#TBT: Helium's 'XXX' Video Is Sooooo '90s A round of reissues for Mary Timony's old band Helium comes with a cleaned-up version of the "XXX" video, proving that the art of the moody, attitude-filled music video peaked in the 1990s.
NPR logo Songs We Love: Helium, 'XXX'

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Songs We Love: Helium, 'XXX'

Helium's rarities compilation Ends With And, plus vinyl reissues of The Dirt Of Luck, The Magic City and the No Guitars EP, come out May 19. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Helium's rarities compilation Ends With And, plus vinyl reissues of The Dirt Of Luck, The Magic City and the No Guitars EP, come out May 19.

Courtesy of the artist

The art of the moody, attitude-filled music video peaked in the 1990s, with the likes of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" and Liz Phair's "Stratford-On-Guy" giving adult angst an iconic aesthetic. Yet few videos are as capricious (and cheeky) as Helium's "XXX," newly cleaned up from its poor YouTube rips. It features the Boston band loitering around a cavernous former hospital, destroying an overhead projector, and watching a building be demolished.

In the video for the bittersweet, narcoleptic dirge, the band is half-shrouded by projections of lysergic liquid bubbles gurgling over said projector. Helium's vocalist and guitarist Mary Timony (now in Ex Hex) shreds while aimlessly scratching her leg with her foot, a disaffected expression on her face. Eyes rolling, she declares: "My heart is not a sports car / My heart is a cab / Your love is a fad / And you're a drag."

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It's especially a drag that Helium isn't around anymore — the band broke up in 1997. Yet 20 years after disbanding, Helium is getting its well-deserved due with a serious set of reissues via its label, Matador. That includes Helium's 1995 debut, The Dirt Of Luck, and 1997's The Magic City, now a double LP that includes the No Guitars EP. The newly remastered "XXX" is part of Ends With And, a new compilation of rarities, EPs, demos and B-sides, some of which have never been released before.

Timony tells NPR that the "XXX" video, filmed circa 1993, was the brainchild of David Kleiler (also of the band Volcano Suns), who somehow got the band into a condemned former hospital. "The building was crazy that we were in! I remember it was really cool at the time that we were able to get in there; I don't know how he got the rights to this building," Timony says. "I don't know why it was still standing — it was right in the middle of this neighborhood in Boston. And shortly after, actually, it was torn down, I think." While Timony says she doesn't remember the specifics of the video's concept, it was "literally 15 degrees or something that day — so cold — and for some reason I had decided to wear this nightgown," she laughs.

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But the prevailing "XXX"-era memory that stands out in Timony's mind is that it was a formative period of deconstruction. "I was in this phase in my music where I wanted to unlearn everything, so I developed this way ... instead of playing [guitar] how I knew how to play it, I would play stuff with one finger, bend the strings, detune a lot," she says. "It was almost this deconstructing what I knew how to do, or something. So that whole batch of songs from [the EP] Pirate Prude is me almost fighting with the guitar and playing it badly."

Timony's experimental impulse goes into overdrive in the "XXX" video, where we see her soloing on top of a derelict escalator, bending her guitar's strings with such effortlessness and skill that it seems almost — well, practiced. The video made such an impression when it dropped that it even spawned a reference on Beavis and Butt-Head, in which Butt-Head concludes: "Yeah. Musicians rule." For once, those knuckleheads were dead-on.


Helium's rarities compilation Ends With And, plus vinyl reissues of The Dirt Of Luck, The Magic City and the No Guitars EP, come out May 19 via Matador.