In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs that feature twisted takes on the family unit for Unconventional Families Week.
Once we’d set our caps on the theme of twisted takes on the family unit for this week’s Hear This, we could have easily dedicated all five installments to songs about incest—if we’d felt like grossing everyone out (and boring them). And if we’d continued on that ill-advised path, it could have been littered with songs from the Pixies’ catalog, including but not limited to “Nimrod’s Son.”
That Pixies songs are replete with incestuous references isn’t revelatory information, because even if you’ve only listened to Surfer Rosa, you’ve heard at least two tracks about that kind of, ah, familial familiarity. But “Nimrod’s Son,” off the band’s debut Come On Pilgrim, manages to play into two of Black Francis’ lyrical themes: biblical allusions and sex with relatives. The song’s narrator learns of his father-brother and mother-grandmother in the first verse: Following a near-fatal motorcycle crash, his sister-something tells him he is the “son of a motherfucker.” That’s the titular Nimrod, the archetypal hunter, founder of Babel, and Looney Tunes-crafted insult.
The narrator recalls enough of his Sunday school classes to allude to Israel; “the land of plenty / land of fun” line is surely a play on “the land of milk and honey.” But overall, he’s appalled to learn about his family history, and begs to be buried “far away, please.” Years later, his image taunts him with the knowledge that he’s “the son of incestuous union.” But his descriptions of his children—a “pure” daughter and “tall” son—suggests that he broke with that particular tradition so as not to hand down his original sin (and shortness, possibly).
I’m an atheist, so I can’t guess as to why Black Francis opted to make Nimrod a mother-lover in his song; my cursory search of Bible stuff didn’t yield anything about his incestuous ways. But Nimrod did piss off Abraham (and, by extension, God), so maybe this tale is on par with the urban legends that sprang up about Anne Boleyn and Catherine The Great.