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ROBYN HITCHCOCK – 1967: HOW I GOT THERE AND WHY I NEVER LEFT: BOOK REVIEW



ROBYN HITCHCOCK

1967: How I Got There And Why I Never Left (Little Brown)


AS A PIECE OF HISTORY, 1967: How I Got There And Why I Never Left is an excellent memoir. As a memoir, 1967… is inclined to flights of fantasy. As a fantasy, 1967… is rooted deeply in the truth. Or a truth. A truth built from the emotional underpinnings of a strange boy who wasn’t an outcast or unloved, but did find the connective tissue between him and the rest of the world uncertain and unstable.


It is, or will be music which replaces that connective tissue for Robyn Hitchcock: acting as both an alternative world in which to exist and a language to communicate with others in the “real” world who share at least some of the understanding. More specifically, it will be the music that lodged itself in his psyche in the loosely defined 1967: Dylan and Beatles, Pink Floyd and Dylan, Hendrix and Dylan, Dylan and Incredible String Band. And Dylan.


(“It’s pretty clear to me that Dylan knows the meaning of life, if anybody does,” he writes when in his 15-year-old head. “He has momentum, direction, intuition – wisdom. My elders and betters – teachers and parents, people who drive cars and look compromised – they have experience and they call the shots: they decide where you live and where you go, and until recently they told you when to go to bed, too. But they haven’t seen to the bottom of the barrel the way Dylan has: they haven’t glimpsed the fundamental pointlessness of everything.”)


Yeah, teenage Robyn Hitchcock was a goner, and it turns out, a lifer. And thank god for that, not just as a fan of his music – of which there is almost none mentioned here – but as a fan of his entertaining, discursive, speculative and interpretative mind, and a writing style that embraces it all. From playful language and the creep of religion into and out of his life, to imagined conversations and the most unlikely adventures of people in his life.


Strictly speaking, 1967 … some might suggest is not a memoir: it is not a full life explored, not even close. While there are chapters devoted to the “how I got there”, they are in many ways sketches and preambles, setting the architecture of the life (while in part discussing the architecture of the draughty, isolated, always-in-development homes the family lived in after leaving the big smoke) as we find it in one perplexing, thrilling, dull year.


His sisters are more alluded to than addressed; his two grandmothers are more detailed, more directly influential but, in keeping with the separateness and self-centredness of teenagers, somewhat out of focus; his parents are in focus but not understood, complex and revealing in retrospect, but not grasped at the time.


Much more detailed, much more examined is the strange – very strange – world of the English public (for our purposes, private) school where prepubescent boys are sent in fear and bewilderment, to graduate six or seven years later in well-connected befuddlement.


It’s a world of boys and teachers called Biffo and Blotto, Harrington Minor and Gallows Junior, Trotter and Jansch, Horse and Mudfellow and Marz (some of those names I made up; most of them are real). The school’s in-house language is like the Midford sisters’ thick code, less U and Non-U and more blokey, boofy and slightly smelly. It’s Tom Brown meets Tom Jones meets Mr Jones.


Winchester boy made ... something. Robyn Hitchcock, no longer but always in 1967

It is a world of chapel, straw hats and naked masters jumping in the river, studying “French, English, German, Latin, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, barbaric sports, masturbation and under-eating”, and no girls, barely any women, hymns aplenty and records in the common room.


“So this is what happened to me on the cusp of childhood and adolescence. It left me with a toddler’s soul and a middle-aged mind.” Though that is only half the story. As he writes elsewhere “I wish I had a girlfriend. I wish I had a friend, really. I’m a teenager and I’ll stay one for the rest of my life.”


For this boychild whose career becomes one where arrested adolescence is the norm, intersections with the outside, with 1967 in situ, can be almost too perfectly on-point. A young Brian Eno – not much older than the senior boys at the school, not much different to the provocateur insider/outsider he would be decades later – stages a perplexing but no doubt meaningful “happening” for the more adventurous chaps and an amused teacher. His language like the event itself, appropriately hippie dribble: like deep, man.


“I wonder, on my way back to Blotto’s house,” Hitchcock remembers after Eno’s happening. “If witnessing this event is anything like getting stoned.”


The amusements do pile up, the musical connections do begin to firm and bind, and on that basis alone 1967 … is an entertainment worth your time. But what brings it to something deeper and more interesting is it’s almost offhand, almost off-stage, revelations of isolation and disconnection, generational quirks that could be multi-generational trauma, and things left unspoken in an environment at home, at school, in society, of repressed emotion.


Hitchcock doesn’t dwell – well, one doesn’t, old bean, does one? – but he doesn’t pretend either. The weave is clear, the pattern emerging. What will come, musically and personally, may be decades of repetition interrupted by (hopefully increasing) bouts of understanding and change as well as joy and silliness. Maybe not.


Maybe we’ll see it in a future memoir or album. Maybe we can see it in the language and experience and, dare we say it, accumulated wisdom of his life already and friends from then more solid now than they could possibly have been then. Maybe we know it in the resolute refusal to be the complete responsible adult he, or we, are supposed to be. The future? It’s only the past isn’t it? And no more reliable.


“Oh, what can you remember? It bends itself to suit you, as much as it can: the facts are sleeping in the cellar of memory. You can fish them up, dormant mackerel of the soul, to swim once again in the pond of your consciousness; but somebody else is going to recall those mackerel differently from you.”



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