How do you tell a musician you’ve admired for more than 30 years how much their music means to you, how much it means that you were finally able to see him perform after 30 years of waiting for and wanting to? Providing the soundtrack to my nomadic life, he (Robyn Hitchcock) too has wandered, touring a host of unusual places, often landing in places where I should have seen him (Seattle). But I was always somewhere else – wrong place, wrong time. Finally, finally, I was able to catch him last night in Oslo in a small venue called Cafe Mono. Against all logic or reason, standing there in a small crowd, I found myself getting choked up with the emotion of the moment, and thought, “Ah yes,” because I do tend to forget this, “This is why we go to concerts and participate in these kinds of experiences.”
After the show, I had my 15 seconds to say hello and thank him, but I found it difficult to be able to find the right words in that moment. How can you convey something meaningful without being a babbling idiot cliché? I am not a ‘lingering’ or manic/maniac fan type (and I needed to jump on the subway to get back to my car for the long drive back to the woods) who sticks around to talk to musicians, but this time I felt such a need to say thank you (and the place was so small and all the Norwegians swarmed out quickly when the show ended). But feeling a bit tongue-tied, I managed only the thank you I intended (maybe that was enough) and the mist (“whoever remembers only mist – what does he remember?“) of his mild incredulity that I came from Seattle (“Viva! Sea-Tac”) but had somehow never seen him in the 30 years I had wanted to. Of course, touring musicians are not the only ones who wander.
What I felt like saying was some combination of the impersonal and personal. I never would have because I’m not that person, encroaching on other people’s space and time. It was rough enough to say ‘thank you’.
More impersonally, that Hitchcock is woven into the fabric of influence (he has been influenced by and has had influence on). And yet, when one talks to people and mentions Robyn Hitchcock, the majority are at a loss. Access to the surrealist ache of Hitchcock’s music is open but still somehow limited. As J put it: “I wonder how it is that I’m not familiar with Robyn Hitchcock? I did some cursory googling at 2:30 AM… and I can see that he has more than left his mark on the contemporary music scene. And yet… I have somehow failed to make him part of my musical culture.” I feel as though I have for 30 years enjoyed a gift modestly few people have embraced as they should. At times I wish more people knew him, but then I suppose the vague intimacy of what he does would be lost.
More personally, I remember first hearing songs from Fegmania! when I was little more than a child, but then Robyn Hitchcock really registered with me (it’s all about timing, I guess) upon seeing the video for “Balloon Man” one evening, and a visiting cousin expressed that the music ‘scared’ her. Of course “Balloon Man” felt like a novelty – it endures still because it is catchy and somewhat accessible, but in a way served only as a gateway to the more potent, mysterious and absurd Hitchcock work I know and love. Globe of Frogs became a constant soundtrack (and always springs to mind when I am driving in rainy Swedish summer weather, and the roads are covered in frogs, alive and dead), and Queen Elvis was transformative. I shared it with my best friend at the time, and we delighted in singing “The Devil’s Coachman” loudly while wandering around our suburban neighborhood. (We were children; we imagined we were scaring our neighbors. I am sure we were noisy nuisances.) “Autumn Sea” remains one of my favorite songs.
None of these impersonal or personal accounts would make a difference; the musician certainly hears variations on these every day. I thought about that while attempting to find the right words, and ultimately, only sincere and basic gratitude seems as though it could offer any meaning or value.
Since then the music has been a constant presence, accompanying me through every stage of this nomadic life. As I have spent time hopping from one country to another and then another, this growing, glowing, gorgeous, amorphous musical catalog follows. Grounding it, even if only once in my whole life, in the same place, same time, space-time moment, in face-to-face reality (and all reality is only reaction and interaction, of course – “the universe is based on sullen entropy – It falls apart as it goes on” – “The Devil’s Coachman”), as I was at last able to do, was worth the wait.