The Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” is a song with a strange, mysterious, and downright Murakami-esque history. Released for the first time in 1989, the song describes a phenomenon that was neither uncommon at the time, nor without precedent. Yet few recording artists ever bring such a spirit of reportage to their music.
Waves of meaning and mythmaking infuse their timeless classic
“Wave of Mutilation”, a surf grunge ditty concerning El Niño and ruined Japanese businessmen driving off piers into the sea with all their family strapped in the back seat,” said The Independent. Indeed, many brilliant recording artists have had brushes with the subject matter, including Queen, who penned “Don’t Try Suicide.”
But none have explored suicide with the depth and humanity of the Pixies. To explore is to take risks, and as we will see, the Pixies tolerate risk quite well. The reason for this should be fairly obvious, a tradition of suicide is an unlikely theme for any band hoping to sell records.
While the Japanese tradition may seem shocking to listeners in the west, there are things about western traditions that would shock the senses of those in the east. Nevertheless, Pixies fans appreciate the band’s commitment to producing a body of work that serves not only to entertain the listener but inform future researchers.
The wave of tradition leads to mutilation
If we fail to understand the role of tradition, we fail to understand the true meaning. “In Japan, to kill one’s children out of domestic despair is not considered a crime; traditionally, it has been viewed as an honorable thing to do.”
Indeed, each cresting wave of mutilation is a tragedy unto itself. The song also requires us to consider the potential role of tradition in our own lives. Is there no analog to such ritualistic sacrifice? Although BuzzFeed called the song disturbing, and let’s admit that it is, there is a second silver lining here.
Just as the Pixies raised awareness of the seemingly controversial Japanese tradition, Japan’s suicide rate began to decrease, according to Our World in Data. This is not meant to show causation, but it is meant to describe a way in which ideas could spread through music, and possibly change things for the better. After all, why else sing?
The Pixies have a vast catalog with deep meaning
Their 1989 song “Here Comes Your Man,” which the public has streamed nearly 120,000,000 times on Spotify alone, provides a glimpse into the group’s early work. The song was written by frontperson Black Francis while a teen. The song seems to draw inspiration from the ominous calm that frequently comes before a storm.
The Pixies, who have sold upwards of sixty million albums worldwide, also found success in the UK with “Velouria”, the group’s first top-40 hit in that country. In “Velouria,” the group delves into Rosicrucianism folklore. The song pulses with boundless optimism and evergreen lyrics. In fact, the song was so popular that Weezer covered it nearly a decade after it was first released.
The Pixies are not advocates of the arcane, nor of the commonplace. They have repeatedly taken the poet’s tortured path through complex emotions, anxieties, and cultural traditions.