Wasn’t sure what my “song of the day” was going to be today, until I learned it was Robyn Hitchcock’s 63rd birthday today!
Hard to imagine there was once a time in my life when I had never heard of Robyn Hitchcock, or The Egyptians, or his first band, The Soft Boys. When Michael, one of my best and oldest friends, introduced me to Robyn and his incredible music around 1988, I was hooked for life, and having grown up on Top 40 music for about 10 years prior to my introduction of Robyn Hitchcock, it was pretty impressive feat too. Good on you, Michael!
1988’s well-received GLOBE OF FROGS album (his first with A&M Records) was the fourth collaboration between Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians, and featured what is most likely his most “commercial” song, “Balloon Man.” Robyn was once quoted in 2013 as saying that “Balloon Man” is a song he’d “be happy to never hear again, although I do like the money I get from the royalties.”
During the next couple of years, through Michael, I learned a lot about Robyn’s music, mainly from a mix tape he had made for me in 1990 that he titled, PLEASURES OF THE ACHING VOID. It featured a mix of songs from Robyn’s work with The Soft Boys, The Egyptians and solo work through his then-new album, EYE. I still have it. Of course, it’s hard to part with considering what’s written on the bottom. More on that in a moment.
In the Fall of 1990, Michael and I had attended a concert at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine featuring Robyn and the opening act, a band I had never heard of called The Jody Grind, based out of Atlanta, GA. The performance by The Jody Grind, featuring the dynamic vocals of Kelly Hogan, was sensational. I got to meet the band after, and they autographed their excellent debut CD, ONE MAN’S TRASH (IS ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE).
Not long after the 1992 release of their second album, LEFTY’S DECEIVER, a car accident took the lives of two of the band members and poet Deacon Lunchbox. The Jody Grind sadly (though understandably) ended after that, but I’ll always remember that performance at Bowdoin. It was truly one of THE best performances by an opening band I’ve ever seen, starting with their kick-ass cover of “Peter Gunn.” They didn’t perform like they were an opening band.
That night was also notable because it was the first time I had seen Robyn Hitchcock perform, and the first time I got to meet him. He was this towering figure, although in reality I think he was only a few inches taller than me.
I asked Robyn to sign my treasured new mix tape of Robyn Hitchcock gems, and he looked at it and said, “Is this a bootleg?” My friend Michael didn’t show it, but I’m sure he was pretty jazzed that Robyn Hitchcock (one of his music heroes and a future hero of mine) mistook my mix tape that he made for a bootleg. Pretty damn cool.
Although Michael has seen Robyn perform much more than I have over the years, he and I would venture out to see Robyn three more times together (oddly enough, all were in March, something I’m sure Robyn would appreciate) – March 1997 at the former Raoul’s in Portland, Maine (about 55-60 people showed up; very intimate; got to meet him again); March 2001 at The Soft Boys Underwater Moonlight reunion tour at the Paradise in Cambridge, Mass. (extraordinary show), and March 2007 at TT the Bear’s, also in Cambridge, MA, with The Venus 3 (I didn’t know it at the time, but I was standing next to Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls; I was 10 feet away from the stage and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, which didn’t suck; and, I got to meet Robyn for a third time, too, which also didn’t suck).
Of the things I love about Robyn Hitchcock the most – besides his music, like today’s “song of the day” – VIBRATING (from GLOBE OF FROGS) – is that with Robyn, you get the real deal. He’s a bit quirky, a bit out there, but soulful and genuine and accessible, incredibly gifted and a magnificent storyteller. And he does what he does for the sheer love of it. If you’ve never seen Robyn perform, try and find a copy of his 1998 concert film (directed by Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme), STOREFRONT HITCHCOCK, and you’ll see what I mean.
My friend Michael has introduced an enormous amount of music to me in nearly 30 years, but out of all that music, the artist I’m most grateful to have learned about from him is Robyn Hitchcock. Thank you, Michael, and thank you, Robyn. Hope to see both of you again sometime soon…