Friday, September 26, 2008

"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.


Mark said...

This sounds like an interesting song, I had to google it to see what album it's on. (Respect is one of the Robyn albums I don't have.) I think Robyn can do just about anything and make it sound pretty darn good. Okay, so maybe that doesn't hold true 100% of the time, but I think most of the time it does. He could write a song about a chair and make it good. (And he probably has!) He's kind of like Paul McCartney that way; I think if Paul put his mind to it, he could write a catchy song about literally anything. (And he has, like "Junk," "Let 'em In," etc.)

Holly A Hughes said...

Yeah, it's one of the obscure ones, I couldn't even find a sample to link to. (Gotta figure out some day how to post mp3s, I guess...). Although I reckon all Robyn Hitchcock is by its very nature obscure.

Maybe we should stage a new reality show, "Write A Song About . . . " and have top songwriters come on every week and be challenged to write a song about some set topic. (Sorta like the improvs on "Who's Line Is It Anyway?"). You're right, Macca would blow everyone else out of the water on that! Oddly enough, I think Bob Dylan would surprise us all at how he'd do too. Macca's would find romantic meaning in an old rocking chair; Dylan would satirize someone's tastes and politics by describing their awful taste in chairs. Robyn's would hallucinate about the chair coming to life and morphing into a praying mantis.

Carabella said...

...a praying mantis who reveals God is a Victorian Squid who divines by the sacred cone...yes, an odd man, however, I GET him most of the time so what's that say about me! This tune goes through my head often, as I bought the CD (Respect) soon after it was released and as I live in Sacramento (where I cannot imagine Robyn hanging out, although I saw him here about 10 years ago) the line about being in a bar here on a cloudy afternoon resonates although I have rarely spent an afternoon in a bar here and never when cloudy and certainly was not cutting paper napkins into little crescent moons.