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Songs, like cats, sneak up on you; be ready
Thursday, March 24, 2005

Robyn Hitchcock views songwriting as similar to snaring an animal. That metaphor sounds reasonable. But then he goes on to describe that animal as a cross between a cat and a fish.

Although Hitchcock is known for lyrics filled with wild imagery, he's not just being weird for weirdness' sake in his characterization of songwriting: He can back the metaphor up.

"Cats never come when you want them to, but they sneak up on you and you have to be ready to accept them at those moments. It's the same with songs," Hitchcock said in a telephone interview last week. "Fish lurk in the depths and songwriting, like all creative urges, lurks in the unconscious mind. So it's like snaring an animal that's somewhere between a cat and a fish."

Hitchcock will bring his 25 years of songwriting catches and musical quarry to a solo show at the Iron Horse 7 p.m. Monday. Local favorite (and Hitchcock acolyte) Henning Ohlenbusch of School for the Dead will open with a solo set of his own.

Hitchcock came on the scene in the late 1970s with the band The Soft Boys. While the group surfed in on the torrid currents of New Wave, Hitchcock said they never really fit with that crowd.

"We arrived at the time of New Wave, but we really had nothing to do with it, so it made it hard for our particular plane to land," he said. "My music came right out of the '60s. I knew I wanted to play music by 1967, but I was too young then. It just took a long time for me to hatch it."

Hitchcock, who was weaned on notable and creative wordsmiths such as Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Syd Barrett, is well-known for his imaginative lyrics, which center on such diverse and subjects as ants, frogs or men with light bulb heads. Yet while he doesn't mind being categorized as a cult artist, he loathes being tagged as "quirky."

"I despise that word. What does it mean? I think it's a lazy description," he said. "Maybe I talk my own language but I really can't write any other way. I write songs that I'd like to hear."

The attention given to his lyrics has also put a lesser light on his melodies and playing sometimes, even though Hitchcock puts a lot of work on all three aspects of his music.

"I think people are starting to notice that I'm a good guitarist, but I'm not good like Eric Clapton or Richard Thompson is good. I'm good for me and my music," he said. "And I'm known for my lyrics but music is just as important as lyrics. It's just that I come from a verbal background, not a musical one."

Ohlenbusch is thrilled to be opening for Hitchcock, who he counts as one of his musical heroes.

"I'm such a big fan. I've been listening to and playing his songs for just about as long as I've been making my own music. I suppose one of his biggest lessons is that a great and moving song can be about anything at all," Ohlenbusch said. "One of the first shows I ever saw at The Iron Horse was Robyn Hitchcock solo. Years later, when I was playing my first show there, I was singing into the microphone and thinking about how cool it was that I was now on that same stage where I saw Robyn years before. Now, I'll be playing on the same bill with him."

Ohlenbusch will soon issue a solo CD titled "Looks Like I'm Tall" - which he is. Since Hitchcock is also well over 6 feet, he was glad to hear that Ohlenbusch is also a tall, lanky fellow.

"Most musicians are short. Peter Buck of R.E.M. has met almost everyone in rock and he says they're all a bunch of dwarves," Hitchcock said with a chuckle.