It has been said that most artists seek to deduce how things fit together, while some gravitate to understanding how they fall apart. Put Robyn Hitchcock squarely in the latter box, such as you can box him up at all. For nearly 40 years and 500 songs, Hitchcock has tickled brains with an oeuvre musically steeped in “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” “Visions of Johanna,” and “Nowhere Man,” and lyrically beholden to no one save his own singular imagination. This is the man who sang, “I feel like asking a tree for an autograph” and “Television, say you love me” (which may be one of the loneliest lines ever committed to song).
He now lives in East Nashville — quietly — and has done so since August of last year, with his wife, Australian singer Emma Swift. “I’m gone a lot,” Hitchcock says, meaning touring. Swift accompanies Hitchcock a great deal of the time, opening the shows, but not for this current swing he’s on. He’s going out with comedian Eugene Mirman, and they will sweep into the Exit/In at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19.
Hitchcock nurses a latte at an outside table at The Post on 17th & Fatherland, dressed in a polka dot shirt, carrying a polka dot phone and a polka dot wallet, blue sunglasses facing into a brilliant April morning sun. Clear-skinned and delectably sane, white-headed and personable, he looks nowhere near his age of 63, leading to conclusion that this man who sang, “Oh, the veins of Her Majesty the Queen, they’re so regal and serene,” did such composing with no more psychoactive chemical goosing than what he was born with.
He’s still discovering his new hometown. “I did a record (Spooked) with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, around 2003 or 4,” he says, “and that was my first exposure to East Nashville, which was just then becoming a nascent groover’s paradise. … I’d first only heard of Nashville through Dylan, wondering what a New York hipster was doing with good old boys down in Tennessee, but 50 years later here we are. And here I am recording in Nashville for the second time.”
He’s referring to the album he’s doing currently with Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs. Recording is held up while Hitchcock waits for his pharyngeal passages to clear up enough to let him sing. (Welcome to Tennessee in springtime, Robyn.) “I’ve gone back to the days of the Soft Boys with this one,” he says, “two guitars, bass, and drums.” (The Soft Boys was Hitchcock’s first recording outfit, making their debut in the mid- to late-’70s .)
A 500-word cap and a deadline collude to rob the reader of a more comprehensive view of Robyn Hitchcock. We can’t get around to the Soft Boys’ terrific “Underwater Moonlight,” the MTV heyday of “Balloon Man” and “Madonna of the Wasps,” the brilliant minimalist “Eye” from the 1990s, and “my place in a Gillian/Dave sandwich,” as he puts it. To ameliorate this dearth, the East Nashvillian print edition seeks to host Robyn on its cover some months from now. In the meantime, the best way for you to catch up with what he does is to be at the Exit/In this coming Tuesday at 8 p.m. Devotees will be rewarded and converts scooped up like so many prawns and insects.
Robyn Hitchcock with Eugene Mirman
Exit/In – Tuesday, April 19, 8 p.m.