Where Is My Mind?

Song Review by

Pixies leader Black Francis (aka Frank Black, Charles Thompson) seems unmoored literally and figuratively on this innovative pop song from the band's highly influential Surfer Rosa LP (1988). His narrator sounds like a protagonist from one of David Byrne's Talking Heads songs like "Once in a Lifetime." In that song, Byrne sing-speaks, "You might find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife/And you might ask yourself 'Well, how did I get here?'" In "Where Is My Mind?," Francis sings, "With your feet on the air and your head on the ground/Try this trick and spin it, yeah/Your head will collapse if there's nothing in it/And you'll ask yourself/Where is my mind?/Way out in the water, see it swimming." The water also plays a significant part in both songs, the idea, perhaps, of reality being fluid. Byrne sings, "Water dissolve me and water remove me/There is water at the bottom of the ocean." Francis' whole song is based around a swim in the Caribbean where up seems down, and where "Animals were hiding behind the rock/Except for little fish/When they told me east is west trying to talk to me, coy koi."

But the similarities mostly end with the lyrical theme and maybe a bit of the vocal delivery. For while the Talking Heads song is a rich tapestry of layered beats and synthesized textures, "Where Is My Mind?" is a stark and organic production. The vertiginous nature of the lyric is amplified by a spiraling guitar lick, sparse and "roomy" drum parts, and a nervously strummed acoustic guitar. Francis' vocals are alternately sung in a higher-octave chant and spoken -- swallowed almost, as if to himself -- not unlike Neil Young on his "Tired Eyes." Certain phrases, "Where is my mind?" especially, are repeated and layered in varying levels and positions in the mix -- a slightly jarring and haunting effect almost like the audio equivalent of a funhouse hall of mirrors. The creepiness is also accented by the repeated, echoing, bestial howls throughout the song. The innovative production is by former Big Black leader Steve Albini. The record became sort of a calling card for Albini, whether he liked it or not. Noted Pixies followers and alt-rock stars Nirvana employed him on In Utero (1993), the follow-up to their breakthrough, Nevermind (1991). The sound is indicative of Albini's style: sparse and dry with natural room sounds, gritty guitars in the forefront, vocals unadorned and mostly an afterthought. Though Albini insists he is just a recording engineer and not a producer per se, he quite obviously has an identifiable sound that has had a great impact. He had a large influence on the sound of the record as well as the Pixies' subsequent direction. Though the Pixies were already well left of center, Albini accentuated their edgy art rock leanings to add another level of interest to the band's pop tendencies. "Where Is My Mind?" enjoyed another look as the closing theme to the 1999 film Fight Club.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Surfer Rosa 1988 4AD 3:54
A Matter of Degrees [Original Soundtrack] 1991
Original Soundtrack
Atlantic 3:52
Velouria 1991 Kiss the Stone 3:31
Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim 1992 4AD 3:53
Death to the Pixies 1987-1991 1997 Elektra 3:51
Essential Soundtracks: New Movie Collection 2000
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 3:52
Coachella [DVD] 2006 Epitaph
100 Hits: Indie 2009
Various Artists
Demon Music Group / DMG 100 3:50
Come on Pilgrim... It's Surfer Rosa 2018 4AD 3:53