Wednesday, March 05, 2008

“I’m Only You” / Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians


As if his lyrics weren't weird enough, Robyn Hitchcock's knack for hypnotic riffs has a way of divorcing me from reality even more. Like this cut, from the marvelously baroque album Fegmania: It's Robyn at his psych-folk best, and I love how its curling riffs intertwine, with just enough dissonance to send me swirling.

The Egyptians were Robyn's band in the 1980s, after the Soft Boys and before his current mates the Venus 3; that's about all I know about them. (And no, I'm not going to Google them; the whole point of my Robyn Hitchcock journey is that it just happens as it happens.) It's still Robyn playing that jangly descending riff, I assume, and Robyn's breathy, longing lead vocal.

At least it's breathy and longing on the--well, you can't really call it a verse, it's just an unrhymed string of self-descriptions, shapeshifting images like "I'm a willow bending in your mind" and "I'm a house that burns down every night for you" and "I'm a liquid you're dissolving in" and "I'm a finger drawing on a frosty window pane." (The pair that resonate the most for me: "I'm a policeman working in an empty house / I'm a distant steeple on a long-deserted plain" -- strictly speaking as a fangirl, I find those incredibly sexy). These lines float upward, spinning off into space like milkweed puffs. It's intoxicating.

But then periodically, Robyn flips over to a more driving electric riff and a snider, harder singing voice to deliver a more conventional pop line: "Sometimes when I'm lonely, / Baby, then I'm only / You." That only/lonely rhyme may be the whole point of this song, but the more I think about it, the more bizarre it seems. Only you? Wow, how many pop songs have been written declaring that the guy loves the girl so much, they become each other, forever and ever? And now here's Robyn Hitchcock saying that happens only when he's feeling lonely, and even then, it's a grudging, limited phenomenon. I'll admit it, that piques my interest. After all, aren't the really interesting people in life the ones like this, who can't be pinned down?

I suppose he could be saying that when he gets lonely, he completely submerges his identity in her -- as in, "when I'm lonely there's nothing else of me but the part that's you." That's a nice thought, too (though my gut tells me it's too mushy, given the harsh vocals and the downward scoops of the melody). But while I'm pondering this, the guitar line and organ are getting all tangled and mystical and I lose my train of thought. This song makes me want to stare into a candle flame, or lie on my back under a sky full of stars, or ride a train at night past the lit windows of people I'll never meet. It's pretty heady stuff.

Now what I can't figure out is, why am I so enthralled with this? Usually I like my pop music in three verses and a bridge, preferably three minutes or less, with a tight framework of images and metaphor and a clear line of development from verse one to verse three. I'm a girl who hates long rambling instrumental solos. But I could listen to this guy ramble on until the cows come home. It's a mystery, sure 'nuff -- a wondrous mystery.

I'm Only You sample

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