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  • Writer's pictureCharles Luberisse

Behind The Lens: Robyn Hitchcock Memoir - "1967: How I Got There & Why I Never Left"

 

With a career now spanning six decades, Robyn Hitchcock remains a truly one-of-a-kind artist – surrealist rock ‘n’ roller, iconic troubadour, guitarist, poet, painter, and performer. An unparalleled, deeply individualistic songwriter and stylist, Hitchcock has traversed many genres with humor, intelligence and originality over 30 albums and seemingly infinite live performances.

 

From The Soft Boys’ proto-psych-punk and The Egyptians’ Dadaist pop to solo masterpieces like 1984’s milestone I Often Dream of Trains and 1990’s Eye, Hitchcock has crafted a strikingly original oeuvre rife with sagacious observation, astringent wit, recurring marine life, mechanized rail services, cheese, Clint Eastwood, and innumerable finely drawn characters, real and imagined.


Born in London in 1953, Hitchcock attended Winchester College before moving to Cambridge in 1974. He began playing in a series of bands, including Dennis and the Experts, which became The Soft Boys in 1976. Though light years away from first-wave punk’s revolutionary clatter, the band still manifested the era’s spirit of DIY independence with their breakneck reimagining of British psychedelia. During their (first) lifetime, The Soft Boys released two albums, among them 1980’s landmark second LP, Underwater Moonlight. “The term ‘classic’ is almost as overused as ‘genius’ and ‘influential,’” declared Rolling Stone upon the album’s 2001 reissue. “But Underwater Moonlight remains all three of those descriptions.”

 

Hitchcock began his solo career with 1981’s Black Snake Diamond Röle, affirming his knack for eccentric insight and surrealist lyrical hijinks. 1984’s I Often Dream of Trains fused that approach with autumnal acoustic arrangements, deepening the emotional range of his songcraft. Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians were born that same year and immediately lit up college rock playlists with albums like 1986’s Element of Light. He signed to A&M Records in 1987 and earned early alternative hits with “Balloon Man” and “Madonna of the Wasps.” Hitchcock returned to his dark acoustic palette with 1990’s equally masterful Eye before joining the Warner Bros label for a succession of acclaimed albums, including 1996’s Moss Elixir and 1999’s Jewels For Sophia.

 

Having first reunited for a brief run of shows in 1994, The Soft Boys came together for a second go-around in 2001, releasing Nextdoorland to universal applause. Hitchcock joined the Yep Roc label in 2004, embracing collaboration with friends and like-minded artists such as The Venus 3 (Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin), Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings (2004’s Spooked) and legendary producer Joe Boyd (2014’s The Man Upstairs). Hitchcok says:

1967 is the point when I and the world went through the change. It was all just blissful synchronicity as I grew nine inches in 15 months, just as Dylan was electrified and pop groups turned into rock bands. Arguably as much was lost as was gained, but at the same time, you had Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd and others producing music that couldn’t have even been described three years earlier. You had The Beatles wearing suits and ties producing inaudible shows with tiny amplifiers, in many ways playing to the old rules of showbiz, and then suddenly up came Dylan with his thousand-watt PA and Jimi Hendrix with his Marshall stacks, and the whole thing erupted.

 

Hitchcock moved to Nashville in 2015, where he quickly found a place among the Music City community, recording 2017’s self-titled Robyn Hitchcock and 2022’s Shufflemania! Indeed, Hitchcock has proven an irrepressible collaborator throughout his long career, teaming with a boundless series of fellow artists over the years, including R.E.M., Andy Partridge, Brendan Benson, Johnny Marr, Sean Ono Lennon, Grant-Lee Phillips, Jon Brion, The Decemberists, Norwegian pop combo I Was A King and Yo La Tengo to name but a few.

 

Along with his musical efforts, Hitchcock has appeared in several films, among them collaborations with the late Jonathan Demme on 1998’s concert documentary Storefront Hitchcock and roles in 2004’s The Manchurian Candidate and 2008’s Rachel Getting Married. An inveterate traveler and live performer, Hitchcock has toured nearly constantly for the past four decades, playing countless shows worldwide, from Africa to the Arctic.


Locked down in Nashville and London by the global pandemic of 2020, Hitchcock and his partner Emma Swift began their Live From Sweet Home Quarantine livestream series, performing weekly sets joined by their two cats, Ringo and Tubby. 2021 saw the publication of Hitchcock’s first book of lyrics, Somewhere Apart: Selected Lyrics 1977-1997, featuring 73 songs and 34 illustrations in a beautiful cloth-bound edition from Tiny Ghost Press.

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