A bit less angry

Guitarist Robyn Hitchcock combines his folk/ psychedelic sensibilities with witty, insightful lyrics.

Robyn Hitchcock 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Robyn Hitchcock 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Robyn Hitchcock fondly remembers sitting with an acoustic guitar playing songs from The Beatles’ White Album around a medura (bonfire) at Kibbutz Givat Haim near Hadera, where he spent a few months in 1970 after completing high school in his native England.
“I’m still trying to figure them out,” said the semi-legendary rocker with a laugh, speaking from his London home earlier this month. “It’s intriguing what all those little diminished chords are – that’s the truly sophisticated part. All three of the songwriters used to put them into their songs, and here I am, 40 years later, still working it out.”
However 40 years later, he has a few more credentials to his name than just kibbutz volunteer bonfire entertainer. A huge cult star or a minor mainstream footnote, take your pick, the loquacious guitarist has enjoyed a varied career, first as leader of the influential 1970s punk/pop band The Soft Boys, later as a 1980s college radio favorite with his band The Egyptians, and now as a respected solo artist and one of REM’s Peter Buck’s favorite collaborators.
And while there’s only a slight chance he’ll be strumming a Beatles tune, Hitchcock is coming full circle. On Friday and Saturday night he’ll once again be sitting with an acoustic (and electric) guitar entertaining Israeli audiences – this time at the Ozen Bar in Tel Aviv – combining his trademark folk/psychedelic sensibilities with lyrics full of sharp wit and insightful observations that have prompted some critics to call him the British Bob Dylan.
And for part of the performances, the guitarist, who expressed sincere excitement upon returning to Israel after 40 years, will be joined by one of the bands his music helped inspire – Israel’s own psychedelic popsters Rockfour.
The cult of Hitchcock has spawned numerous manifestations over the years, including a regular side project called Venus 3 with REM’s Buck and their quasi-member Scott McCaughey; a 2007 documentary called Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death...
and Insects; and Storefront Hitchcock, a 1998 concert film by Jonathan Demme, who has since used Hitchcock in acting roles in 2004’s The Manchurian Candidate and 2008’s Rachel Getting Married.
Even though his time on the pop charts was marginal and short-lived, centered on his late 1980s “hits” with The Egyptians Globe of Frogs and Queen Elvis, Hitchcock has remained a vital artist, spurred on by an uneasiness with life that has enabled him to continue writing edgy material when many of his contemporaries have turned soft.

“You need something to keep you alive. I don’t know if it’s rage or discomfort, but you need it,” said Hitchcock. “If everything is provided for you, then life is meaningless.
You need some kind of struggle or challenge, whether it’s solving the crossword puzzle, climbing a mountain or learning how to live with each other,” he said.
“The same applies to being creative. You need some discomfort in order to make your work vital, otherwise it becomes bland and pointless. You need something bugging you, I suppose.”
Quoted in the Sex, Food and Death film that his music was fueled by rage, Hitchcock now slightly backs down from that assessment “I was in therapy for a while, rather belatedly, in my 50s not so long ago,” he said. “I was going around a lot feeling my own anger. Maybe I’m a bit less angry now, I don’t know.”
Hitchcock may be putting us on, as he comes across as a charming, not-angry-atall elder statesman. In addition, he’s developed a reputation as his concerts in recent years of including a considerable amount of shaggy dog storytelling and adlibbed monologues.
“In a way, they’re just word solos, a way of connecting to the audience,” he said. “I think that any performer talks to the audience to make things more comfortable.
Basically, if you can make people laugh, then you’re not a threat to them and they’re not a threat to you.”
Rage, threats and word solos – it must be a Robyn Hitchcock show.
Robyn Hitchcock will be performing with Rockfour on Friday and Saturday night at the Ozen Bar in Tel Aviv