Reality bites

By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  June 4, 2010

“Surrealism is a dream state,” he points out, “but it can encapsulate what we feel about what’s going on. And anything can happen, anything can be juxtaposed with anything else. That same horrifying surrealism occurs in dreams, but in real life, too — could there be anything more surreal than those planes crashing into the Twin Towers? But, you know, it’s almost collage. You can take the president’s hand and replace it with a lobster claw. You can put a rocket in a baby’s mouth instead of a bottle, or have cars hanging from trees.”

Hitchcock’s knack for words and wordplay identified him early on as one of the more clever lyricists of the post-punk era. His imagination is rarely confined to his albums — for diehard fans, the real Hitchcock manna comes from seeing him live, where songs are woven together with strange and humorous monologues that are equal parts Monty Python and Man Ray.

And in case you were wondering: he doesn’t work them out ahead of time. “If I did, I’d never be able to remember them! I don’t know how professional comedians do it. For me, they’re just word solos, from the font of my subconscious. The things I say between songs are more apt to be funny, because they function almost to test the audience, to see if they’re on my frequency. The songs themselves are more emotional, often quite sad or morose — but humor is so important. You know what they say — ‘Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.’ I guess I want both.”

For Hitchcock, the mental is more visual than anything we actually see. “Looking at me doesn’t tell you anything, and watching me perform isn’t relevant to anything. I don’t necessarily look like my songs! And I may work in music because it’s such an emotional art form, and I use words because we have them to help communicate. But the feeling is there first, the words are just put on top, they are secondary, just the way that words are secondary to the tune. People are feeling something just by the sound of how the song goes. The words are just there to give people a picture in their mind’s eye.”

As you might guess, Hitchcock found his muse in the surreal late ’60s, when candy-colored sounds dripped from his bedroom walls whenever he put the needle on his stereo. “I was 14 in 1967, when I had what I call my psychedelic bar mitzvah. You know, Are You Experienced?, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Sgt. Pepper’s, all of that. It wound up being the compost I’ve risen from, as it were.”

If his youthful ear tilted toward the twisted end of the psychedelic spectrum, his own work has always skewed in a similarly unpredictable way — whether we’re talking the aggressive jangle pop of the Soft Boys or the constant zig and zag between somnambulant acoustic material and edgy, jagged guitar rock that has characterized his solo records. Throughout it all, his work has always seemed timeless — almost hermetically sealed from whatever trends are current.

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