If they gave out Grammys for ingenuous songwriting, dazzling lyrical word play, supreme originality and courteous telephone manners, Robyn Hitchcock would need a moving van to haul home his trophies. The Grammys being what they are, though, Hitchcock needn't be reserving shelf space. But that shouldn't stop you from rushing out and buying as much of the eccentric Englishman's work as you can find, a task made easy thanks to Rhino's tireless reissue campaign. The label is releasing nine of Hitchcock's albums (six are out now, the final three hit the stores later this month), material recorded from 1980-87.
Though he's probably best known these days as a solo artist, Hitchcock--who has released approximately one album a year since 1974--was once a Soft Boy. That infamous band lived and died in the late Seventies, a time of punk, New Wave and pub rock, yet the Boys didn't quite fit into any of those categories. Hitchcock's wonderfully skewed pop vision led the band (actually, Robyn led the band, his vision lurked somewhere to the side), and his post-Soft Boys output has fermented in the same direction all the more.
Titles like "Brenda's Iron Sledge," "Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl," "Young People Scream," "My Wife and My Dead Wife" and "Raymond Chandler Evening" are all they sound like they might be; comparisons to John Lennon with his sense of humor and melodic capabilities on "stun" are not inappropriate.
A long-distance phone call to the unfailingly polite (he is British) and open Hitchcock was equally, uh, interesting. As the man sipped from his afternoon cup of tea, the conversation took a few left turns. Which is to be expected.
Screed: Do you go back and listen to your past work much?
RH: As the volume of work increases, I listen to it less. If you've made one record, you can rush off into the other room and go, "Yippee. That sounds good." Or convince yourself it does. These rereleases I haven't listened to as such; I've just listened to the extra tracks, which took quite a long time to solidify.
Screed: When you listen back to these songs, do they conjure up distinct memories?
RH: Yeah, especially when I haven't listened to them regularly. It's often surprising, if you listen to the original cut, how vividly it brings back everything from that era. Almost down to where your cup of tea was on the amplifier.
Screed: Do you have the urge to make changes in the music, or do you feel your work should be left in amber back in the past?
RH: If you've left something alone for a long time, it's easy to see what its strengths and faults are. It's quite easy to finish something off that you've left for a long time, even if it's from an era where you barely recognize yourself.
Screed: Based on your lyrics, do you find that people expect you to speak in some kind of LSD-ese, or do they ask you obviously odd things like, "Would you swim in coffee?"
RH: No, I wouldn't mind if they did. Sometimes you just need to speak a different language, really. Over the years, I've probably got better at talking everybody else's language; for a while, I could only probably talk my own. Some people cast a very narrow, intense beam of light, and some people cast a much broader beam, but it's less intense. It's a question of whether you can go from being a laser beam to being a spotlight without losing the intensity. But I personally don't like spotlights much, anyway.
Screed: Being in them or the human versions?
RH: Either. Spotlights are for shooting down blimps.
Screed: Have you ever been in a natural disaster?
RH: Not unless you can call the British government a natural disaster.
Screed: Do you have vivid dreams?
RH: Oh, God, yeah! I had some this morning, actually. I wound up with my teeth falling out, three of them, and Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, who was a rather gingery man in his 50s, came up and tried to console me about my teeth and halfheartedly fit them back into the sockets in my mouth. Which he has never actually done in real life.
Screed: Certainly not in his 50s.
RH: No. He was born the same day after me--no, no! The day after!
Screed: But you're a bit older, right?
RH: He's much younger than me.
Screed: He's about 14, I think.
RH: He is, but he's cute.
Screed: I have the same birthday as Linda McCartney.
RH: When is that?
Screed: September 24.
RH: Oh, well that's two days before Brian Ferry.
Screed: And the day before Bruce Springsteen.
RH: Does Bruce have a birth sign? He doesn't seem like the kind of person who would.
Screed: Or he would just have his own and it would be Bruce. No one else could be born under Bruce.
RH: Actually, I don't think he's that snotty. Someone like Prince would have his own, but I think Bruce wouldn't necessarily be susceptible to zodiacal forces. Immune to astrology. Did you want to know anything more about the records?
Screed: Is there anything specific you wanted to talk about?
RH: You have to ask me. I can't reveal any information unless I'm asked.
Screed: But is that what you want to talk about?
RH: I realize that when people interview me, that, because I like to free range, there's very little information in the actual interview and no apparent reason for it. Which doesn't bother me much, but if I'm linking my appearance in the newspaper to something, it should probably be the records. But maybe we've already discussed them.
Screed: We have, indeed.
RH: Oh, well, that's all right then.
Screed: This will run as a straight Q&A, anyway.
RH: Oh, really? Okay, never mind. If you put it out as Q&A, it means that drama students can reenact it.
Go See: Sacramento is much more than the capital of the great state of California, it is also the home of Cake. And what is Cake, you ask? A band I demand you experience. If you need convincing, go listen to the group's new CD, Motorcade of Generosity, for a slice of the oddball mix of sounds and styles that layers Cake. It's fun stuff--one critic wrote, "Cake doesn't ask you to suck its angst"--but not faddish or cute. And the quintet is every bit as rewarding live. That's on Wednesday at the Rockin' Horse in Scottsdale; call 949-0992.
And Vida is much more than the word following In-A-Gadda-Da. It is, yes, a band that you might care to witness. And listen up, all you punk/alternative historians out there, Vida features some real vets. Guitarist-singer Dez Cadena was in Black Flag--pre-Rollins--and drummer George Hurley did time in the Minutemen and fIREHOSE. The music is hard, heavy, groove-oriented rawk, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it. I give it a 10, Dick. That's at the Mason Jar on Wednesday; call 956-6271.
On Tuesday, the Electric Ballroom will host a fund raiser supporting the merger of the Arizona AIDS Project and the Community AIDS Council. More artists than I have space to list will be performing, but here're a few: the Slims, John Savoy, Freddie Duran, One and Walkin' Cane Mark. Do the right thing--fight AIDS and dig rock. Call 894-0707.
For those of you who are scratching your heads, blinking at the sun and muttering, "Gee, I read that article about Frank Yankovic last week and now have an undeniable urge to see him play live and in person, but where? Where?" Let me tell you. My man Frank will be at the fabulously named Europe at Night restaurant in Mesa through Sunday. Call 986-1927.--Peter Gilstrap