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P o s i t i v e V i b r a t i o n s

I Wanna Appreciate You

By Barb Lien

I've been a Robyn fan for about ten years now. When I used to mention the Soft Boys in polite conversation, I'd get blank stares. Nowadays, I get "Oh, yeah, REM" (a response that really ticks me off) or "But I thought you didn't like psychedelia" (which is more or less true, don't shoot me!). Since I don't fit into the college radio set or the LS Bumble bee crowd, people just don't seem to get why I'm such a fan. Let me address that puzzlement here and now.

It isn't just that the SB's made the world unsafe for carefully crafted guitar pop in an era that tossed craftsmanship out the window in favour of pure expression. It isn't just the wealth of half-explored ideas they tried and seemingly tossed away. It wasn't simply their ability to parody and subvert music they genuinely seemed to love.

It wasn't simply that they were the shaggiest underdogs with the biggest "Us vs. Them" chip on their shoulders since the Kinks. Those are important things, as are the incredible musical contributions of Andy, Morris (a truly great drummer), Kimberley (Yay Kim!) and Matthew, who gave the flesh and bones to the skeletal ideas of Mr. Hitchcock's.

What then? Simply put, Robyn Hitchcock is a great songwriter. He isn't a pisstake artist. He isn't a son of Syd. He isn't a drug-crazed idiot running around writing stream-of-consciousness bullshit having no connection to the problems of living in the real world. If he were any of these things, I wouldn't give the man the time of day. Hitchcock, with the Soft Boys and to a greater or lesser extent to this very day, was and is a songwriter who intelligently, bitterly, and hilariously reflected the absurdity of being an alienated, albeit highly intelligent, man in a world that seemingly made no sense. Plus, his gift for melody and structure is incredible.

Hitchcock once said that the main emotional state of the Soft Boys' music was psychosis. That always seemed a little too simple to me. The emotional states I hear in the SB's music are annoyance, disappointment, horror, disgust, anger, and justifiable paranoia against just about anything you can think of. The lyrics seem to say that human relationships were generally washouts, trust was unobtainable, love and sex were nearly impossible to get (let alone maintain), the world was filled with violent, stupid, brutish people with no imagination or compassion, leaders were bent on destruction, death was an everpresent and confounding mystery, cynicism was an easy trap to fall into, adulthood was hard to get a grasp on, idols were smashed or smashed themselves, and there was precious little to believe in. No wonder Hitchcock felt that being human was an unpleasant, undignified and dis gusting state to find oneself in. Humanity deliberately engaged in premeditated cruelty.

No wonder Hitchcock would have rather been an anglepoise lamp there's probably more dignity in being inanimate than in being living matter. If an inanimate object couldn't create, at least it couldn't consciously harm either.

Hitchcock's songs choose to fight cosmic absurdity with cre ativity, humour, anger, bitterness and yet more absurdity. Passive resistance, fighting fire with fire, who knows?

I'm not saying Hitchcock sat down one day and decided his songs would say this or that. He's a songwriter, not a prophet or a politico or a professor of philosophy. I'm just saying that when I listen to Robyn's songs, I hear these things. He makes me think about things. His work isn't meant to answer questions. Robyn himself once said it's meant to present a situation so you'll ask yourself questions, which, an odd way, shows the ultimate respect for his audience he treats the listener as an intelligent person. Sometimes, I think his work asks the ultimate unsolvable question: if life is cruel and absurd, how and why does one choose to live in the face of such cruelty and absurdity?

Punk addressed my anger towards the stupidity I saw in the world with a beautiful but often simple-minded solution rebel. I started listening to the Soft Boys just before I hit adulthood, right around the time that, ohmigod, life is infinitely more complex than I thought as a kid, and where the hell was my big solution of simpleminded teenage rebellion now that I was about to become part of a society I intensely disliked and felt totally alienated from?

My only solution. I never expected art to save the world, but I do expect it to give me the tools to help me save my own life and find whatever meaning I can on my own personal terms.

Robyn Hitchcock's songs helped me find a little bit of personal meaning in the face of absurdity, not through giving me any answers, but through the comforting knowledge that an other intelligent adult out there found life to be just as crazy as I do. I'm not crazy. Life is. That knowledge did a lot to keep me from cracking up in the 1980s (Reagan was president now that's about as absurd as life can get, huh?). Listening to Robyn, especially Invisible Hits, saved my sanity more times than I can count.

I appreciate that more than I can say.

This article originally appeared in issue 2 of Positive Vibrations, the Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock/Kimberley Rew magazine. It may be distributed freely but may not be sold except with permission of the author or publisher.

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