"Driving Around (Radio Storm)" /
Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians
Do I write about Robyn Hitchcock too much here? Looking back, I see that I don't, not really. But I sure do think about Robyn Hitchcock all the time. Considering what an oddball he is (the words "eccentric," "quirky," and "cult favorite" appear in almost every article about this guy), I wonder what that says about me.
This one shows up on my "On the Radio" playlist, which also has songs by John Hiatt ("Radio Girl"), The Kinks ("Around the Dial"), the Replacements "(Left of the Dial"), and of course our man Elvis ("Radio, Radio"). Most of those are about programming, and how important radio could be to a lonely misunderstood adolescent (and future rock star); there's something romantic and lovely about that. But Robyn's is just about, well, driving -- or is it? Really, like a lot of Robyn Hitchcock songs, it isn't about anything.
Maybe the point is just playing with sound. Its motor is a propulsive samba-like beat, laid down with crisp guitar strums, stabbing keyboard chords, and some clacking sort of percussion. On top of that, he layers various musical motifs; it's almost like a mosaic, getting really dense by the end (I guess that's the psychedelic side of his psychedelic-folk-punk, or whatever you want to call the signature Robyn Hitchcock mode.)
What I love about it, though, is the koan-like snatches of lyrics -- first the hypnotic chant "Take a breath, take a breath, take a breath," then something about "And I hand you a tape of my song / Which you always mislay" and some nonsense about a Harrison Ford poster rolled up in his desk, sitting in a bar in Sacramento cutting up paper napkins, and introducing somebody to his dead friend Seth. It's so random.
I love the moment when it morphs into earnest early 60s pop mode -- "What am I going to do with myself if I lose you?" only to complete the couplet with "What am I going to do with myself if you stay?" That's not just word play; it's the essence of how frustrating love can be.
So maybe the secret's in that chorus, which changes gears abruptly with a wall of sound: "Radio / Forecast intermittent storms / Tidal waves that change their forms / Ahhhh." As that wall of sound hits, it reminds me of how, when you're changing channels on a radio, suddenly a new channel comes blasting on full strength. The whole song keeps changing channels, shape-shifting just like the storms and the tidal waves.
He really shouldn't get away with this free-form stuff, should he? But he does.