Radio appearance: Sun., 27 Oct. 1996
Washington, DC US
No set list available.
LH: This is Weekend Edition. I'm Leanne Hansen. ["Sinister But Happy"
It's the last Sunday of October. We've returned to standard time
now that our clocks are set back an hour. The autumn leaves here are at
their peak, and jack-o'lanterns will soon be glowing, a rather perfect
time to hear the new recording by Robyn Hitchcock called _Moss Elixir_.
His tunes move from moonlight into shadow, his lyrics are magically
realistic and when he spoke to us from London he waxed positively poetic
RH: It's beautiful because it's so decadent. It's like somebody walking
around with a bag of daylight, and this bag has got a big hole in it, and
the daylight's pouring out, and this person's walking along the street,
and you wanna say "You've got a hole in your bag! We're losing all this
light!" And, and the person would just say, "Yeah?" It's a terrific
feeling, we're losing two minutes light a day, I think, and it's terrible,
but it - it's also the sunlight that you get becomes gentler, the sun
RH: - it's not as feeble as it is in midwinter, and it's not as
domineering as midsummer. Autumn light is fantastic.
["Sinister but Happy" plays]
LH: I wanna talk about your violinist, if you don't mind.
RH: Oh yeah, do.
LH: Yeah, Deni Bonet?
RH: Yeah. Deni Bonet. Yeah.
LH: Oh, I love the, the music that opens the CD, uh -
LH: - "Sinister but Happy."
RH: Well, she's a very elegant player, very intricate. She's - she can
overdub herself frighteningly easy, like a spider could, you know,
twenty-four track spiders. But I don't think she's poisonous, though.
RH: I don't know if, you think, people aren't frightened of Deni in the
same way they're frightened of spiders.
LH: She's not sinister -
RH: Uh -
LH: - but happy, right?
RH: No, she's, there's, she's actually one of the least sinister
creatures I know, is Deni. She lives in New York now, but I met her at
Mountain Stage, you know, National Public Radio -
RH: - West Virginia, and, uh, she turned up in London so, uh, we started
doing bits and pieces together, and she's done some touring with me in the
States. She, you know, she can quickly find a good melodic line and I
think electric guitar and violin is a fantastic combination. I love that
sound, you know.
[pause; "Sinister but Happy" continues to play]
LH: Let's talk a little bit about some of the stories that are on your
new CD. I know you've been quoted as saying -
LH: - you know, "Words sometimes get in the way," but, um, there's some
interesting stories here.
LH: Where can we tune in to the Devil's Radio?
RH: Well, I'm sure you could tune in to it very easily in D. C.
LH: Are you talking about talk, or bad music?
RH: Um, I think I'm talking about talk 'cause I'm talking about
RH: We don't have hate radio in Britain. And I was, started writing the
song, I just imagined the devil listening to a radio set. I mean I - I'd
written a song mentioning that many years ago, um ["Devil's Radio" fades
in], about him, Lucifer, listening to a, um, sort of progressive radio
show one night in, in London, in an exclusive area of North London called
RH: - and I just thought "Oh, yeah, that's the Devil listening to the
radio," and I just got this new song popping up. "Devil's Radio."
[pause; "Devil's Radio" continues to play]
LH: Y-your, uh, horn player on this. Pronounce his name for me?
RH: Um, Ntshuks.
RH: Ntshuks Bonga.
RH: Well, he's South African, or he was. He's got this great record out.
I sorta called it _Flock of Birds Horns_. I-it's kind of emotional
landscapes that don't have verses and choruses. It's very different to my
stuff. He's almost as an effect - he's, he's not loud enough in the mix,
but - but I just thought it'd be good to have that -
RH: - pulling in there.
LH: You don't like horns, as a rule.
RH: No, I think probably because of ghastly mellow saxophones, you know,
1974, all that stuff.
RH: I never really heard the raunchy rock'n'roll sax, or, or, you know,
Coltrane and, um, Charlie Parker, or, or - to me the sax was this
washed-out thing that sort of turned up in the seventies, and -
RH: - you know, the George Michael thing. [sings the "Careless Whisper"
riff] All that stuff gives me what my friend Fletcher calls "the heaves".
[LH laughs] But, um, there are -
LH: I think it's - I think it's the equivalent of violin strings in the
early, you know, jazz records, where, uh, they would -
LH: - sweeten everything up with the violin.
RH: Well, there you are, I've got the violin on the records, but you,
but, yeah, I mean, both Ntshuks and in fact my friend James Fletcher who
arranged the horns on "DeChirico Street" are not conventional sax players.
LH: There's a, a great horn in the, in the background, um, I'm hearing,
uh - is it Dave Woodhead? - in "Beautiful Queen". ["Beautiful Queen"
fades in] It sounds like, um -
RH: That's the trumpet, yeah.
LH: - the trumpet - it's the, it's the "Penny Lane" trumpet!
RH: Yeah, he said, "Do you" - I've worked with him before, he does stuff
with Billy Bragg and he said "Do you want the Penny Lane trumpet?" and I
said "Yes, please." So we just pressed that button. [pause; "Beautiful
LH: "Beautiful Queen" is, is a terrific, evocative piece of music. I
mean, I felt like I was hearing things that I haven't heard for thirty
years. There's a, a lushness to this arrangement and orchestration.
RH: I have to watch out for that, actually, 'cause I think the band that
I worked with f-for the long time, the Egyptians got too lush, but I -
it's, it's, what you mean is it's got backwards guitar on it, probably,
and a bit of -
RH: - trumpet.
LH: Yeah. You want to be very careful about the word "production".
It's not something that you like very much, right?
RH: Well, I don't think it suits me, you know, uh - it works with some
people, and I've flirted with it often enough, ["Beautiful Queen" fades
out] I mean either I've never quite been with the right people or it's
just never done for me - it doesn't have that pan-searing effect, you
know, if you, like, chuck a piece of swordfish into a boiling piece of
metal you'll get that hiss and then all that smoke comes up and you get
that smell released - and production doesn't seem to do that for me, it
just makes me overcooked and mushy.
RH: It has to be fast with me. I have to get the first take and, you
know, if I'm really out of tune I'll do it again, but that's it, I just
need the essence of the song. [pause; "The Speed of Things" begins] LH:
Do you think recording is, I don't know, what, a necessary evil? A
drudgery, in some respects?
RH: Yeah, I don't think recording is the ideal mode. I mean, the, the
Egyptians, I think, we were always better live than on, in the studio, and
I think I am too. I don't think recording's that great and I reckon most
musicians probably would go along with that. But, uh, it's a dilemma
because when you play live you're expected to get it right, you do your
solo, you don't say "Oh, hang on, I'm gonna take that solo again" or
"Gee, I wonder if those harmonies were bad." You know, you, you, as a
professional musician you're able to turn it in an hour and yet you're
expected to spend five weeks making a record, you know.
RH: Why can't you just bang these songs down?
LH: Would you try that, do you think? Just first takes, that's it?
RH: Well, that's, that's - that's the next thing is gonna be, hopefully,
we're just sorting out the distributors, but I'm doing, um, a couple of
shows that Jonathan Demme is gonna be filming in New York.
RH: You know, he did _Silence of the Lambs_ and _Stop Making Sense_ and all
RH: And he's just gonna film me doing a couple of shows in front of a
RH: I think we're gonna have the budget to build a lantern with black and
white stripes. One side's going to have a green lantern. Did you ever
read the Green Lantern comics -
LH: Sure, you bet!
RH: - as a kid?
LH: Yes, we have a Green Lantern #2.
RH: Wow, never!
LH: Yeah, really!
RH: I think mine only went back to the sort of twenties or something.
LH: Yeah. ["Man With A Woman's Shadow" fades in]
RH: I just like the colors and things and I liked the drawings, the
perspective was good.
LH: Is it -
RH: And that's why I always wanted to visit America. There was always
some ... thing about America, it was the comics, then it was Dylan, then
it was Captain Beefheart, and there was always something to fantasize
about you, the United States.
LH: But you like the atmosphere, I guess, that comes from there - comic
RH: I went - I went straight from reading those things to listening to
Bob Dylan. You know, it was my, was my sort of psychic bar mitzvah, it
was moving from those sort of fascist white musclemen to old Bob.
[pause; "Man with a Woman's Shadow" plays]
LH: I love what you've sent along with the CD, your personal history and
timeline. I, I suppose it's for those of us who, you know, wanna ask
questions and we don't have to because you've provided all the answers for
us. But I do have one, based on this -
LH: - back in 1967 Brian Eno organized a concrete music event in the
basement of your school, he's wearing -
LH: - blue sunglasses.
RH: That's right.
LH: Next year you learned how to tune your guitar, and you bought a pair
of blue sunglasses. Then later on, you meet Brian Eno at a party, who
remembers the event at your school but he doesn't have the sunglasses.
RH: No, and I don't know if he even remembered them, actually.
LH: Do you still have yours?
RH: No, no, I bought some new ones and I've lost them already.
RH: Uh - no, but I remember Eno had sort of long hair and round blue
sunglasses, and he looked like the apex of cool, you know. Eno had two
tape recorders and somebody playing a D-tuned violin, and the violin is
going and someone lit a stick of incense. It was fantastic.
RH: We'd read about the Velvet Underground but hadn't actually heard
them. So we were all imagining this is what the Velvets must have been
LH: You have to admit, though, I mean, there must have been com - some
kind of seminal influence on you when you f - started doing your stuff.
RH: Well, it was what everybody was doing at that time.
RH: You know, it was, it was ... You must be from my sort of neck of
time, I would assume.
RH: We were all just set to sort of fire off and then land with our noses
in different fields, kind of embedded in the earth like experimental
aircraft that had enough fuel but no navigator or something.
Most of the sixties characters wound up being what we call cranks.
Over here when y'all say "cranky", in the States you mean "irritable,"
RH: You know, that's, that - "That's one cranky dude, man." But, but
over here if you're a crank it just means you're a sort of eccentric, if
you like. ["Filthy Bird" fades in]
RH: Uh, and I think, yeah, a lot of, a lot of those people ended up that
way. And I think also so many people mortgaged their futures with LSD.
RH: Probably the only one of my boyhood heroes who's still producing
anything is Lou Reed, and I'm sure that's 'cause Lou never had much to do
LH: Mm. Yeah, there are a lot of people that opened up their minds and
then completely forgot about them.
RH: [laughs] Yes!
LH: Lost them.
RH: Well, the open mind just filled up with dead leaves and all the
[pause; "Filthy Bird" plays]
LH: Can you tell us about the story that you wrote in the place where I
usually would read lyrics or a little bit about production? You, you've
told this incredible story about life and death and birth and infinity in
the, in the liner notes.
RH: Well, basically, I see mankind as being on a precipice, and I'm not
the only one. But I think that unless we make a, an evolutionary leap
we're probably doomed. ["Filthy Bird" fades out] I don't think the human
animal can carry on much longer without destroying itself and taking
everything else with it. In the story I wrote I imagined that people's
third eyes were gonna open, and when your third eye opens you achieve
empathy, which is, I think, what we lack. I mean, I'm, I'm speaking for
myself outwards, you know. So that if, you know, somebody cuts their
thumb everybody else can feel it. So if somebody's got PMT everybody else
is res - you know, responds to that. It doesn't mean everybody's
crippled, you know, it's not like you bang your knee and a nation, a
nation as one grab their knees and fall to the ground, but - but if you
could generally feel more of how other people felt I think the world would
be run better. So I wrote a story about that in which, uh, somebody's
third eye opens after they've drunk this potion called "moss elixir" -
RH: - and I also put in references to various characters in the song and
the record. So if you listen to the record and you read the story it all
LH: Robyn Hitchcock, his new CD is called _Moss Elixir_. It's on Warner
Brothers records. He joins us from our London bureau. Thanks a lot,
RH: Leanne, it's been incredible. We've stopped. [laughs] But - yeah.
LH: Now we can listen to some music.
RH: Oh yes, that's agreeable.
["Alright, Yeah" begins]
transcribed by Tracy Aileen Copeland
If you have an addition or correction, please send an e-mail message about it to Bayard Catron.
If you ever see an error message or a bad link, please send an e-mail message about that to John Hedges.
Back to Query Page
Back to Main Page