January 26, 2010

I slept sweetly unpretending
that the night was always ending

Myla Bertinot, Girl on Slide, 2000

* Recent Onion A.V. interview of Robyn Hitchcock. excerpt:

AVC: If someone were to run across your collected works in a vault 2,000 years from now, what do you think they'd think of it?

RH: That depends on what they were used to hearing. If this was the sole representative of late-20th-century rock music, then it would be quite a good ambassador, because I was so saturated in the greats, Bob Dylan and The Beatles particularly. You can see my career, if you like, as kind of a postscript to them: sweeping up after the big guys. In terms of the emotion in it, it rather depends on whether they'll need that emotion. People in the future look back on primitive machinery or technology or painting, and in some ways, it always seems amazingly intricate and finely wrought. People from the past always seem to have much more time to create beautiful, intricate, delicate things that often reach the future in a kind of curled-up, capsized state. Old crumbling scrolls and moldering books and beautiful paintings with bits flaking off them, or old glassware, or intricately threaded beads. Maybe my stuff will just seem like that. They'll think, "God, why did that guy spend so long doing all those things? Didn't he have a machine that could just make it go whoosh, like that?" I'd be happy if it seemed like that.

AVC: A lot of your music strikes a balance between light-hearted whimsy and darker, angry undercurrents. How consciously do you think about that as you're writing a song?

RH: I don't think about it while I'm doing it—I'm more aware of it afterward. You go over the dateline of rage and despair into humor. If you want to see it as a kind of spectrum, you might go from anxiety to fear to rage to humor to regret to acceptance… and then possibly even to some kind of happiness, and then 'round again. I'm good at maybe one or two of those particular hues on the spectrum. People often complain that I was covering up my emotions by making a joke of things, but humor is also what makes stuff bearable, and I think one of the things I hated about early-'70s singer-songwriters was how humorless they were. It was my kind of punk [attitude], you know, "Jesus, I hate this self-pitying shit." I really didn't like that kind of mellow from-the-canyon self-involved crap.

Obviously, I grew up to be just as self-involved as the rest of them, but I felt that a joke would at least justify that. Just because there are jokes in my stuff doesn't mean that I don't fundamentally take it seriously. But feelings travel, thank God. You don't stay in one mood forever, and you find yourself drifting across those datelines. I think some of the really great songs have many moods overlaid on them. I don't know how much I've achieved that, but I always think back to things like "Visions Of Johanna" by Minnesota's own Bob Dylan, and how it's a sort of fundamental sadness with a lot of humor applied as a glaze over that, and then over that, there's a lot of anger and questions being asked: "What do you mean? What's all that for? You've got a lot of nerve"—that usual Dylan stuff. The whole thing comes out as a kind of meditation, as a sort of acceptance. Those are my favorite songs, where different emotions are layered on top of each other. I suppose the trick is to get the feelings to flow correctly from each other when you make a record or write a song. But Jesus, if I thought about that, I'd never write anything!

* From 11 things you didn't know about pinball:

In 1976, the New York City pinball ban was overturned. The coin-operated amusement lobby (which represented the pinball industry) eventually succeeded in earning a City Council hearing to re-examine the long-standing ban. Their strategy: Prove that pinball was a game of skill, not chance, and thus should be legal. To do this, they decided to call in the best player they could find in order to demonstrate his pinball wizardry—a 26-year-old magazine editor named Roger Sharpe. Fearful that this hearing might be their only shot at overturning the ban, the industry brought in two machines, one to serve as a backup in case any problems arose with the primary machine. Suspicious that the pinballers had rigged the primary machine, one particularly antagonistic councilman told them that he wanted them to use the backup. This presented a problem: While Sharpe was intimately familiar with the first-choice game, he had never played the backup. As he played the game, surrounded by a huddle of journalists, cameras, and councilmen, he did little to impress City Council's anti-pinball coalition. So he made a final Hail Mary move that, to this day, he compares to Babe Ruth's famous called shot in center field. He pulled back the plunger to launch a new ball, pointed at the middle lane at the top of the playing field, and boldly stated that, based only on his skill, he would get the ball to land through that middle lane. He let go of the plunger and it did what he said. Almost on the spot, the City Council voted to overturn the ban.

I recently asked Sharpe what he thought would have happened if he had missed the shot. After thinking about it for a few hours, he got back to me: "I'm not sure pinball would be legal today."

* "Barnum was wrong - it's more like every 30 seconds." --Unknown


Blogger Matt said...

You do a great job sharing insightful quotes from musicians and artists. Thank you for narrowing in on the good stuff.

12:42 AM  

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