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Some Words About Robyn

By Rychard Carrington

Where would I be without Robyn Hitchcock? Of course I haven't the remotest idea. But I can't escape the notion that life without Robyn would be somehow flat and featureless, with a certain magic ingredient missing, a bit like decaffeinated coffee, or curry without any chilli powder, or Lost In Space without Dr. Smith.

This sounds embarrassing, but in all ingenuousness Robyn Hitchcock does more for me than Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Beethoven or Jean-Paul Sartre. This isn't to say he's a greater talent or a wiser chap of course (maybe I'm just insensitive and stupid).

The hours I've spent listening to Robyn, what would I have done with them instead?

Memory Number One: one of the last occasions I tuned in to Radio One was in the autumn of 1981, while living in a tiny bedsit in Southampton, at the age of eighteen. On the Saturday afternoon show Robyn was being interviewed. His articulate and imaginative comments immediately interested me, but even more impressive were the two tracks featured, 'Brenda's Iron Sledge' and 'Only The Stones Remain'. Shortly afterwards I bought 'Black Snake Diamond Role' at the local Virgin, and Robyn soon became my number one musical hero, replacing Neil Young, The Kinks, Horslips and Elton John.

Since then I can measure my life in terms of new Robyn albums where I was living, where I was working, who and what I was involved with at the time.

Two criticisms of Robyn crop up frequently. I would like to dispose of them now, wrap them up neatly and put them well out of the reach of small children. One is that Robyn is merely a Syd imitator. This is bollocks; the eclecticism, the humour, the articulacy and subtlety of Robyn's work distinguishes it completely form the Barrett canon. Syd's songs I love, and of course he has influenced some of Robyn's music, but could he, for instance, have written 'Uncorrected Personality Traits'? People who allow that criticism to fall glibly from their tongues ought to actually listen to the works of the two great men, in a dark room all on their own for several hours. In brief, Syd's greatness lay in his being a natural, a man not in control of his art or of his life. Hence a purity and ingenuousness shines through on his solo albums that shames the machinations of rock musicians, producers and A&R men. Robyn, for all the fertility of his imagination, is actually masterfully 'together'. His work explores all manner of exotic territory, yet Robyn controls it and synthesizes it into a work of art that has been definitely authored. His art is deliberate, controlled, he knows what his assets are, he knows what he is doing (this is the traditional approach of the Western artist Syd was more of an inspired nai). It is folly to judge them against each other appreciate them both.

The other irritating criticism is that Robyn is merely a quirky oddball, that he purveys a gratuitous whackyness for easy laughs and as a form of escapism. Well, firstly, let me say that every autograph asked of a tree is a joyous affirmative blow against oppressive, orthodox grey pedestrian reason, against the world of alarm clocks and interest rates and washing powder, and a pointer towards a perception of the world in which everyone buzzes around excitedly and it all feels magical, even if actually it isn't; a perception which we can all attain through sex, drugs, art, spirituality, bursting bubblewrap etc. To hold this perception not infrequently is of fundamental importance if one wants to be happy. So let fegmania spread rampant what have we got to lose?

Secondly, I suppose it's subjective opinion whether the lyrics of 'Love' or 'Spiritual Kingdom' are attempts at being Vic Reeves, or genuinely expressive poetry? But it's bloody obvious to me that Robyn, postsurrealism and post-psychedelia, has granted himself the licence to utilise the imagination and the expressive power of unusual juxtaposition to express sentiments too viscous to be conveyed effectively in the language of lumpen everyday observation. Compare Robyn's love lyrics with those of Fleetwood Mac. Do people really believe that the Mac really understand the sensitive agonies of love, while Robyn is just a sixth-form prankster who wishes life were a science fiction novel? I suppose some people do.

Er, I think I'll end the article here, make myself a cup of tea and listen to a tape of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Byeee!


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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