The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

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


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!