Tuesday, October 18, 2016

X Is For . . .

26 artists, A to Z.

XTC / "Stupidly Happy"

Yes, I really was that clueless. For years, whenever I heard the name of this band, I thought they were rappers. Y'know, like Run DMC or N.W.A. Never mind that they were English and started recording under that name in 1977, way before the rap era. I guess I have an excuse -- they were never that big in the States, and after 1982 they stopped touring due to Andy Partridge's crippling stage fright. They kept recording, but became increasingly a cult taste. Well, that wouldn't have been a problem for me; there's nothing I like better than a cult band. (I am, after all, a lifelong Kinks fan.) Still, if no one I knew was listening to these guys...

But thanks to my Kinkette friend Julie, I became enlightened in 2007 or so, and XTC is now firmly ensconced in my regular rotation. Quirky, British, literate, funny, more than a little off-kilter musically -- well, that's the sort of stuff I just eat up.   

This is from their 2000 album WaspStar -- which is really the second half of their 1999 album Apple Venus. By then, the band had shrunk to just Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, plus session musicians.  (No need for a full band if you never perform live.) 

As I recall, this was the first of their songs I ever heard, the one that convinced me to listen to more. Sneaky little number, this.

Those crunchy buzzsaw guitars set us up for some real rock 'n' roll, y'know, innit? But Andy Partridge's almost fey vocals float over the top, as he marvels, "I'm stupidly happy / Everything's fine / I'm stupidly happy / My heart's pumping wine."  He describes his "idiot grin," says he's "coming unscrewed," and offers the final proof of being unhinged -- "The world's making sense." 

So maybe it's stupid to be so happy? I wonder. Is that the subtext behind the grating guitar riffs? Is he like a Benny Hill video halfwit, a dim Monty Python gumby with his handkerchief knotted around his head? 

But then -- that free-wheeling swooping melody wins me over, especially in those lyrically sinuous bridges. First he tunes into the natural world: "All the birds of the air call your name / As they land on my kitchen roof / All the fish in the lake do the same / Should you need extra proof."

And in the second bridge, the ties to his music are even clearer: "All the lights of the cars in the town / Form the strings of a big guitar / I'm a giant to play you a tune / For wherever you are." 

He's like Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels, a giant striding the world, He's feeling strong enough to take on the Devil; he's invincible.  Ah, yes, it's love -- her love -- that makes him so happy that's he's almost stupid. (Which is a very different thing from feeling happy only because he is stupid.) 

The final word comes from Andy Partridge himself:  "The dumbest but happiest song I ever wrote. I found the one riff that Keith Richard hadn't. Hopefully says in music what the singer (me) experiences. I'm in love and in a happy groove."

That clinches it for me.  I'll vote for happy.


Jim Clark said...

Strangely, I met these guys once. Trying to make a long story short, I won a radio contest and the prize was tickets to their show at The Warfield in S.F. - a relatively intimate venue - preceded by a lavish dinner at a classy restaurant (I forget which one), then a limo ride to the show. Top it off, there was to be a meet-and-greet in the Green Room after the show, which I made it to. The guys were polite but somewhat aloof and it was pretty much how-do-you-do and did-you-like-the-show then off to the bar and shrink down to be fly on the wall. This was late 1979, I think, and a bunch of New Waver royalty was present. I recognized Eno and David Byrne in the mix. Funny side story: I was sitting at one table and Byrne was sitting at the next, doing an interview with some music writer who really didn't seem to know who he was. The interviewer asked what the name of his band was and he told him "Talking Heads" and just at that moment our eyes met and did a nearly synchronized "Oh, brother" roll at that one. Well, it was early in their career. Later, I crossed his path on the way out, shook hands and told him I liked his work. He uttered the faintest "Thank you" in his famously standoffish manner. Pretty cool. So, this tour they (XTC) were on was in support of their 'Drums and Wires' LP (their third), and the cut 'Making Plans for Nigel' was the radio hit, and my main fave from their catalog. So, that's my short story, and I'm sticking to it.

Holly A Hughes said...

Wow. That story makes me (stupidly) happy.

Beat Girl said...

What a great story Jim. So funny. I have a not so extradoniary Talking Heads one: Jerry Harrison is from Milwaukee, and got married about a block where I was living at the time. I just happened upon the sight of David Byrne walking out of a church. Surreal. I continued my walk down to the lake and didn't give it much more thought. I was a Talking Heads fan, but I didn't want to stand by the church and gawk. So, I moved along.

Jim Clark said...

Yea, that's how it is. You don't want to be geeky or intrusive so you hold back from bothering them. And it is surreal, unexpectedly crossing paths with someone famous. It's kind of like stepping out of your own reality and into TV land or something. I've had a few unscripted brushes with fame and it's always like that.