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Clip: Juddy on Robyn Hitchcock

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  • Carl Zimring
    Hitchcock is also in Jonathan Demme s version of The Manchurian Candidate. That film s version of the Kinks Better Things is lodged in my head this morning.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 2004
      Hitchcock is also in Jonathan Demme's version of The Manchurian Candidate.
      That film's version of the Kinks' "Better Things" is lodged in my head this

      Carl Z.


      Robyn Hitchcock
      Of Soft Boys and American Girls

      Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER

      Robyn Hitchcock isn't as odd as he once was.

      No, no, dammit, that's not it.

      In his quarter-century in rock, Robyn Hitchcock has learned to hide his
      acid-drenched oddity.

      No, fuck that, that's not it either. Dammit, think Perspex, frogs, islands,
      trains, Bob Dylan and psychedelic punk, oil and permafrost, living in the
      trees with Norm, Fegmania! and "Gotta Let This Hen Out!", sleeping with
      devil masks.

      Frogs living in trees mate with devil masks to remind you to take out the
      trash and bake a spanner into a cake for Robyn Hitchcock, because this
      globe is hard to break out of.

      Wait -- start again. Spooked isn't Perspex and glass-house-hen-throwing;
      no, the new album is Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, "English Girl"s and
      American girls, Anglo-American connections and "Tryin' to Get to Heaven
      Before They Close the Door." It's about being "Haggard, and I don't mean
      Merle." Maturity is hell, and that's warm and comforting.

      Robyn Hitchcock's songs may no longer immediately betray it, but the former
      Soft Boy and Egyptians headmaster is still the classic English eccentric --
      he's just also a lot more.


      "I'm in New York, looking at half of the Empire State Building -- I'd
      imagine the west half," says Hitchcock, the voice so distinctively Robyn
      that one expects a flanged double vocal and harmony to accompany it. "I can
      see lots of very New York rooftops: air conditioners, little trees losing
      their leaves, trees that probably have their own therapists, and a lot of
      classic old -- well, old-for-America -- buildings, which you hope will
      never be dislodged."

      Buildings you hope will never be dislodged: an architectural integrity that
      Hitchcock seems subtly praying for on Spooked, his new album produced by
      one-time Hitchcock fans, now-collaborators, Gillian Welch and David
      Rawlings (of massive triple-A radio-success fame). If Robyn Hitchcock could
      ever be accused of a "political" record, perhaps it would be Spooked,
      filled as it is with vague dread and the complexity of emotion that the
      21st century has wrought upon the Olde Alliance of Anglo and American.

      "Rock, and a lot of what I grew up knowing as folk, has always been ? an
      Anglo-American phenomenon. Like Bush and Blair, except that they're a
      horrible travesty, but in a sense America and Britain have been shoulder to
      shoulder for the last 40 years.

      "And the dread is shoulder to shoulder as well: Thanks to [Britain's]
      wonderful government, it's all being funneled directly to the U.K. -- so
      there's the U.S., being kept at permanent terror alerts, and Britain has
      this same jumpy feeling. I think the context is the same for both

      Hitchcock's own Anglo-American alliance -- with Welch and Rawlings -- came
      about in a much brighter light. When fan Robyn met Rawlings after one of
      the duo's concerts, it turned out the feelings were mutual -- Welch had
      gone to Hitchcock's shows in her youth, and Rawlings had had the man sign
      his guitar at a Boston in-store. When Hitchcock returned to America in
      January of this year to finish his work on a small role in The Manchurian
      Candidate, he dropped by Welch and Rawlings' Nashville studio where the
      trio recorded a batch of new songs that became Spooked.

      Spooked contains much that is signature Hitchcock: the George-is-my-Beatle
      harmonies of "If You Know Time," the psychedelic postmodern philosophy of
      "We're Gonna Live in the Trees" ("Guess what, I've spoken to Norm / we're
      gonna live in the trees"), the Hitchcockian language of people who "wake up
      covered in oil and permafrost" that has made him the English-psych-mod
      Dylan and the songwriting Peter Sellers at the same time.

      However, Spooked also marks a unique moment in the Hitchcock oeuvre. Like
      relatively recent records, such as 1999's Jewels for Sophia, Spooked
      contains mature songs that reference the "tiny frog that breathes" and
      other Hitchcock touchstones without using them as a crutch. But between
      Rawlings' and Welch's distinctive guitar additions and vocals ("It's like
      being in a harmony sandwich," says Hitchcock), and a level of songwriting
      that seems a step above an already critically lauded discography, it feels
      as though Robyn Hitchcock has followed his personal muses (Dylan, Van
      Morrison) into a tiny circle of deceptively simple-seeming complexities.

      "I've always been trapped by my own language," says Hitchcock. "I do try to
      speak other people's language -- I'll try to make myself understood if I'm
      talking to people, but when it comes to writing songs I'm very much at the
      mercy of my own way of expressing myself. And if it's become more subtle --
      probably the songs are more streamlined.

      "I've done little else in my life as an adult other than write songs --
      I've never really had a proper job -- so it's the technique I've most
      developed. The style is maturing, which to me means doing things apparently
      more and more effortlessly, and [so have] the emotions -- I think my
      emotional palette has broadened. I'd compare it to an old bi-plane versus a
      McDonnell-Douglas or whatever: On the old planes, you can see all the wires
      and the struts, you can see all the workings, where on the new planes you
      just have a streamlined silver thing that flips through the air and leaves
      a trail of nasty soot. Not that my new songs are pollutants more than the
      old ones. It's that same thing -- perhaps the workings disappear, and you
      can't see how its stuck together, but that's the sophistication of time."

      Robyn Hitchcock appears at 8 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Rex Theatre, South Side.
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