Spitting in a wishing well: Spike Jonze & Kim Gordon co-direct the Breeders’ “Cannonball”

By on June 17, 2019

In this syndicated episode of “Night Flight” from 1994 — yep, we dug up another Nineties golden nugget! — host Tom Juarez provides comedic schtick (sorta) before and after each and every video in this vintage grunge-heavy “Take Off to Alternative Rock,” now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

The real highlight for us was the Breeders’ “Cannonball” video, which was co-directed by Sonic Youth’s indie rock godmother and feminist icon Kim Gordon and her talented filmmaking protégé Adam Spiegel, better known today as “Spike Jonze.”

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Jonze had already proven he had mad skills, co-directing — with indie filmmaker Tamra Davis — Sonic Youth’s 16mm cinéma vérité documentary-style video for “100%,” their first single from their album Dirty (1992).

Jonze’s black & white filmed contributions featured pro skateboarders — including future TV/film actor Jason Lee — performing death–defying stunts on the urban streets of L.A. (Jonze lived in Torrance, CA, at the time).

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Jonze (b. in Rockville, Maryland, in 1969) became interested in BMX bikers skateboarding and also photographing skateboarders while still in high school, writing and shooting pictures for Freestylin’ magazine features.

In the late ’80s, when he was seventeen, Jonze moved to L.A. and he was soon working for Transworld Skateboarding magazine before co-founding the short-lived youth culture mag Dirt, fondly remembered by some of its readership (we’re guessing here) as being for teenage boys what Sassy was for girls.

Jonez’s first real directorial job came in 1991 when he lensed a 24-minute underground skateboard classic, Blind—Video Days, which showcased the freestylin’ skateboarding antics of the Blind team (they weren’t blind, that was the name of the skateboard company).

The video was set to music by Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, War (“Low Rider”), the Jackson 5 (“I Want You Back”) and bebop giant John Coltrane.

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Through word-of-mouth, Gordon — who grew up mostly in L.A., and graduated from the Otis Parsons Institute of Art before moving to New York City — had seen the Blind video (as she called it) and loved it.

Gordon and Jonze co-directed the Breeders’ “Cannonball” video — featuring a runaway cannonball (it’s probably just a bowling ball without finger-holes) rolling down a street, and the Breeders rocking out, Kim Deal (in white tube socks), pulling faces and singing underwater — in the summer of ’93.

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Since co-founding NYC noise-rockers Sonic Youth with then-husband Thurston Moore in 1981, Gordon had helped to shape the ’90s alt-rock sound and promote individuals she felt were worthy of her support.

A short list would include her co-producing Hole’s debut LP, Pretty on the Inside, at Courtney Love’s request; putting teenage actress Chloë Sevigny onscreen for the first time in clothing designed by Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis; and famously helping promote a talented young Kurt Cobain, as well as promoting a slew of contemporary artists (Mike Kelley’s stuffed sock-animal art graced the cover of Dirty).

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Along the way, Gordon had befriended Kim Deal — of the Pixies, then the Breeders — which is what led to her co-directing the “Cannonball” video.

Jonze kept directing music videos throughout the rest of the decade, of course — for bands like X, the Beastie Boys‘ (“Sabotage”), Mike Watt, Dinosaur Jr., Ween, Weezer, R.E.M., Pavement, Björk, Daft Punk, Teenage Fanclub, and many, many more — before turning his directing to feature filmmaking in 1997, debuting with Being John Malkovich.

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Spike Jonze and John Malkovich shooting a POV scene on the set of Being John Malkovich(1999)

An occasional actor, and always the prankster, Spike Jonze also became co-creator and an active early participant in MTV’s wildly-successful “Jackass” series (2000-2002).

Read more about the Breeders below.

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The Breeders — Kim Deal (guitar), twin sister Kelley Deal (guitar), Josephine Wiggs (bass) and Jim Macpherson (drums, replacing Britt Walford, ex-Slint) — were actually formed as a side-project of the Pixies during a period of time when Kim was on the outs with the Pixies’ frontman, Frank Black (a.k.a. Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, but better known to his many fans as Black Francis).

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Originally, Kim — who played bass in the Pixies, switching to guitar for the Breeders — had formed the band with Tonya Donnelly, ex-Throwing Muses.

After releasing an EP, Safari, and a debut LP, Pod (1990), and supporting Nirvana on their European tour in 1992, Donnelly departed to form her band Belly.

Kelley arrived just in time to record the Breeders’ second album, Last Splash, which takes its name from a snatch of lyric from the album’s first single, “Cannonball.”

“Spitting in a wishing well,
Blown to hell crash,
I’m the last splash”

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Here’s a bit of trivia for ya: “Cannonball” was originally titled “Grunggae,” which was a new word created by Kim Deal by combining the words “grunge” and “reggae” — as one did in the early ’90s, apparently, or maybe they didn’t, we’re not sure — thinking the song’s accented riff resembled the accent in reggae.

Last Splash was released on August 31, 1993, and peaked at #33 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts.

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Released on August 9, 1993 on 4AD/Elektra Records, “Cannonball” barely missed entering the Top Forty singles chart by a few rungs, topping out at #44 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, and #40 in the UK Singles Chart.

Nevertheless, the British music paper Melody Maker named “Cannonball” their Single of the Year for 1993.

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Night Flight’s “Take Off to Alternative Rock” from 1994 — which also features music videos by Nirvana (“Heart Shaped Box”), Pearl Jam (“Evenflow”), Stone Temple Pilots (“Plush”), Soundgarden (“Spoonman”), Temple of the Dog (“Hunger Strike”), Cracker (“Low”), Machines of Loving Grace (“Butterfly Wings”), the Afghan Whigs (“Debonair”), and Rage Against the Machine (“Freedom) — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.