A couple of years ago, I watched the Pixies documentary loudQUIETloud with someone who didn’t get Kim Deal. “Why are all of these people freaking out over her?” he asked, intoning the last word like Michael Bluth. How do you explain to somebody why Kim Deal is cool? That cool means going to a punk show dressed like a secretary because you came right from work and didn’t have time to change? That cool means showing up for a magazine cover photo shoot with visibly unwashed hair? (Kim Deal in Spin, 1995: “Of course I know how my photos look. I know I come off lookin’ like a fuckin’ haggy housewife compared to all these other women in rock, and that’s fine with me, man. So I don’t wanna wash my hair, fuck you, this is how I look.”) It’s like Kim Deal has D-G-A-F tattooed across her knuckles, except in invisible ink, because it’s so ingrained in her that she doesn’t even feel the need to broadcast it. If you don’t get why that’s cool, I don’t even know how to talk to you.
I like this thing Carrie Brownstein said in the Pixies oral history, Fool the World: “Kim Deal was the first female enigma in indie rock.” Last Splash came out in 1993, the year riot grrrl really started getting mainstream media attention. But in the opening line of her liner notes in Last Splash’s reissue, Deal specifies, “We weren’t riot grrrl and we weren’t grunge.” In 1993 riot grrrl was proving the revolutionary potential of standing for something and having an easily communicable message, but Kim Deal was about something else, the power of being an enigma— which is also a particular kind of power when you’re a woman. People are going to look at women whether or not they want to be looked at and they are going to impose a meaning on them based on how they look. So, in the public’s gaze, women who get famous (and, let’s be real, even women who don’t) are either sexualized or totally neutered, and there is very little in between. But Kim Deal found the loophole, somehow. People adore her on her own terms. She is a punk and a jock. She is a chain-smoking cheerleader. She seems tough and also kind. And the cool that she beamed out into the world had something to do with owning your contradictions rather than stooping to explain them to the people who don’t get it, because whatever, man.
I wrote a review of the Breeders’ 20th anniversary reissue of Last Splash, which went up at Pitchfork today, and until like a day before I filed it the opening paragraph was going to be full of quotes from the comments of Breeders songs on Songmeanings.net, until I tried to explain this idea to someone on Saturday and midway through explaining realized with absolute certainty and horror that it was a terrible idea that I could in no way pull off. But the point was going to be that everybody thinks every song Kim Deal ever wrote is about sex. One commenter had an elaborate theory about why “Invisible Man” was about masturbation, someone said “Divine Hammer” was about (and I quote) “a divine fuck”, and there was a whole discussion about whether “Cannonball” was anti-Marquis de Sade, pro-Marquis de Sade, or using the Marquis de Sade as a metaphor for Frank Black. Maybe all of these things are true, probably none of these things are true, maybe “Gigantic” is actually about whatever you think it’s about too. But I doubt you’ll ever hear it from Kim Deal. Amidst all the chatter, you can almost hear the hazy, singsongy chime of her voice as she smiles that smile that is at once the most guileless and opaque thing in the whole world: I’ll never tellllllll.