Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years. Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.
(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)
They say you should never meet your heroes. They say that your heroes will never live up to the idealized versions that exist only in your head. They say your heroes will only let you down.
They have never met Kim Deal.
Like any decent rock musician who was born after 1980, I possess no small amount of reverence for the Pixies, even if I don’t quite worship them the way I did when I was 19, tooling around Sunnyvale, California in my ’82 Toyota Tercel with a cassette of Come on Pilgrim cranked on the stereo. I especially loved “I’ve Been Tired,” in which Black Francis sang “I wanna be a singer like Lou Reed.” Well, I wanted to be a singer too, but I didn’t want to be a singer like Lou Reed, and I didn’t want to be a singer like Black Francis either. I wanted to be a singer like Pixies’ bassist Kim Deal.
It was 1996. The Pixies had broken up just a few years earlier and I was still kicking myself for missing their last Bay Area show of the ‘90s. Even worse than never seeing them live before they first broke up was the fact that I had to hear about the concert ad nauseam from my friends who had gone. This bothered me less as I got older and learned that not only do memories blur but most information your brain stores eventually becomes a sort of formless, gelatinous blob—an amorphous mess of absorbed stories, only some of which you were actually present for. Seriously, there is a 1992 Fishbone show at the Warfield in SF that I could describe to you note for note despite the fact that I was home watching Eraserhead on VHS while my friends were all moshing to “Mighty Long Way.” Sometimes I feel like an alt-rock version of Leonard Shelby in Memento, piecing together a dangerously foggy memory with artlessly rendered tattoos of Smashing Pumpkins lyrics and Mr. Bungle ticket stubs: “Remember Sammy Jankis. I think he was the bass player for Jellyfish…”
Uh, where was I? Right, 1996. Death to the Pixies had come—it was no longer just a slogan on a T-shirt. But the Breeders were very much alive. Kim Deal had formed her side project and released their first LP Pod in 1990, right in the middle of the Pixies’ short yet tumultuous existence. Critically lauded but commercially ignored, Pod would later be recognized as one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite records, which was how I came to it. When Kurt recommended a band, we all listened; it’s how many of us know Daniel Johnston, the Wipers, and many more. Of course, by 1996 Deal was a star in her own right. 1993 saw the massive success of the Breeders’ second album Last Splash and its ubiquitous hit single “Cannonball.” I caught the Breeders opening for Nirvana at the Cow Palace in 1993 and at Lollapalooza in 1994, but I longed to see the Breeders in a smaller, more intimate setting. And more than anything, I wanted to meet Kim Deal.
But why? Why did I like the Breeders more than the Pixies? Why did I want to be a singer like Kim Deal? Why did I want—why did I need—to meet her? I loved Nirvana and the Pixies, yet I never wanted to meet Kurt Cobain or Black Francis. What made Kim Deal different?
Where Nevermind was polished and perfect, Last Splash was rough and ragged. While Francis’s lyrics may have been obtuse, Deal’s were downright baffling: “Raw: where the shot leaves me gagging for the arrow.” That’s not just a line from the track “Roi,” it’s the lyrics for the entire song. Kim Deal was then and is now one of the most unique artistic voices I have ever heard. She sounds like no one but herself, and her personality shines through her songs in an immediately recognizable way. She’s vulnerable in the way she lets her voice crack, and confident in the way she doesn’t seem to care. She’s not only unafraid to show her imperfections, she presents them as her strengths, and therefore makes them so. She can turn a riff so strange and simple into a song so catchy, a lyric so vague into a line so memorable. She exudes an effortless cool, and appears to both take no shit and give no fucks. The deeper I went with the Breeders’ first two LPs as well as Kim’s post-Last Splash project the Amps—whose album Pacer I consider to be one of the most underrated records of the ‘90s—the more fascinated I became with Kim Deal. I had to meet her.
I would get my chance in the fall of 1996. The Breeders lineup that became the Amps was again called the Breeders, and they were touring through the Bay Area playing smaller clubs than they had in the recent past. I didn’t care what they called themselves, as long as I could see Kim in a small venue and maybe get lucky enough to say hi. My friend Kelli and I got tickets to see them in both Santa Cruz and San Jose.
We got to the Catalyst in Santa Cruz right at doors. I was shocked that the show wasn’t sold out, that there wasn’t a line around the block. The Breeders had been a mainstay on rock radio just a few years before, now they were back slogging it out in dirty clubs. And not only was the band not hidden away in the green room or sleeping on their bus, they were just chilling in the bar upstairs from the venue, where I found them by accident when I was looking for the bathroom. There was Kim Deal, in all her non-glory, sitting at the bar writing the setlist for the show on paper plates. ON PAPER PLATES. It was then and still remains the most unglamorous thing I have ever seen in the very unglamorous world of rock music. Here was a platinum artist who I all but worshipped, sitting on a greasy barstool with a sharpie in her hand scrawling song titles ON PAPER PLATES.
I was speechless. She seemed to be the coolest person on earth and yet simultaneously the most down-to-earth person on said earth. I didn’t know what to say. I said nothing, I did not meet Kim Deal that night. I chalked it up to not wanting to interrupt her pre-show task, but really I had just been too starstruck. I went back downstairs. That night, as I watched my favorite band perform on what looked like a nine foot stage to a half-packed venue, I vowed that the next night in San Jose I would meet my hero.
The next night came, and early again I arrived at the club, and finally met my hero. I found her by accident again, just sitting inconspicuously next to the Breeders’ merch table. ON THE FLOOR. No one else in the cub even seemed to notice she was there. I crept up slowly and nervously, like the pimply teenager I was (and, in my head, still am).
“I can’t talk,” she told me with a pronounced rasp. “You talk to me.” Um, no problem! I immediately let loose a half prepared statement, half stream of consciousness blathering upon her. “Hi Kim my name is Hutch I’m such a huge fan of yours I’ve loved the Breeders for so long I’ve wanted to meet you for so long I just wanted to say hi and give you a tape I made [clumsily offers a sweat-drenched cassette of 4-track songs] I hope you like it you’re such a huge influence on me I just wanted to say hi…”
She looked me in the eye, listened, smiled and thanked me for the cassette. It was all I needed—to look my hero in the eyes for just a fleeting moment. To be treated with warmth and kindness by an artist who meant so much to me, who had been such a huge influence on me. To know that although everybody is human, real stars do exist, and that they sometimes fall to earth and land on the dirty floor of a tiny rock club, right next to the merch table.
(Photo Credit: right, Chris Glass)