“The whole thing is totally made up,” confides Marc Blinder, the playwright behind The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Deal, as the production rehearses. “No facts or anything like that.” Authenticity still creeps in, though. Rehearsing “Wave of Mutilation” at West Oakland’s Soundwave Studios, the play’s house band screws up at the exact point the actual Pixies did onstage at UC Davis in April ’04, just a few dates into their triumphant reunion tour.
It’s a complicated intro. Deal’s bass came in late. The tune collapsed. Frontman Frank Black winced. Kim shrugged. The crowd whooped. The band started over and plowed onward. Two years later, Kim’s unauthorized biographer — fringe SF theater company Elastic Future — does the same.
Ms. Deal is known to most of the Western world as the single coolest human being who has ever lived. Above and beyond the mesmerizing stratosphere all female bassists already occupy, Kim’s complete (and utterly sexy) nonchalance makes her particularly worthy of worship. And theatrical deification, apparently. “I think a lot of it has got to be her lack of trying,” explains Marc, who, incidentally, has written Kim Deal under the pseudonym Sue Butler — it’s kind of a complicated story, so let’s just observe that Sue is short for Pseudonym. “Totally unglamorous but awesome.”
The 75-minute work — to be performed at the SF bar Amnesia the next two weekends — explores the fragile relationship between Kim and her twin sister, Kelley. Act I concerns their teenage years; Act II, Kim’s stint inventing alt-rock with the Pixies; Act III, the two siblings’ tenure perfecting and bewitching the mainstream alt-rock explosion with the Breeders. Again, any similarity to actual events or conversations is purely coincidental. “In a lot of ways it’s based more on the experience of being a fan of their music, more so than their actual lives — whatever came through from the lyrics,” Marc explains. He initially got the idea while writing another play and blasting the Pixies record Trompe Le Monde over and over again as motivation; soon he found himself mystified by hidden messages in Breeders songs, interpreting one of Kim’s declarations — Saw it on the wall/Motherhood means mental freeze, from Last Splash‘s “No Aloha” — as a feminist epiphany, and I am the autumn in the scarlet/I am the makeup on your eye (“Off You” from Title TK) as a love letter to Kelley.
Hopefully these interpretations don’t strike any nerves with Kim, who presumably is completely unaware of this homage. “If we get sued,” director Erin Gilley notes, “we have no assets.”
Volume is enough of an asset for now. Strolling through the multi-band Soundwave cacophony on a Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to pick out the Kim crowd as a raucous version of the post-reunion Pixies tune “Bam Thwok” seeps from a dimly lit rehearsal room. The play is equally split between standard theatrical dialogue and full-band covers of Kim-associated tunes, from the Pixies’ “U-Mass” to the Breeders’ deathless “Cannonball,” courtesy Oakland band Simon Stinger. Think of it as a play set at a rock concert. Taking “Bam Thwok” again from the top, the band’s cue is the line, “Kim, you were always an asshole.”
Actor-wise, there are actually two Kims and two Kelleys — one “actor” and one “singer” apiece, occasionally arguing with each other onstage to create a bitchin’ Public Artist vs. Private Citizen debate. Consider it “an investigation of what it’s all about to have hero worship of people who are just regular people,” Marc explains. “To some degree we’re trying to deflate celebrity worship and inflate interesting normal people.”
“Bam Thwok” is Kim Deal‘s triumphant finale. After a final rehearsal, most of the actors bail, but Simon Stinger and the Kim/Kelley/Frank Black characters remain to fine-tune the tunes, from Pixies tracks “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons” and “Bone Machine” to the Breeders’ “I Just Wanna Get Along” — fake Kim and Kelley spend a few minutes figuring out how to deliver the line If you’re so special/Why aren’t you dead? while Erin takes notes with a festive candy-cane-shaped pen. These versions aren’t ultra-precise (“Cannonball” is a trickier tune to pull off than its ultra-catchy ubiquity would suggest), but a ramshackle homage suits the Deals’ volatility, full of endless woozy between-album intervals and ill-advised FedEx deliveries. Drugs, inevitably, play a role here, but not in a cheesy After-School Special way, Erin and Marc insist.
No, judging from the rehearsals, this is a fast-and-loose celebration, “environmental theater” as Erin puts it, with the actors potentially ordering drinks from the Amnesia bar mid-show and in character, that sort of thing. It’s a tribute born of very gentle obsession. “When the Pixies came to Berkeley, they stopped between songs and I was like, ‘I LOVE YOU KIM!!” Marc recalls. “And she laughed, and I was like ‘YEAHHH!!'” With swooning classics from “Debaser” to “Drivin’ on 9” at their disposal, the Kim Deal crew should have no trouble justifying and celebrating such affection. Even if “Wave of Mutilation” wobbles a bit out of the gate. The most endearing and fascinating things tend to fall apart.