In 1989, Robyn Hitchcock, England's esteemed man-of-psych-pop, holed up at Hyde Street Studios here in town and laid down a record touched with greatness. This Thursday he holes up at Slim's to play it straight through.
Today, Hitchcock calls his spare, moody Eye "a skeletal predecessor of Britpop," a record in the spirit of (as he puts it) "David Bowie, the Kinks, or my great musical hero, Syd Barrett." But Eye -- a spiritual sequel to his classic I Often Dream of Trains -- is quite literally all Hitchcock: just a delicately fingered acoustic, a cold bustling piano, and his voice, edged yet gentle, whispering heartsick lyrics he says he's just now working out.
Recently, Hitchcock talked to SF Weekly about returning to Eye -- and the city in which he recorded it.
I've just been in Israel and Yalta, and Eye is something of a cult album in both places. People are coming up to me after the show at parties and asking me to play songs From it. I think it's perhaps my strongest collection of songs. Not the best arrangements or performances -- it's a very unadorned record and not as worked out as I Often Dream of Trains, the solo record that people tend to like the most. Eye is in some ways a skeletal predecessor of Britpop, of people writing songs like David Bowie, the Kinks, or my great musical hero, Syd Barrett.
I'm very pleased with Eye. It's got the basic thing but not much else. A lot of records have got everything, they're beautifully done, but you don't know if there's anything at the heart of them. All Eye really has is its center -- there's nothing else on it.
My songs are basically bottled moments of time, moments of my life that I reserve. Some have an insight into my life that I didn't have at the time. The songs tend to be a little bit wiser, like I'm trying to tell myself something but not listening. There's a lot of post-it notes to myself on Eye. It's my voice in my own ear, a sort of Greek chorus about what was happening to me. When I sing it, I sort of feel like I was younger and a fool in lots of ways, but in my folly the voice in my ear had some wisdom, still.
Now I can re-inhabit August, 1989, by singing "Glass Hotel," or December, 1988, by singing "Queen Elvis" or April, 1989, by singing "Cynthia Mask." San Francisco was much in my thoughts, and that's why I recorded it there, at Hyde Street Studios.
The show's at Slim's on Thursday at 8 p.m. and costs $25.