Wednesday, January 15, 2014


"Sally Was a Legend" /
Robyn Hitchcock

Okay, now we're in the alternate universe that is Robyn Hitchcock Land. Don't look for or expect a clear-cut story, or anything logical, for that matter. The meaning of a Robyn Hitchcock song always lies between the cracks.

Ah, the magnificent Jewels for Sophia album, from 1999, which also includes such RH classics as "The Cheese Alarm," "Antwoman," and "Viva! Sea-Tac" ("You've got the best computers and coffee and smack" -- really, the Seattle visitors' bureau ought to base an entire ad campaign on that song).

With a sprightly, chugging guitar riff, Robyn lets us know that "Sally was a legend / Sally was a legend in my heart / Sally was a legend" -- legends are public figures, usually, but Robyn takes this one as his own private Idaho. Note: not just "in my mind" but "in my heart" -- like I said, this is not a world where logic rules. And having set her up as some kind of goddess, he then springs to the seemingly illogical conclusion: "So we had to keep ourselves apart." Hunh?

But it does have its own logic. We're talking here about passions too unruly to be played with. "Push the dream towards me / I can see a flower in the dark." It's right within reach, but he backs away, confused. "I can understand you / I don't understand the sacred heart." He's clueless when it comes to these emotions, and he'd rather opt out. The texture of this song is anything but steamy; the perky tempo, the flat sound, the plunky metallic guitar, all work against sexiness, lust, and desire. If this is a love song, it's also a mind game.

There's no physical description of the girl, no scene-setting, no episodes to recount. All that matters is the power of Sally's force field. There's certainly a dangerous edge to her. "The truth is evil," he warns, darkly; "It's an evil truth to you-know-whom." What truth? For whom? No, I don't know, Robyn, though I'm madly guessing. But he follows this up with the sublimely illogical "I can point to Norway / I can point to Norway with my fist." (The Scandinavian countries often pop up in Robyn Hitchcock songs.) When faced with having to decode that evil truth, he'd rather head for chillier climes. 

"Sally was a legend," he reiterates, "Sure as there are veins beneath her wrist." (I wonder which rhyme came first, the fist or the wrist -- they're both arresting, that's for sure.) I see the blue pulse beneath her skin, and for some reason think about drug abuse. A dangerous girl, indeed.

Sally may be trouble, but she's also uncannily perceptive and intuitive, as he tells us in verse three: "Even with her eyes shut / She could see the faces on her lids." (Leave it to Robyn to get a little trippy and Rimbaud-like in his imagery.) "She could see my crying / That was long before I ever did." Maybe it's just a Venus-and-Mars difference, but Sally seems to be light-years ahead of this guy; that's both her attraction and her alarm.

And maybe that's why he can't get her out of his mind. "And it's been a lifetime / And with you I celebrate my life." He has to accept her enduring, unforgettable presence, even if "now she's at the table with a knife." Well, he did need a rhyme for "life," and in point of fact I myself often sit at the table with a knife. (If that's all it takes, Robyn . . . .) But somehow Sally's knife seems a whole lot more ominous than mine.

What is he going to do about this Sally? Is he in or out? We don't know; he doesn't know either. The singer lost in a maze, both tantalized by Sally and scared to death.

Which is probably why she's still a legend in his mind -- and now in mine, too.

6 DOWN, 46 TO GO

1 comment:

Uncle E said...

Probably my most beloved of his albums, maybe because it was my true introduction to the man and his work. Love the song, love the album, love you're giving it some love!