Friday, January 29, 2016

Revisiting Robyn Hitchcock: Popcraft of an Outraged Rationalist

Listening to "The Man with the Lightbulb Head" by Robyn Hitchcock and re-discovering how feckin' good it is, how much better it is than I really realized or appreciated, say, the last time I was listening to Robyn Hitchcock, circa 1990 (where I thought he was all right, passably entertaining, and so forth, if not exactly what I craved then; I had a few of his albums, then I sold them, then I forgot about him, more or less, until the announcement of his current tour). Man, what popcraft! Nevermind that obvious Syd Barrett thing, this particular song owes more to Eno's idiot glee days than I recall realizing; it would be interesting on a mixtape after "Back in Judy's Jungle," say. Or, like - listen to the very next track on this side of FegMANIA!, spinning as I type, which is "Insect Mother," and try NOT TO THINK of the Meat Puppets (I don't know which song exactly but try "Severed Goddess Hand," say; doesn't that even sound like a Robyn Hitchcock song title?).

And this isn't even my favourite Robyn Hitchcock album; that would be, of the five or so I've heard, "A Globe of Frogs," the title track of the album of the same name, and my favourite song on it, for its unclassifiable, playful strangeness. This guy is an important figure, who has influenced as much as he has been influenced. I bet Robert Pollard likes him. I sure do, but I had nearly forgotten it. Why did I ever set him aside for so long?

And speaking of the strangeness of his lyrics, have you heard "Wax Doll" lately? I mean, "if I was man enough I'd cum on your stump?" WHAT did you just sing, Robyn, exactly? Actually, some people have complained of the excessive absurdity of that line - as if the absurd needs to be carefully leavened with reality, lest it become just plain silly - but it's actually almost a political manifesto, innit? It's practically clear, accessible, meaningful (with a bit of work), or at least moreso than you'd maybe expect, on first blush: the song seems to address aspects of the British character that stifle and limit, maybe, though it's sung from a somewhat melancholy, pitying outsider's perspective (or is that contempt he's feeling...? Hmm. Does he want to cum on stumps as a sort of, "ha ha, I ejaculate on your lost limb" or, "what a lovely, arousing stump you have?" Would cumming on the stump be a gesture of dominance, or, like, sharing? Is it, "Am I man enough to love your stump," or "am I man enough to revel in your defeat?" It can actually be read either way!). Suffice it to say that it's relatively penetrable, as opposed to agreeably opaque (but resonant), which is usually the best you can hope for from him; and it's kind of sympathetic, too, I think (either way you slice it). Seems to me I remember Hitchcock saying  - in an interview on Much Music, I think! - that he wasn't really a wigged-out acidhead, so much as he was an "outraged rationalist," which immediately made strong intuitive sense, but has never made any other kind...

Still, I feel like I almost understand this song. 

Or do I? Hard to know after balloon man blew up in my hands. (Great little video, that - it's like The Prisoner meets the Residents in a film by Kenneth Anger, but minus all the queer occultism. There's definitely something sexual going on in there, too, though, though it's a little less transparent. The Elusive Onanism of Robyn Hitchcock?).

I saw Robyn Hitchcock once at the Town Pump, y'know? Around 1991, on the Eye tour, solo acoustic, with NO FUN (in trio form) opening. The highlight - certainly my strongest memory - was when the rather dryly-humoured singer quipped to the audience, "any requests" (or such), and received back, amongst the calls for particular songs of his, some wit's cry for "And the Wind Cries Mary." Which Robyn proceeded to ACTUALLY, SPONTANEOUSLY perform, more or less knowing the words, but, since he was neither practiced nor prepared, having to get some help from the Hendrix fans in the audience, who called out the chords. It's a singular moment in my concertgoing experiences, and also my favourite ever cover of Jimi, mostly because you had to be there to appreciate it - it's one of those concert going moments that only come once, that stand out in a world of rehearsed moves and memorized patter, where the audience taught a song to the performer.

Sort of.

Anyhow, he's coming back, Mr. Hitchcock is. March 10th at the Biltmore, which is about as close a venue to the old Town Pump as Vancouver has right now, in fact, if you think about it. My girlfriend will decide if the Reverend Horton Heat wins out, that night - we both enjoy him, but I haven't really shared Robyn Hitchcock with her until this week, because I literally have been ignoring him for 25 years. He's sort of my pick, though I could live with it either way. Thanks to David M. for enjoyably covering "My Wife and My Dead Wife" at a show last fall and preparing me for my rediscovery, seeing the ground, as it were; fruit has sprung, Mr. M.

There is far too much semen in this post.

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