A glowing phone-booth on a beach
The Devil in a hotel minibar
A green globule of pure evil
An old man in a top hat appearing out of a lake
The meaning of the universe is an apple, Robyn Hitchcock profoundly pronounces. Of course, he adds, thats only this universe. This tidbit of gonzo philosophy is typical of the spur-of-the-moment witticism that informs Hitchcocks music as well as his conversation. As a performer, hes as much a wandering bard as a rock star, a musician who cites novelist William S. Burroughs among his primary influences. Hitchcocks first band, the Soft Boys, never fully fell into step with the 70s punk era in which it was born, but the bands distinctive sound heavily influenced such 80s postpunk notables as the Replacements and R.E.M. Decades on, Robyns eccentric lyrics and minstrel style still seem like Bob Dylan by way of Doctor Who.
With his tales of hovering glass cathedrals, Neanderthal ghosts, and attacking marshmallows, the spoken-word introductions that Hitchcock inserts before his songs are often as entertaining as the songs themselves. The stories he concocts arent really designed to make sensethats not what the songs about, but thats the thing to visualize while listening to it he once remarkedbut are generated as a sort of lo-fi visual aid to the music. Its this glimpse into the fascinating psyche from which the stories arise that is part of the appeal of Robyns self-styled retro-delic performances.
His latest album, 2004s Spooked, (on which he is joined by folk musicians Gillian Welch and David Rawlings), finds him advocating tree livingIll bring you fat juicy worms / Ill bring you millipedesand crooning love songs to a televisionMy kid will look like you I swear. At turns both poignant and hysterical, its quintessential Hitchcock, the latest offering in a long career of one of Britains most engaging musicians. I phoned Robyn one evening in his flat in London, to learn what currently turns on the man with the lightbulb head.
THE BELIEVER: As influential as Bob Dylan has been on your career, does he know youre out there as one of the waves churned up in his wake? Have you met him?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: No, I wouldnt want to meet Dylan. Not that he needs to prove himself, but I think he plays with people when he meets them. Maybe just because everybody is so awestruck and creepy around him that he cant resist playing with them in some way or other. I get the impression that he doesnt give people verbal pummelings anymore, but he just kind of makes them look or feel stupid. I think I feel stupid enough; I dont need to meet Dylan. Good luck to him. I wouldnt want to meet him. For all I know, he wouldnt want to meet me either. Ive listened to his stuff, and I think thats enough, really. Artists tend to present you with the best side of themselves, and you think, Wow, there must be more to this! I want to meet the goose that lays the golden eggs! I want to meet the Wizard of Oz! I want to meet the tree that produces this fruit! But actually the fruits what its about. I think Id rather listen to peoples records than actually meet them.
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