Private Spaces


I’d never bob my head whiplash-style while walking down a busy street, nor would I bellow at the top of my lungs at the local YMCA pool. I can’t imagine shaking my thing or playing air-guitar while guzzling coffee in the copy machine room. You don’t do these things in public unless you’re being paid handsomely. Or you have no shame. Or you’re a complete idiot. (Congratulations, Paris Hilton—you got a hat trick.)

But there’s a public space where we all let loose: the car. A few days ago, I was driving to work. I’m not a morning person, and have never quite adjusted from my college schedule, where I went to bed around 3 a.m. and woke around 10 a.m. Six years out of school, I’m still up and at ‘em around midnight, knowing full well that I’ll be waking to the cat’s wet nose or the alarm clock at 6:45 a.m. So, I sometimes need a morning pick-me-up before I can face the day.

That morning’s pick-me-up was a Pixies song. I’ve never quite fallen for the band the way I fell hard for other post-punk and avant-rock groups, like Hüsker Dü and Pavement and early They Might Be Giants. I once owned one Pixies album, Doolittle, back in high school, but it rubbed me wrong somehow—lyrics were too surreal, rhythms too angular, melodies too prone to disintegration—and I sold it.

I only had one regret about this: the first song. “Debaser” starts with a loping bass line that’s soon shredded by a jagged rhythm guitar and these pounding, pounding drums. Suddenly, there’s a man bellowing triumphantly about what he’s got and how cool it is. I didn’t catch half the lyrics, but Frank Black is even more enthusiastic about his weird fetishes than usual here. I’ve misheard the chorus as “I am old! Shocked! I could lose you! I am old!” for a decade now. I’m not sure what I thought that line could possibly mean, but it didn’t matter. The song is ferocious, antic, and funny—it’s a blitzkrieg of rage being sung by a man who thinks it’s all hilarious. It comes crashing down with a white squall of a guitar solo. I wish the rest of the album had been like this. Still, I hadn’t really thought of the song in five years.

Last Christmas, Ernesto gave me a mix tape. Buried midway in the A-side, there was “Debaser.” I’d forgotten how much I loved the song. I’d play it, rewind the tape, play it again, repeat. I thanked Ernesto for bringing it back into my life—how could he have known?—and he asked me if I’d ever seen the movie to which it alludes. “What movie?” I said. “Un Chien Andalou, of course. I haven’t seen it—what’s it like?”

“I am old! Shocked! I could lose you! I am old!” translates, in punk-rock bellowing, to “I am un CHIEN andalou, I am un CHIEN andalou…” Jesus H. Christ.

The complete lyrics are as follows:

Got me a movie, I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know
Girlie so groovie, I want you to know
Don’t know about you
But I am un chien Andalusia

I am un chien Andalusia (x 3)

Wanna grow
Up to be
Be a debaser

Debaser (x 5)

Got me a movie, Ha ha ha hoa
Slicing up eyeballs, Ha ha ha hoa
Girlie so groovie, Ha ha ha hoa
Don’t know about you
But I am un chien Andalusia

I am un chien Andalusia (x 3)

Debaser (x 5)

What makes this even more embarrassing is that the song would have complete sense to me if I had bothered to check it out on Google… because, yes, I had seen Un Chien Andalou. Several times. I’d even written a paper on this surrealist classic for a French film class. The film’s most famous image shows a full moon being overlapped by a thin cloud. The image is immediately replaced by an eyeball being sliced open by a sharp knife. Reportedly, the filmmakers—Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí—used a dead horse’s eye for the effect, but you see a woman staring into the camera just before the sequence.

So, the whole song is narrated by a surrealist bragging about his movie and how disturbing—debasing—it is. The narrator is what he creates. That’s it. One more minor mystery solved in Quiet Bubble’s life solved.

Anyway, I’ve been energized for months ever since I actually figured out what the song was saying. The “Debaser” tape—that’s what I call it—is a fixture in my car. And, when I’m groggy at 7:52 on a Monday morning, it’s that rocking three-minute slice of weirdness that gets me alert. So, last Monday, stopped at the intersection of Northside and Ridgewood, I was yelling “I am un chien Andalusia!” confidently at the top of my lungs, pumping my fist into the air.

I must have looked like I was having a seizure to the woman in the SUV next to me. When I turned to my left, there she was, fingers frozen on her cellphone, eyes widened in panic. I fully believe she was about to call the police. Well, I did have it cranked awfully loud—she probably could have sung along, too, had she known the words. (Or not; obviously, this particular lack of knowledge hadn’t stopped me.) Still, I was mortified, and a little pissed. How dare she stare at me? How dare she invade my space? I’m having a moment here, okay, lady!

The whole episode got me to thinking. What is it about being inside a car that makes us think it’s a private space? We’re completely visible to the woman next to you, or the pedestrian jaywalking with his poodle, or the group of surly teenagers waiting at the bus stop. Somehow, inside a car, we forget that we can be observed. We pick our noses. We curse at other drivers. We leer at attractive women. We rock out to obscure songs. We’d never do any of this if we were riding a bicycle.

That car space is an interior, though, and it affords us the pretense of privacy. I’m amazed that I don’t notice more weird behavior in cars but, then, I don’t look. Somehow, I don’t feel it’s my right. Car space is interior and exterior rolled into one, and can even change depending on circumstances—when you flip the bird at a guy who cuts you off, you certainly want him to see the finger.

There aren’t many spaces with this sort of interior/exterior instability, but it seems that there are more every day. Every TV season sees a new batch of “reality” shows where people bear their minutiae and foibles for the world to see. The teenagers who carried on extended phone conversations at the movie theater during The Pianist didn’t care that they were surrounded by people crying at the Holocaust carnage onscreen. (Or that I was kicking their chairs.) Each year sees a new celebrity trying to cover up one of their amateur porn videos or nude photos.

A professor friend told me what must be my favorite story of this sort. He was giving a lecture to a hall of sixty college freshmen. One student loudly blew her nose into her hand, and smeared the glistened snot into her hair in one flowing, natural movement. Obviously, he saw this. (He actually stopped mid-sentence for a beat, in surprise.) But she didn’t seem to realize this—she was in her own private space, in the middle of a full lecture hall. As far as she was concerned, the professor was just part of the wall.

We send pictures of ourselves to others through our cellphones. I’m writing about a series of private moments and reflections for all eight of you to see. And there are millions just like me. We’ve always been a nation of voyeurs, but now we’re becoming exhibitionists as well, and it’s becoming harder to tell which is which.

So, I’m resigned to having my private car space made public. I’ll rap along to the Beastie Boys and shriek along with Pixies as long as I can, curious onlookers be damned. It’s a mild form of debasement, emblematic of a larger-scale debasement within our culture. I’m not fine with that, but I’m learning to deal with it.


Addendum: Download “Debaser” here.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation,, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
This entry was posted in Current Affairs, Me, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Private Spaces

  1. Ernesto says:

    Great post and yes, it’s true…I make great mix tapes.

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