I can’t begin to explain how strange it was. While I’m loathe to admit it (and usually build in a slew of distancing qualifiers whenever I acknowledge what’s about to follow), I largely grew up in a small Wisconsin town called Stoughton. Technically a distant suburb of Madison, the state capital, the town had a decidedly rural feel to it, thanks to the buffer of tobacco farms and other agricultural homesteads around the modest municipal center. The comparably erudite opportunities of Madison were thirty minutes and a whole world away. Culture dribbled into my town slowly and unwillingly. Certainly anything a little odd was never likely to cross the imaginary line that designated the border.
When I went off to college, I happily embraced one of the most resolutely strange musical artist who took a favored place in the student-run radio station’s rotation. It’s unclear to me if Robyn Hitchcock was my favorite artist back then, but he was surely the one the meant to most to me. Amidst his bizarre imagery of tendrils and melting wax dolls, there was a piercing emotional honesty that I found elevating. Maybe more than any other records that I placed on one of the two station turntables in that radio station, those that featured Hitchcock, with or without the Egyptians, were most likely to feel like they were cracking open a part of the universe that was previously forbidden, or at least beyond the established limits of my perception.
A little more than a year ago, I returned to my home state of Wisconsin after nearly a decade-and-a-half of residency in other places. There have been a series of entirely unexpected opportunities since my homecoming, including a live show by a long defunct local band that I was sure I’d never see on a stage. Nothing is more mind-bending to me, though, than Hitchcock playing to a reasonably full audience at a posh Main Street venue in Stoughton, Wisconsin. But there he was, and there I was.
To commemorate, I hunted down a song Hitchcock mentioned but did not play that night. In keeping with his typical methodology for asking for soundboard adjustments, Hitchcock at one point asked his traveling tech to make him sound like Art Garfunkel on “The Only Living Boy in New York.” When Hitchcock recently settled into the studios of Seattle’s KEXP-FM for an extended on-air performance, he took a crack at that very Simon and Garfunkel classic. Rather than a fleeting flirtation with broadcast listeners that vanishes into the ether immediately after it airs, such a thing is preserved on the internet, accessible for all who care to click. So many miracles, so little time.
Listen or download –> Robyn Hitchcock, “The Only Living Boy in New York”
(Disclaimer: I got this music file from the invaluable Internet Archive, which doesn’t post such material unless the artist and, presumably in this case, the originating radio station is down with it. I’m therefore operating with the understanding that it’s equally acceptable for me to share it here. I guess that could be incorrect. I didn’t exactly scrutinize the fine print. Regardless, I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request. And I’ll also urge everyone to head out to their favorite local, independently-owned record store and buy any Robyn Hitchcock album they see. They’re all worthy of love.)