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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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David Bowie – ”Heroes”
To me, ”Heroes” is probably Bowie’s most sophisticated and developed record. Like Dylan, he valued the idea of each record having a different identity. You know, he used to be second on the bill to Roy Harper and he wasn’t taken that seriously on the London underground scene because he was into mime and he wasn’t a total hippy and there was something about him that didn’t quite fit. And then he cut off his hair, said he was bisexual, got a really organised stage show and basically just simplified everything. He made the whole message much more basic and easier to take. You know, when you put out a record where eight of the 12 songs have the word “star” in the title then it’s pretty obvious what he’s doing! And then he set himself on this trajectory where he explored what it is to be catapulted into that space. It’s a bit like when Dylan had his electric adventure.

Bowie didn’t exactly chronicle himself but he chronicled his imagination. The records were very stimulating because you had this momentum going from almost like a cross between The Plastic Ono Band and The Velvet Underground’s Loaded and then into glam and then a proto-Stones album and then suddenly going into Philly soul and the devising a completely new music that no one had really thought of with that Kraut-funk-boogie that was Station To Station and then going off and finding Brian Eno and working with him and Visconti in Berlin.

But the great thing is that it was pop music. I was listening to ”Heroes” the other day and thought it was as innovative as Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It was selling people stuff they would not normally get and he still had a pre-teen following at this stage. And he was selling them these soundscapes, which are just exquisite. ‘Moss Garden’ is one of my favourite pieces of instrumental music as is ‘V2 Schneider’. He’s really pushing the envelope of the avant but at the same time he’s giving people pure pop. Of course this is pop that leads and doesn’t follow but ”Heroes” was a huge international hit.

It’s a lot like Piper in that it goes in two directions at once. Bowie was 30 and despite the drama of his career trajectory he was in control of himself. He was calling the shots and he wasn’t the hapless voyager that Barrett was. He was a Syd fan and there are echoes of him in Bowie but he saw what happened to him and he saw what happened to The Beatles and Dylan so he slightly did it by proxy. He did his rise and fall but it was dramatised so he could stand back a bit.

I’ve always thought this about names: the big stars like Elton John, David Bowie and er, Cliff Richard, these weren’t their real names. I often think that to be a solo act it’s better to have a stage name because you know in your heart that’s not you. I bet Zimmerman goes, “Dylan’s having a rough day but guess what? It’s not really me! I’m going to put my feet up for a bit ad then get back to work.” I’m a much more low profile cat and if someone doesn’t like Robyn Hitchcock then I’ve got nowhere to go! That’s me! And, conversely, if they think that Robyn Hitchcock is something utterly brilliant, am I going to be scorched by my own glow? It’s harder to stand back and go, “Yeah, well, you know, it’s a persona, mate!” So I should have probably called myself Steve Fabulous or something!

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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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