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Baker's Dozen

Grit In One’s Third Eye: Robyn Hitchcock’s Baker’s Dozen
Julian Marszalek , February 11th, 2013 11:14

English songwriter and frontman of The Soft Boys, The Venus Three and The Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock leads Julian Marszalek through his most played LPs

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Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
It made sense on the third listen. The thing is, I paid really good money for it. I was 16 and sent off to One Stop Records. I sent a cheque or postal order for £6 and it was a double LP import. I’d never spent so much money on a piece of music before. It arrived and I put it on and I couldn’t really fathom it but I’d spent this money on it and I thought, right, I’m going to get my money’s worth out of this thing; at least it’s long and I like the artwork and I like the titles. I looked at the lyrics and I liked the lyrics and this is not an easy listen and then… ‘Moonlight On Vermont’ I liked straight away and that drum intro I used to play on the coffee cups. I’m surprised I didn’t become a drummer, actually! The first thing I ever learned off of a record was the drumming off ‘Moonlight On Vermont’! It’s great with a ruler and a pencil case!

And then, oh God! Little things like the beginning of ‘Ella Guru’ and things like ‘Dali’s Car’, instrumentals that were quite uncluttered, just two guitars playing… well, it was just formalised chaos which were either designed to avoid conventional harmony or just made up by someone who knew nothing about it.

Beefheart kept the publishing and [drummer] John French seems to have done all the work but you know Beefheart; it was a cult. He ill-treated those men, yes, but they let him do it and also they produced Trout Mask Replica. People have been treated worse for less. It’s interesting meeting Magic Band survivors now; they’re all Beefheart casualties and they all suffer from hats. They all wear hats and they make these oblique remarks and you think, they’re not really like that, but Beefheart imposed his personality on them when they were so young. It was like Dr Van Vliet’s Academy For Boys. I’ve met about four of them and they’re all suffering from hats. He sent them off on a particular direction they wouldn’t really have gone in and they’re grateful in a way and they resent him in a way and I think they also resent the fact that that’s what they’re known for, this guy. But it’s thanks to them. As he said, he went through them. “If people won’t be gone through them I’ll have to make them!” A horrible bloke, obviously, but also really smart.

There’s an interview where he says sometime in the 70s, “I’m either too smart or I’m too dumb!” He was a very intelligent guy; he had two brains compressed into one. He was a hell of a lot brighter than most people and he knew it. I think he put dead weights on; he had to handicap himself, to bring himself down to human level. He was another great mind like Barrett’s that kind of ran riot. He had something but he carried on producing paintings and it wasn’t kind of the dead end that Barrett forced himself into.

I spent a term at school listening to Trout Mask Replica, reading William Burroughs and Shakespeare and my vocabulary tripled. I became a word guy. I entered 17 totally unprepared but my God I had words in every direction! And that’s Trout Mask Replica!

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Feb 11, 2013 6:35pm

Excellent reading. Give this man his own spot on Quietus!

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Barthold Pelzer
Feb 11, 2013 6:35pm

One could moan: Yeah, a lot of predictable entries, few surprises (apart possibly from The Kinks are Village Green Preservation Society missing). But then there is this delightful and genuinely surprising last choice. And profound and entertaining musings about each and every entry, which make this an excellent and read. Thanks for presenting ever so enlightening music journalism.

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Feb 11, 2013 6:49pm

Funny isn't it? He selects the same bunch of records that a whole host of other aged musicians have chosen but I don't feel like groaning out load. Why? Because he has really really engaged with these and has some wonderful insightful comments to make. So thanks Robyn, this has been the best Dozen for a long long time.

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Feb 11, 2013 8:50pm

White people suck, especially the Beatles and fucking Bowie. Some people should never be allowed NEAR Captain Beefheart and it seems Robyn is one. (Oh yeah, Robyn made half a good album thirty years ago, I should be 'thankful'?)

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Post-Punk Monk
Feb 11, 2013 8:53pm

I have to say that this was engrossing reading! Could it be that it's time for Robyn to start writing a career sideline? As soon as I read this I looked to see if he had written any books that I might have missed! Anyone who can me care about the like of The Doors or The Beatles is an alchemist of words!
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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Feb 11, 2013 9:49pm

What a great read! Robyn's enthusiasm is totally infectious, & it's patently obvious that he's still a rabid listener to, & lover of, music. He always comes across as a stand-up gent who knows his shit &, consequently, I could listen to him ramble on for hours...

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peluche brutale
Feb 11, 2013 10:54pm

No revelations but, as others said, quite an engrossing read. it's good to share such a personal, passionate and well listened through selection of some of the best music of the last century. perhaps he should be invited to write more on the quietus about his mate peter buck, which seem to make him so proud.

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chris church
Feb 11, 2013 11:58pm

Robyn is just wonderful. Was listening to Ole Tarantula earlier. As said already nothing too surprising (Avalon excepted?) but his summation and insights are worth anyone's time Thanks for this!

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Feb 12, 2013 1:56am

In reply to :

Bitter, party of one...

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Fielding Melish
Feb 12, 2013 6:11am

In reply to :

Sparkling insight. I'm so glad you thought to write in!

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James McKeown
Feb 12, 2013 11:21am

What an absolute joy to read. At the first scan through, I thought some of the choices were a bit obvious, on further reading I understood a whole new level of explaination and tangents - which is a classic Hitchcock trait! I'm a massive fan of Robyn and his work. I would love to see him do a spoken word tour, just sharing anecdotes and stories of his life. Clean Steve Fabulous.

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Wayne Champagne
Feb 12, 2013 12:13pm

An absolute joy. Fresh and enlightening perspectives on well worn themes.

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Feb 12, 2013 9:54pm

A thundering good read! Since I’ll soon be taking to the trees too, I’d weave all of these into my nest.
I remember reading a top ten list by Robyn about 30 years ago. As I recall, a lot of the same stuff was on it. A few there that didn’t make this list: Martin Carthy’s “Shearwater,” Nic Drake’s “Pink Moon,” and Kinks “Village Green….” were there as I recall, though my memory of that essay is a little dim. I don’t think “Avalon” had been recorded yet though.
I ‘m interested to read of RH’s preference for a post Cale VU. To my mind, his ideas was what made their music interesting. His solo lp “Paris 1919” is singular in the same way that RH’s “I Often Dream of Trains” is: sparse, vaguely familiar but distinctly original.

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Rob Curry
Feb 13, 2013 3:56am

Very nice! This is one of the most engaging of the Baker's Dozen articles. I am not familiar with his music, but I am going to remedy that situation. And if any of it is half as witty as this piece, I shall be in for a treat.

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Orthodox Caveman
Jun 21, 2013 5:33pm

In reply to :

Troll detected!

Robyn is awesome. Like many others have said, he doesn't have particularly original choices, but his rationale for each choice and his way of communicating his ideas about music, life, and history are engrossing. This is one of my favorite Baker's Dozen entries.

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