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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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Roxy Music – Avalon
Unlike Bowie, Bryan Ferry took one persona and he refined it. And his name actually is ‘Bryan Ferry’ and what’s cool is that he’s got two ‘Y’s in it and I’ve only got one in mine! I don’t really think he’s gone anywhere much since Avalon but he’s still an original. He has a lightness of touch. Bowie is much more heavy-footed and in a way more confident and more of a hard rocker. Like Jim Morrison he takes vocal styles and attitudes from a time before rock and he was always influenced by the big hits and the music from the 30s and 40. His first solo album, These Foolish Things, which came out only a year after Roxy’s first album, was going back to the 1920s.

He’d been to art school and he had a concept but it’s hard to say what it was. He’s a bit like Warhol in that he had a sense of himself as a brand. Bowie wasn’t so much a brand as a series of identities that amounted to Bowie and you could join him in experiencing each identity with each record. He was quite inclusive in a way. Ferry was more about refining this thing and unfortunately what started off ironically with the dinner jacket and the poolside wound up being this hunting, shooting and fishing Vanity Fair world that I don’t find particularly attractive.

But I suppose that en route to that he created some great stuff. Avalon has a mood and one of the great things about it is that you can play almost all of the songs on it on acoustic guitar but it’s one of the great pre-digital pieces of production. It has qualities that his solo albums don’t have and as far as I know he’s made two records that haven’t come out. Creatively, I don’t think there’s a lot left there [these days] and his last record [Olympia]found him drowning in a sea of overdubs. But there is still a style that he evolved with late Roxy that nobody else does and it’s almost effortless and doesn’t break a sweat and yet it moves. They were more experimental to begin with. You can never be art-rock in your day but it turns afterwards that you were art-rock. The Velvet Underground turned out to be art-rock as did Roxy Music and in our own way The Soft Boys were art-rock but by the end they’d become this one thing.

Like I said The Doors’ first album is a great loser’s record, I think this is a great loser’s record. You can just stand there, by yourself, in the drizzle with a gasper and a glass of pinot noir while the guy over the wall is doing paint stripper and you can put it on the turntable or the iPod or the mindpod and there you are: she’s not going to come but it doesn’t really matter. It soundtracks all the unresolved things that have happened in our lives or went wrong and all the things you promised someone you’d do but you won’t; it’s all in there. It’s an adult album but it’s not so far from adolescence because it’s romantic.


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Enkeling
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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Robin
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!

http://postpunkmonk.wordpress.com
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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Rooksby
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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John
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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