When the going gets tough, we turn to our favourite guilty pleasures. But when entertainment is concerned, is there even any guilt to what gives one pleasure? In our new series Pleasure Without Guilt, we look at pop offerings that have been dissed by the culture police but continue to endure as beacons of unadulterated pleasure.
I first heard the song when The Narrator and Marla hold hands in the final scene of cult classic Fight Club in 1999. The Narrator says to Marla: "Everything's going to be okay. Trust me, Marla" as bombs detonate around them, sending buildings into plumes of fire.
The highly infectious opening strains of Pixies' 'Where is my Mind?' support a moment of uncertain calm within chaos as Kim Deal's haunting hoo's set the tone and structure for the rest of the song.
I met the song at a very strange time in my life.
The 1999 film Fight Club resonated so much with me given the everyday teen who is battling all that inner chaos with a duality that is so typical of adolescence. 'Where is my Mind?' stayed with me but it did not entirely consume me then as it has over the years. The hoo's, the riff, and the distinct drum fills became an earworm for weeks on end.
The song revisited me at a very strange time in my life.
When Bengaluru's Pecos and its ilk played classic rock on loop back in the early 2000s, it took a chance entry into an obscure club in the bylanes of Church Street, to be reminded of Pixies' humongous hit that caught our attention barely a couple of years earlier. The original was recorded in 1987 but Fight Club brought it to us more decisively in India at the turn of the millennium. We were enjoying Happy Hours and discussing mulling over a one-year-old breakup, when 'Where is my Mind?' suddenly came on and hijacked both our conversation and my mind space.
Where, indeed, is my mind?
The next day I found myself poring through the CDs at stores like Groove and Music World, looking for the Pixies' debut album Surfer Rosa, in which Where is my Mind? is listed seventh. The lackadaisical attitude in the vocals and a haunting Kim Deal crooning the hoo's juxtaposed effortlessly with powerfully repetitive guitar playing and robust drumming.
The thing about 'Where is my Mind?' is just how versatile it has also turned out to be! It is about as versatile as an aubergine. It is not as mainstream in the universe like a potato, but it has the potential to morph into newer songs with every new cover version of it. In the alt rock and underground scene, 'Where is my Mind?' is severely overplayed but for the rest of the non-niche listeners, it is still the same trippy, laidback, loud number that stays with you long after the song is over.
Where is my Mind - The Pixies | Image from Billboard Travis Shinn
Each of us who love the song have a 'Where is My Mind?' story and mood, oftentimes many of them.
Over the years, it has become my drive song, my walk song, my walk away song, my "I'm so angry yet I'm here and I'm quiet" song, my date song, my tipsy song, my writing song, my cooking song, what have you.
Which version of the song I choose depends entirely on the demands of the situation, and how urgently one needs comforting.
Despite how ridiculously overplayed it already is in my life, the song in its various versions has also uninvitingly shown up, almost like a sign from the universe.
I was settling into my Chennai posting back in 2005, unsure of how the job I am one year into would end up being, unsure of relationships and myself to a large extent. A colleague and I were looking up some lesser-known Brit bands for her story when we discovered Placebo and its version with Pixies frontman Black Francis! It is a beautiful cover that captures the magic of an arena full of fans in the pre-smartphone era who sang along to every "hoo."
Then there was the Sunday Girl cover that is a soulful vocal rendition which showed up at the end of an episode in Season 4 of The Good Wife in December 2012. The vocals are vulnerable, calling out for help and soothing at the same time, as main characters Alicia Florrick and Kalinda Sharma settle for some whisky in the bar.
I was then a 30-year-old mother of a one-year-old, wondering how on earth I survived that first year with a baby and a job where everything seemed the same but still so different. Being a new working mum can be a severely isolating experience despite all the support and love you are enveloped by. By this point, I had read enough about how the song can be both alleviating and provocative of suicidal tendencies, and I cautiously took to it. I needed the Sunday Girl version " and not the original " to save me from myself, from imploding... during what was a most transformative December in my life.
The song is a simple one when you think of it as a music journalist. It has medium tempo, a simpler refrain, and is uncomplicated in structure and sound. It has a lazy stoner vibe while simultaneously being an upbeat, headbanging number. When we sing it together, it certainly creates a sense of community. It almost makes you feel like you are not alone in your misery or struggles, and just for that brief moment, you are okay.
By the time I was acquainted with the Maxence Cyrin version, I was one year into a freelancing gig, hoping the gamble to quit a full-time high-stress media job will eventually pay off. In April 2016, a friend of mine introduced me to this version; something he had stumbled upon while playing the game Uncharted 4. Cautiously again, I listened to the stark piano playing that oscillates from being both at peace and in a state of suspended turmoil. I would have heard it over 50 times in two days, each time telling myself that this would be the last. I heard it in Mr Robot, and even in The Leftovers, where the original and Maxence's version are juxtaposed in a very crucial scene of parallel scenarios. It is sensual, it can be meditative, and it has the power to wrap you with a kind of optimism one does not often feel in the original version.
There are many others who come close: Puddles Pity Party's lovely mix of piano and baritone, Kings of Leon's bass rich tribute that echoes Pixies' penchant for the female bassist and my own love for the bass guitar, there is also the Storm Large and Nothing But Thieves' versions that are distinct in their own way.
My love for the song is over two decades old, and it has held me through many a difficult time. It keeps coming back to me, always one year into any life-changing event: breakup, job shift, childbirth, sabbatical. It continues to find new ways to capture my attention and give voice to my state of mind. Sometimes, all I need is to hear someone validate that:
"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?
Where is my mind?
Where is my mind?
Way out in the water
See it swimming"
Read more from the Pleasure Without Guilt series here.
Senior journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri has spent a good part of two decades chronicling the arts, culture and lifestyles.