SPECTRE: Robyn Hitchcock explains the songs on RESPECT

Interview portion produced by Scott Carter & Mark Davis
engineered by Mark Davis, interview by J.D. Considine
Album Producer and Engineer - John Leckie
All songs written by Robyn Hitchcock, published by Two Crabs Music (BMI)
For Promotional Use Only - Not For Sale

Just as the album Respect was recorded in Robyn Hitchcock's kitchen, so too was this possible interpretation of Respect. What started out as a conversation over tea between Robyn Hitchcock and critic J.D. Considine transformed into a soul-searching session where each of the album's ten songs was dissected and here are the results.

1. THE YIP SONG "Yeah, we did have a small dog, many years ago. My girlfriend at the time had a small dog. And in fact, her mother had another small dog, a bit later. And I used to say "yip" to the dog a lot -- the dog used to yip when it wanted to go in or out, and we had another one that used to yip when it wanted to go up or down, you know; it would come up three flights of stairs and then it would yip at the top of the stairs because it wanted to get back down again. It was called Yipper. That's pretty much what that song came from ... was actually small dogs, but it's not about small dogs. It's about, actually, people consenting to a useless operation designed to prolong someone's life for an extra few weeks, while they in their delirium imagine this woman Vera Lynn, who was the Forces' sweetheart. She was like the Axl Rose of her day, you know? And he sort of tried to call out to this image, in his pain, as he's passing away, being destroyed by something. And all these voices are kind of saying 'Yeah, surgery would be a good idea. Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip.' But, you know, originally the song was nothing to do with that at all; it was "Vera Lynn, Vera Lynn / She played punk rock with her fin" and I imagined Vera Lynn as having this enormous great black, kind of shark's fin on her back. That she used it to strum some sort of Les Paul guitar as if she was cleaning her back with a guitar in the bathtub, just stroking this guitar back and forth across her fin, and somehow all these sort of punky chords would be coming out."

2. ARMS OF LOVE "'Arms of Love' ... it was originally called 'Arms of God.' I had it in mind for Roger McGuinn, in fact. R.E.M. have done a sort of country version of it, but they've changed the chords slightly. And that had wine glasses on it -- it has Andy playing wine glasses. We actually had a bunch of wine glasses on the BBC Mobile, 'coz we recorded it on the BBC Mobile, and the BBC came in and put the mikes on the kitchen table, like we have here. And Andy just put his moistened finger around the circles of each wine glass top. That's what that sound is, anyway, at the beginning. The best thing about it is that as I was writing it, I suddenly realized that I didn't have to spend as long getting from one chord to another as I thought. It would been a really slow, sort of waltz thing, but in fact I've managed to skip from one chord to another quite fast, so it's quite a concise tune. I mean, I like the tune. And the good thing about it is it hasn't good very many words, and I keep forgetting them, and I always change them each time I sing it. I changed it from the 'Arms of God' because that was too much like being about to be dead. But the idea is that the two people in the song are seperated, and soon they will be in the arms of love. But will it be in each other's arms? 'Don't worry, honey. You'll soon be ... back with me? back with somebody else? what?' You don't know, so it could be ultimate reassurance, and it could be your worst fears being confirmed. Either way it'll be quite exciting and probably rather sad. Well, it wouldn't be sad if you got back together again."

3. THE MOON INSIDE "I think it's about the power inside a woman. It's lunar. It's tidal. It's just as the menstrual cycle is linked, amazingly enough, to the passage of the moon, as are, I think, the activities of crabs. And I've never understood why a full moon is powerful, because life on earth has evolved with the moon. There is now a moon inside of us. If a woman went off to Alpha Centauri or something like that she would still menstruate in twenty-eight day cycles, at least to begin with. And probably if you took a bunch of crabs and put them on Pluto or something in a huge salt-water tank, they would initially act in synch with the way the moon affected crabs on earth. So we've got that lunar element inside of us, and I specifically link it with ... this particular song has to do with passion, if you like -- the way quite unexpected feelings can come up in people, just as the sea has all kind of moods. The sea can caress you; the sea can break your neck. The sea can be treacherous; the sea can buoy you up and keep there; the sea can pull you down and finish you forever. The sea is your mother; the sea is potentially your assassin. We supposedly come out of the sea. Maybe if the word ever, sort of, chokes on its own vomit, the sea will be the last place to be terminally polluted. There must be huge great things down there, the size of cathedrals, kind of, buried feelings, right at the bottom where we can't see. I think this is all just related to the moon inside, as the hidden, the unexplained, the uncontrollable forces of the sea, which again are controlled by the moon."

4. RAILWAY SHOES "Well, 'Railway Shoes' isn't on, actually ... it's not a term. You know, it's not like ... we don't say 'Gol-blimey, mate, put yer railway shoes on, guv,' back in the Old Country or anything. It's ... 'Railway Shoes' is ... I was just sitting in the shed in the garden, playing the guitar and out came the expression 'Railway Shoes.' I like a title. If you've got a title it's much easier to work from: 'The Moon Inside,' 'Railway Shoes,' they all existed as titles and tunes before they became fleshed into anything definite. I was trying to sound like Richard Butler from the Furs, really. [He chuckles.] It's made to sound like Richard Butler trying to be Van Morrison, which is an unholy combination, I think. But my skills as a mimic are obviously waning. [Laughs.] No, I was gonna ask ... we didn't have time to ask people to come and play on the record, but I was thinking of asking Richard to come and sing on 'Railway Shoes.' I can just hear him on the chorus: '[in a raspy, Richard Butler-esque voice] Railway shoes!' You know, that kind of thing."

5. WHEN I WAS DEAD "There are different versions of 'When I Was Dead' floating around. There's a dubbed version which has got a lot more space in it. Morris is shaking a bag full of rats' feet -- rats' toenails, I think -- and that's what the percussion is, it's all these things going 'shhhk- a-shhhk-a-shhhk.' It's not a wide-open space, this song. Death could equally well be the wide-open spaces -- I mean we've made it sound very claustrophobic. You know, when the Devil asks him to supper, and then God says he's got all his records, this is obviously happening in a small room, in a cave, by candelight. The corpse is still in a small room lit by candles. They've put some perfume on the corpse to stop its smelling. The mourners are standing around, and they can't communicate with the dead person, and the dead person can't communicate with the mourners. All the dead person can see is God and the Devil who've turned up instead while Aunt Edith and Cousin Aileen are standing there, weeping pitiously by the corpse and strewing the ground with lilies. So, again there's a communication gap between the living and the dead. Given the existence of a universe, all the molecules in it, nuclear fission apart, and black holes, have been here for ... for billenia or something. They just keep juggling around so, you know, you've got three of Shakespeare's molecules and you've got two of Himmler's or whatever it is. Part of your fingernail was part of St. Joseph of Arimathea's frontal lobe or something. And large parts of you were once a daffodil in ... Novia Scotia or something. And [chuckling] your feet used to be Winston Churchill or whatever it is. The same things keep getting recycled. It could be that when we pass away, our psyches dissolve into lots of sort of strips of feeling. All the things that comprise us that are held together by our bodies dissolve hence 'I wasn't me to speak of / Just a thousand ancient feelings,' feelings that have been around since the beginning of human time."

6. THE WRECK OF THE ARTHUR LEE "I was listening to a lot of stuff by Love, which was Arthur Lee's group, back in the sixties, when I was in L.A., making a previous album. I thought, God, I must try writing more songs where, they keep jumping -- all these different movements, like they used to do in the sixties a lot -- sort of, having three-minute songs with loads of different movements in them. I must write some more jumpy stuff with lots of chords in, like a lot of Arthur Lee's songs were. And I came back, got drunk ... I had jetlag so I woke up about three or four hours with a hangover and there was nothing to eat in the house but I was wide awake, and the sun was streaming through the windows and it was July, and I was suddenly back in England. And I picked up the guitar and made up 'The Wreck of the Arthur Lee.' As you said, it prob'ly doesn't need explaining [laughs]."

7. DRIVING ALOUD (RADIO STORM) "'Driving Aloud' is a very ... impacted song. It's the most like the songs I used to write, on the record, in terms of being impenetrable, or obstruse or something. Not many songs by anyone refer to Harrison Ford, I mean, Harrison is not generally a much sung-about person. It was originally called 'Driving to Portland.' I wrote it in the back of the bus, as I was sitting with a cup of tea and a guitar, trying to sing in a key that was high enough for me to hear myself over the engine of the bus, and I was playing this riff that I had made up in the shed at the same time I'd made up 'Railway Shoes.' And I wrote the words, I mean I wrote six or seven verses and I kept verses one, two, and five, or something. And then, later, after we'd recorded it, I rushed back and wrote a whole lot of extra verses which we had pressed up and then demolished again, so there's a completely different version of the song lying around somewhere, with a load of yet more verses, on a completely unrelated topic. But ... the idea was basically momentum. If you were talking out the window of a bus, of a slow-moving vehicle to somebody, and somebody asked you a question, and you reply. But you're replying not to the person who asked you that question but to another person, who then asks you another question, to which you reply, but that doesn't reach the questioner. It's a series of completely dislocated conversations held together by extreme anxiety, indecision, and a feeling of something ominous about to happen up the road."

8. SERPENT AT THE GATES OF WISDOM "I was talking to Julian Cope, who knows about these things. The serpent generally a symbol of wisdom as much as a symbol of deceit. The serpent is a symbol of knowledge, I mean, it is the serpent that gives Eve the apple. The idea in my song is that the serpent is guarding wisdom. He's guarding it like a kind of reverse Garden of Eden. But the serpent can't go in, just as I don't know whether the angel that guards the gates of Eden, and who drove Adam and Eve from the gates, is actually allowed into Eden himself, or itself, 'cos we don't know what sex angels are -- hopefully, both. Actually, the idea of a whole load of kind of she-male angels is fantastic, all sort of standing there. You can imagine Madonna would suddenly burst out of a cardboard box, lured by the presence of such androgyny, which has nothing to do with this song. It's the one on the record I think of as the least 'Robyn Hitchcocky.' I wrote the song almost as a take off of The Band. I imagined Rick Danko doing the lead, and the other two coming in. And in the absence of The Band, we had to do it ourselves."

9. THEN YOU'RE DUST "I just sang this song, 'Then You're Dust,' I was just singing it as I was walking around, just literally a description of what was happening, you know, it was like a children's picture or something. That song is totally at face value. It is about one thing and one thing only. I don't usually write those sort of minor key things; they're a bit dreary, but it just seemed appropriate. And I think we did that around the kitchen table, actually. Morris and I just sat there with acoustics and I sang it live. It's like a lot of simple things -- it's great because it's simple. All it is is what it appears to be."

10. WAFFLEHEAD "The nice thing about 'Wafflehead' is that it hasn't got any instruments on it. It's all so Captain Beefheart. Beefheart had a song called 'Hothead,' which this is a sort of distant cousin of: '[doing a Beefheart imitation] She can burn you up in bed / Just like she said / 'Cos she's a hothead.' And ... mine is a much more leisurely song. It's been quite a serious record. I just felt that it was good to have something that was completely just for the hell of it at the end, that wasn't going to close the whole thing with a sort of 'Now our hands our folded together in prayer for those we have thought of.' Plus if you just had 'Then You're Dust," then there's not much else to do. Either it's the Heavenly Choirs or it's back down to earth -- thump! and the wheel of Karma starts again. So Wafflehead is just, you know, is just a love song carached in terms of food, which is something I've been doing for years. It's like things I've been writing for ages. It's a sort of parody of a Robyn Hitchcock song. But it's nice, because Morris has a ... uh ... Morris started 'mooing.' He does this sort of ooooooooooooohhhhhhh and we just sort of made up this cycle of harmonies to go around it. The final mix, it doesn't come out that clearly, but we've got a version of it with a mock French lead vocal: '[with fakish French accent]: You're a Wafflehead / The sea of cream is what I beam / Into her as her eyeballs gleam.' Kind of like Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau. And it's got all the R's -- we just sort of developed this sort of spiral of voices and we filled up -- Andy poured water in stereo between two tracks in a jug. We went down to the beach to try and sample some squelching noises. I had my gumboots on. And Morris plays a cheese grater. And I got to sing the bass drum part; we didn't even sample it, I just went [makes repeated popping noise with mouth] for four minutes. And I take a gulp every eight bars, you know, so ... we had fun. I'd really like to do more things like that."

DRIVING ALOUD (RADIO STORM) (alternate vocals)
Heading west going west heading west
Going over the sea
Where the sun always sets in the West
As a favor to me
And the plane touches down and you're dying of thirst
You're already aroused and the tires all burst
She looks so beautiful she looks so rare
You drop your coffee at the curb and vanish into thin air
And everything you say is like sugar
The sweeter it gets you know I lick it away
Radio forecast intermittent storms
Tidal waves that change their forms, Yeah!
With a knot in your heart you're afraid of the power to say
All the things that you don't wanna hear but you do anyway
And she already told you you got nothing to fear
She said it too fast and she said it too clear
It's like a Harrison Ford picture where he plays someone nice
Gets mixed up with a girl against his doctor's advice
And everything you say is like iron
It smashes me up but it's brittle inside
You need love baby love baby love - don't you throw it away
It's a miracle you've gotten so far without having to pay
In a sushi bar on M Street I was reaching for an egg
It took a half a second it was rolling down my leg
I've never known a word that simple have that effect
I'll say this for you, honey, you know how to connect
Oh yeah you do it very suddenly
And everything you say is a dagger
It slashes me up but it's easy to hide
What am I going to do with myself if I lose you?
What am I going to do with myself if you stay?
Jesus could raise the dead, Jesus could fly
Jesus could raise the dead, Jesus could fly
No sweat, no sweat at all
And everything you say is an ocean
It's keeping me up but it's pulling me down