over and shrugs, his hands palms up to the sky. “I’m really sorry,” B. says. The kids marked with gobs of mostly wiped-off Silly String walk past us, laughing and pointing at the crushed Toyota. The speaker mounted in the open passenger door still plays music: Black Francis yelps that he has a “broken face, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, oooh!”

Joshua Harmon is the author of five books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including most recently The Annotated Mixtape and History of Cold Seasons. He will publish two chapbooks in the next year: Usonian Vistas and Outtakes, B-Sides, & Demos, in which this essay appears. More from this author →