Saturday, July 26, 2008

forgotten old skool classic: Robyn Hitchcock's "I Often Dream Of Trains"

Consider Robyn Hitchcock, one of the uniques in the world of music, yet hardly known of. In the mid-eighties I bought "I Often Dream Of Trains" after reading about him in articles about REM, they were always citing him as a great influence. Indeed, they even took him out with them to open on their GREEN tour. I'm not sure why he only got to play for about 25 minutes, though. At least that's how long he played when I saw him at the arena at SIU on that tour.

So I buy the cassette (how quaint) in 1985 and put it in the car stereo, not really knowing what to think. What I discovered was a beautiful, spare piece of work, sounding like it was recorded in someone's bedroom. It has the feel of a 4-track recording, and I love it. Almost all the instruments were played by Robyn, except for some bass and sax. Piano and acoustic guitar dominate, usually one or the other, and drums are absent, but not missed.

"Nocturne" starts things off right, a quiet piano interlude. Then Robyn is singing "Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl" playing his guitar with muted vigor before going back to the introspection of "Cathedral". "Uncorrected Personality Traits" is a cappella, a warped treat:

Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child may prove to
be ugly in a fully grown adult.

Lack of involvement with the father, or over-involvement with the mother,
can result in lack of ability to relate to sexual fears, and in homosexual
leanings, narcissism, transexuality (girls from the waist up/men from the
waist down), attempts to be your own love object. Reconcile your parents to
you by becoming both at once!

Even Marilyn Monroe was a man, but this tends to get overlooked by our
mother-fixated, overweight, sexist media.

Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child may prove to
be ugly in a fully grown adult.

If you give in to them
Every time they cry
They will become little tyrants
But they won't remember why

Then when they are thwarted
By people in later life
They will become psychotic
And they won't make an ideal husband or wife

The spoiled baby grows into
the escapist teenager who's
the adult alcoholic who's
the middle-aged suicide. (Oy.)

Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child may prove to
be ugly in a fully grown adult

And on it goes from there. Here is a video of "Trains":

And here's another video, this one from just a while back of "It Sounds Great When You're Dead", on Jools Holland's BBC2 show, Later:

Rhino reissued the disc in 1995 with 5 bonus tracks, mostly demos. The release was already 19 songs long, so if I have one complaint, it's that the extra demos make the disc too damn long at a whopping 24 tracks.

Overall though, "Trains" is a minor jewel, one that I never grow tired of listening to (I just skip those last 5 add-ons). If you like traveling off the beaten path and discovering a work from a true original, I suggest you give it a try.

SIDE NOTE: When I was looking for some Youtube examples to share, the British singer Robyn's name also came up. To illustrate the fact the Robyn Hitchcock's not a household name, I give you these stats: "Sounds Great When You're Dead" has been viewed about 6,200 times. The female Robyn's "Handle Me" video has been viewed 3,467,309 times. I wonder about the world sometimes.

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