Robyn Hitchcock: Thanks for twisting my brain into the correct shape!

I saw Robyn Hitchcock for the first time at South By Southwest 2004. Just him and his guitar. No band. At first I thought the frat boys in front of me were going to ruin it. They talked, clinked their beers together, yelled during the songs — you know, basic meathead behavior. But then in between songs, Robyn compared his guitar to a javelina, talked about how the world didn’t exist if you never went outside, talked about the German doppelganger myth: “If you see someone coming toward you who looks just like you, it means you’re about to die, or you just met an identical twin no one told you about — or both.” Really weird and funny. And the meatheads in front of me chuckled, shut the hell up and listened. He totally won them over. Very impressive.

It took a bit longer for me. I was already a big fan by 2004, but when I first heard Robyn’s music in the mid-’90s, I hated it. Several of his songs were included on the mixtapes that eventually turned me onto postpunk music. Before that I was pretty much a hard rock guy, though I was somewhat open to things like blues and classical and was starting to check out world music. But the radio sucked, and I could tell the music on those tapes had substance, so I kept listening.

Robyn’s were my least favorite at the time. First of all, I didn’t like his voice. Second, the lyrics were just too weird and disturbing. Because some of his songs were mixed in with stuff I did like right away — Chameleons, Shriekback, Peter Murphy, etc. — I heard them occasionally and tolerated them. “Leppo & the Jooves” and “Balloon Man” first started to grab my attention, and I would think okay, let’s give this guy a chance, and would pop in a tape my friend made of his favorite Hitchcock tunes–and I was lucky if I made it five or six songs in before I turned it off. I was like, blech, what’s wrong with this guy?

Then for some reason about two or three years later, something just clicked. I think it was “She Doesn’t Exist” that caught my attention. All of a sudden I realized he was absolutely brilliant. My friend’s Hitchcock mixtape seldom left my stereo. I played it over and over. From that point I couldn’t get enough of him. I had to get every CD of his I could find and thanks to SXSW I got to see him perform a couple of times.

If you’re not familiar with Robyn’s music, it can vary a lot in terms of energy and style, but all of it is influenced by the psychedelia of the ’60s. Syd Barrett is obviously a big influence. His early band The Soft Boys influenced REM (that band’s guitarist Peter Buck later joined up with Robyn in The Venus 3). In addition to being a wonderfully idosyncratic songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, bass, harmonica), Robyn is also a visual artist. Some of his psych art wound up as album covers. Explore his website a bit if you want to get an inkling of his many talents: The Museum of Robyn Hitchcock.

My favorite Hitchcock songs change depending on when you ask me, but my custom mix goes something like this:

“The Crawling”
“Leppo & the Jooves”
“Man with a Woman’s Shadow”
“Into the Arms of Love”
“Where are the Prawns?” (from Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight” – Matador Records release, an extra, I think)
“Chinese Water Python”
“Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)”
“Chinese Bones”
“Old Pervert” (an extra from Underwater Moonlight)
“Wang Dang Pig” (ditto)
“Only the Stones Remain”
“Railway Shoes”
“America” (from Gotta Let This Hen Out)
“When I Was Dead” (from Alive Not Dead live EP – I don’t like the one on Respect quite as much)
“Lysander”
“Egyptian Cream” (from Gotta Let this Hen Out)
“Vibrating”
“Balloon Man”

“Ted Woody & Junior”

“Brenda’s Iron Sledge”

“Trash”
“Let There Be More Darkness”

Not sure if that fits on a standard CD-R…

If you want to dive in and buy some albums, I would start with one of these: I Often Dream of Trains, Birds in Perspex, Storefront Hitchcock,  Gotta Get this Hen Out, or Fegmania. I really can’t recommend against any Hitchcock album, but those are my favorites and I can’t imagine anyone who “gets” him not enjoying them.

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Filed under classic postpunk, indie, indie pop, indie rock, music, postpunk, psych, Uncategorized, video

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