SOMEWHERE APART: SELECTED LYRICS 1977-1997 by Robyn Hitchcock [illustrated by the author]

a review by Ross Taylor

Listen

And you can hear the dripping of the clocks, the reaping of the sun

The vengeance of the hammer and

The squeamish tight explosion of the liar

Ever since John Lennon mentioned marmalade skies (or since Robert Johnson said a woman is like a dresser) songwriters have embraced modernist jive. Robyn Hitchcock hasn’t chased the spotlight as much as some, but he has been a serious and hilarious practitioner of said jive since before punks walked the earth. His lyrics have always had the violent density of poets like Russell Edson, but have always gotten across in performance too. His collection Somewhere Apart is a beautiful fine press artifact. He has selected lyrics that actually work printed on the page, that can even briefly make you forget the music (music that is good and hard to forget). He has interspersed them with surreal line drawings, more complicated than cartoons, that often include faces, or at least eyes, you feel you know. There are several full page drawings, but smaller images often pop up near the text like medieval marginalia.

I grew up with Alan Aldridge’s Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. (Actually my mother bought it then hid it, but I found it anyway.) It was part of the multi-media world breaking out of the arthouse. There were more nuanced blendings, such as Dylan going verbal in Tarantula, narrative underground comics, perhaps ending with the formula of MTV. Hitchcock digs back to the old “anybody can do everything” spirit of the 60s without seeming retro. Yes, sometimes you get a stack of repeated chorus lines, i.e. “DOG DIG A DOG DIG A DOG DOG” (4x). But they are reminders that these things have come from somewhere else, the world of song.

I’ll reach your lungs

Like smoke in the orchard

Scattered in bushes

The firemen laughing

I’ll wrap your hands

In personal signals

Don’t come to me later

Come to me now

— Cynthia Mask by Robyn Hitchcock

More information on Somewhere Apart can be found here.

(Top photo c/o Robyn Hitchcock site. Bottom photo c/o Ross Taylor.)

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