Date: Tue, 30 Dec 1997
From: "Chaney, Dolph L"
Dearest Fegs all,
As we approach 1998, I would like to share with you a theory, which is mine, which belongs to me, regarding Our Man Robyn.
I'm sure many of you have pondered, as I have, the "Reg" motif in many Hitchcock songs -- "Brenda's Iron Sledge" and "Bass" being the most obvious, but also found in many classic apocryphal Hitchcock songs such as the legendary "I Have No F**king Clue." Whither Reg? What is it about the name Reg that speaks out to our hero.
Well, friends, I believe I've uncovered the answer.
I submit that Robyn Hitchcock harbors a secret fixation on Elton John. Sir Elton's given name, of course, is Reginald Kenneth Dwight, and I think I see a pattern, illustrated in the following chronology:
While Robyn attends Cambridge, Elton becomes major superstar by virtue of his brilliant piano playing, incredible showmanship, and the fact that his enunciation isn't clear enough to expose Bernie Taupin's lyrics. As the decade lurches on, Elton's elaborate costumes become a factor in his success as well. These costumes range from the simplicity of sequined overalls and silly specs to his infamous Donald Duck suit. During this period, Robyn starts up the Soft Boys, who firmly occupy the middle ground between the pop songcraft of oldtimers like Elton and the menace of the punks. And yet, Robyn keeps an eye out on Elton's ever-changing costuming repertoire. Finally, Robyn works up the nerve to send a letter to Elton's management, suggesting the following costume ideas, among others:
- the squid (with realistic tentacle action!)
- the trout
- the furry green atom bowl
- the trilobite
- the acid bird
- the tropical flesh mandala
- the abandoned brain
Needless to say, Robyn's ideas were never used. In fact, Elton is said to have taken great offense at the last of these, interpreting it as a veiled criticism of his more recent work.
Frustrated at Elton's unresponsiveness and by the end of the Soft Boys, Robyn writes "Brenda's Iron Sledge" as a cryptic slam against Elton. Many have noted the anti-Thatcher tone in the lyrics, which must certainly have rankled the staunchly Tory Sir Elton.(*) But the key, of course, is in Robyn's ominous yet forceful lines clearly intended to distance himself from His Elton-ness:
Please, don't call me Reg --
it's not my name.
Clearly in a huff, Elton responds by simply abandoning his outlandish costuming altogether. In the press, of course, he would claim that he simply got bored with the frilly stuff and wanted to wear suits instead. Robyn, however, took this to heart, and it led to the drink and depression that later resulted in _Groovy Decay_.
As it became clear to him that Elton was continuing to have commercial success without relying on his costuming, Robyn fumed. His frustrations culminated in the song "Bass," which superficially appeared to be a whimsical aquatic ode to Robyn's favorite ale. However, those few that saw Robyn's original list of costume ideas noticed a grisly similarity between that list and the sea creatures found in the lyrics of "Bass." The reference to Bass Ale, too, was a harrowing reminder of the alcohol-soaked days of '82, which were a direct result of Elton's cold-shouldering. When "Bass," like "Brenda" its predecessor, called for a cutting couplet against EJ, Robyn delivered again:
But don't go messing with a guy like Reg.
He'll leave you gurgling behind the hedge.
Robyn's mounting anger was clear. He'd gone from simply distancing himself from "Reg" to painting him in a clearly sinister light.
Elton teased Robyn by putting out _Live In Australia_, in full costume,and including a song called "Tonight." However, not only were none of Robyn's costume ideas used, "Tonight" was not the Soft Boys' classic creepfest but Elton's own track from _Blue Moves_.
When Elton got wind of "Bass," it's reported that he was often seen muttering to himself "Hitchcock... pianist envy!" and such, spitting in his fury. So '88 saw the release of _Reg Strikes Back_. In a move that can only be characterized as pure sadism, the provocatively titled LP's cover showed a dizzying variety of Elton's various costumes -- and none of Robyn's designs. Reg strikes back, indeed.
A stunned Robyn can only manage to work in a reference to Elton as "Dandy" in his song "Wax Doll." Clearly, he was no longer able to keepup the fight.
After seven years, Robyn finds his admirable control slipping a bit, and the following lines appear in "Trilobite," one of his many memorials to his beloved costume designs:
Trilobite, right Dwight's in the light-bite;
Trilobite, right in the light-bite, Dwight.
Dwight. Reginald Kenneth DWIGHT. A cry for help.
In perhaps his most desperate attempt at one-upmanship, Elton seizes upon the funeral of his friend Princess Diana as the ultimate opportunity to make Robyn feel bad. So, he convinces Taupin to re-write"Candle In The Wind" with the lyric, "goodbye, England's rose." However, by this time, Elton was so out of touch with good pop music that he didn't realize that "English Rose" was written by Paul Weller rather than by Robyn Hitchcock, so this "goodbye" fell utterly flat. Robyn was elated, and surely this paves the way for the triumph that will be _Storefront Hitchcock_.
I appreciate any feedback from the list regarding my discovery. I hope to turn it into a musical in 1998, starring Norm Crosby, Mandy Patinkin, and the late Charles Kuralt as "Kimberley."
(what? Thursday's JANUARY 1st, not APRIL 1st??? oh.)