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Mean Machine: Kim Deal of the Breeders doesn't mind dishing it out to her audiences.

The Real Deal

Why I can't help loving the Breeders

By Gina Arnold

THE OTHER NIGHT, my upstairs neighbor Kevin was sitting around my kitchen as I prepared to go out to a club, and he shocked me by not really knowing who the Breeders were. I said, "You know, 'Cannonball'?," humming the unforgettable opening bars. He went, "Oh right," but you could tell he thought I was just fleeing the house to have a few beers and see some random band--not going out to see My Favorite Band of All Time Ever.

OK, so I say that about a lot of bands. But the Breeders--well, suffice to say that I've spent some of the most glorious moments of my entire life in the presence of leader Kim Deal (although oddly, I know for a fact that they were some of the worst moments of hers; there's a rock & roll Rashomon in there somewhere, but I don't think either of us could be bothered to extract it).

I can't really blame Kevin for not remembering the Breeders, though: it's been more than five years since they played here, and going on nine since the release of their great LP Last Splash. No wonder he was startled to hear that they'd sold out two nights at Slim's. Maybe going to see them these days is like seeing a hippie band in the late '70s, but it felt good to me, and not only because I had somehow forgotten how great their music was. I'd also forgotten what a big deal Kim is.

Looking at her onstage at the show--stringy hair, Cheshire-cat grin, nondescript clothes and a (needless) second guitarist who is her literal spitting image, being her identical twin--I flashed on a number of images from the past: sitting in a rest stop on top of some alp and teaching her my one German phrase, "Danke schoen"; loaning her my eyeliner at a show in Vienna and then having to help put it on her, since it was the first time she'd ever used makeup; seeing her standing alone in the middle of the floor at the Catalyst, cheering on Imperial Teen, clad in a huge orange woolen ski cap, pajama bottoms and a polyester sweater.

I love her for the way she dresses like a tramp, as if she doesn't give a shit what people think. And I love her for the way she won't suffer fools gladly. A girl I know was wearing a T-shirt that read, "Kim Deal Is Mean" and it made me laugh, because Kim Deal probably is mean to people who bug her, calling out to a girl in the front row at Slim's, "Hey, why are you yawning?"--and teasing a dork who was yelling "rock harder," by deadpanning to her band; "Do we even do a song called "Rock Harder?" I love her for having her twin, Kelley, in the band--even though Kelley can't really play guitar--because she wants to have her sister with her on the road. I love her for writing songs like "Divine Hammer" and "Tipp City" and "Iris."

Did I mention she's a genius; that the riff on "Cannonball" is one of rap's most often sampled snippets and that the Breeders have one of the more unique, chunky and inimitable sounds in rock? To me, the Breeders should have two straight lines on either side of their name, like the mathematical symbol for absolute.

It wasn't always that way, of course. There was a month or two back in, oh, 1986 or so, when I had contempt for KD, and here's why: on the first Pixies record, she billed herself, almost anonymously, as "Mrs. John Murphy." I remember saying furiously to someone, "How old-fashioned! What kind of an anti-feminist-doormat girl would do that?" Of course, it turned out that Kim was just teasing knee-jerk people like me with that moniker. She's always had a thing about feminism--it irks her for some reason.

In anyone else, not avowing one's feminism would bug me, but Kim walks the walk without talking the talk, and last week's shows were the proof of it. And yet my upstairs neighbor doesn't remember them. To him, they are an artifact, a band that existed at the same time as Nirvana and Guns 'N Roses, whose presence today just seems nostalgic. I don't see it that way, but then, I wouldn't.

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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