Robyn Hitchcock

[MUSICIAN]

“AS A THINKING PERSON I’M COMPLETELY IN DESPAIR, BUT AS A KIND OF CREATURE I’M QUITE HAPPY.”
Scenes from Robyn Hitchcock’s universe:
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, “that’s only this universe.” This tidbit of gonzo philosophy is typical of the spur-of-the-moment witticism that informs Hitchcock’s music as well as his conversation. As a performer, he’s as much a wandering bard as a rock star, a musician who cites novelist William S. Burroughs among his primary influences. Hitchcock’s first band, the Soft Boys, never fully fell into step with the ’70s punk era in which it was born, but the band’s distinctive sound heavily influenced such ’80s postpunk notables as the Replacements and R.E.M. Decades on, Robyn’s 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 aren’t really designed to make sense—“that’s not what the song’s about, but that’s the thing to visualize while listening to it” he once remarked—but are generated as a sort of lo-fi visual aid to the music. It’s this glimpse into the fascinating psyche from which the stories arise that is part of the appeal of Robyn’s self-styled “retro-delic” performances.

His latest album, 2004’s Spooked, (on which he is joined by folk musicians Gillian Welch and David Rawlings), finds him advocating tree living—“I’ll bring you fat juicy worms / I’ll bring you millipedes”—and crooning love songs to a television—“My kid will look like you I swear.” At turns both poignant and hysterical, it’s quintessential Hitchcock, the latest offering in a long career of one of Britain’s 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.

—Lou Anders

*

THE BELIEVER: As influential as Bob Dylan has been on your career, does he know you’re out there as one of the waves churned up in his wake? Have you met him?

ROBYN HITCHCOCK: No, I wouldn’t 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 can’t resist playing with them in some way or other. I get the impression that he doesn’t give people verbal pummelings anymore, but he just kind of makes them look or feel stupid. I think I feel stupid enough; I don’t need to meet Dylan. Good luck to him. I wouldn’t want to meet him. For all I know, he wouldn’t want to meet me either. I’ve listened to his stuff, and I think that’s 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 fruit’s what it’s about. I think I’d rather listen to people’s records than actually meet them.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Lou Anders is the editorial director of Pyr, the science-fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books, and the editor of various critically acclaimed anthologies, latest of which is FutureShocks. Visit him online at www.louanders.com.

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