with the XTC/Dukes of Stratosphear auteur.
BY RANDY HARWARD
It’s no accident that Andy Partridge’s discography – all
those XTC and solo/side band albums,
including the nine-disc rarities set Fuzzy
Warbles – looks bottomless. The guy has a lot on his mind, and therefore
much to say. Get him on the phone, despite his reputation for granting scant
interviews, and you’ll see it’s true.
Though the occasion was the release of The Complete and Utter Dukes, a posh box set collecting both albums by XTC’s ‘60s-psych alter ego the
Dukes of the Stratosphear on 180-gram vinyl (along with a Dukes single,
T-shirt, Dukes Dollars, and a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle), Partridge went long for
Blurt and discussed all manner of
things. Usually, it had to do with his music, but often he veered delightfully
off-course. Just a taste of the topics covered: freaks (and freak magnetism),
Nigel moments, unsexy heavy metal, crap rap, Grandpa Partridge’s war wounds, religion,
comic books, and why he hates concerts.
For the uninitiated, in the hope they might continue reading
and be moved to look into XTC, we’ve condensed Partridge’s epic answers into
(in some cases, relatively) bite-sized, easily digestible blurbs.
What follows is part one of our conversation, and as you
might imagine, part two of our conversation follows, logically enough,
tomorrow. Thank you, and good night.
WOT’S IN A NAME?
A notorious scamp, Partridge asks the first question, poking
fun at his interviewer’s name. “How’d you get a name like that? You know the
connotation [for ‘randy’] in England,
don’t you? Do you live up to your name? [laughs]
Can you imagine an English gentleman called ‘Lord Horny Smythe’?”
relents-and points his scathing wit toward himself.
“It’s better than my name. I always
hated it. ‘Andrew’ sounded like some child had dropped an ice cream on the
sidewalk and it was melting. To me, that’s the picture it kinda conjures up.
Actually, I got called Andrew because the nickname for the British Royal Navy
is ‘The Andrew.’ But it sounds so wet and accidental. There you go, there’s my
personality all in one!”
Like any budding rocker, Partridge spent hours locked in his
room making a racket he hoped would be the big sound. He captures this scene in
a song on the Fuzzy Warbles set
called “Sonic Boom.”
“That was just about me as a
teenager getting into my bedroom with my cheap guitar,” he says. “My parents
would be out and I’d turn my little cruddy 40-watt amplifier full up. I’d
really make the house shake! Of course the neighbors would complain and I’d get
in trouble, but it was such a great feeling to plug in my cruddy little East
German amplifier and this Singaporean guitar and just go rrrrraaaaaaa!“
XTC’s music is peopled with freaks, geeks and weirdos. Is
Andy Partridge a freak magnet? “No, I’m pretty normal. I’m more of a nerd
magnet… All these kids making music in their bedrooms, I seem to be the patron
saint of that. I’m St. Andrew of Bedroom Rock or whatever you want to call it.”
So are the aforementioned misfits
caricatures? Amalgams of people he’s met in his travels? Maybe a little, but
“most songs that I’ve ever written, if I go back and analyze them, even though
I might be referring to “he” or “she” or “them” or “they,” it’s usually me that
I’m talking about, some facet of my personality. When you put this mask on and
you [hide behind pronouns], you feel more comfortable about singing about
yourself. That’s a common trick, though.”
One character that’s definitely not Partridge pops up in a
Dukes song, “Have You Seen Jackie?” The tune was originally called “Have You
Seen Sydney? – referencing legendary strange-ling Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd,
but Partridge, feeling the Syd reference would be lost under the assumption he
meant Sydney, Australia, changed it. Not that the
lyrics lead us to believe otherwise.
“[It’s about] Arnold Lane, this
pervert who steals women’s underwear off of washing lines. I thought that was a
typical British, dopey, psychedelic thing to sing about, these malfunctioning
people. Jesus Christ! The most
enormous WASP I’ve ever seen in my life – that’s not part of the lyric; it
really is the biggest WASP I’ve ever seen-has now come out from being asleep,
or hidden away somewhere, and he’s just freaking me out. That’s not natural!
That shouldn’t even fly! Like, you know what I mean? That is not aerodynamic.”
Partridge carries on:
“Jesus, where’s it gone? Well as
long as it hasn’t landed on me. God, it was horrible.
It was like a slipper attacking the light bulb. It was… Wow. Nightmare
Lang/Jackie character, Partridge went one further and had he/she dress in the
ladies’ garments. “You’re not [supposed to be] sure whether it’s a boy or a
girl, so I needed a two-syllable pansexual name. I went with ‘Jackie’ and sang
all the sexes mixed up in the song. I just wanted to do the typical song that
bands would’ve sung about, trying to be deep and meaningful, in 1967.”
eccentric character, as well as the psychedelic sound the Dukes shot for,
presented a creative challenge for Partridge, writing out of context as a Duke
instead of within XTC. “The thing with these pastiche things, you have to get
under the skin of it and [ask yourself], What would they write about? How would
they write? What sort of words would they use? How’s the music gonna sound?
It’s like a musical acting role.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE,
XTC’s sweet, lovesick hit “The Mayor of Simpleton” got
slagged in some quarters as a rewrite of Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” The
similarity is striking: Cooke’s song says “Don’t know much about history/don’t
know much biology… but I don know that I love you” while Partridge’s simpleton
says “Never been near a university/Never took a paper or a learned degree…/but
I know one thing/and that’s I love you.” Partridge, however, rejects the
“It wasn’t really my era; I wasn’t
into rock n’ roll, as such. As a kid, while rock n’ roll was happening, you
couldn’t hear it on British radio. All you could hear that was any good, to my
kid brain, was novelty records. Which is what psychedelia was, I guess. Novelty
records with adults in mind.”
most of Partridge’s songs, “Mayor of Simpleton” has a deeper meaning than some
dim bulb baring his soul. “I’m trying to say that people can value learning as
much as they can value a morbid approach from the heart. It’s all valuable.
Don’t put down learning and don’t put down the people that haven’t learned and
do it from their heart.”
TRIP(TYCH): THE BEATLES
In detailing the origin of the Dukes song “Brainiac’s
Daughter,” Partridge paints a triptych of Beatles psychedelia, which he sees as
split into three camps, according to songwriter.
“Lennon very much draws on Alice in Wonderland and Edward Lear, and it’s a sort of a slightly
evil, malevolent Victorian drawing room thing.”
“George Harrison psychedelia is this sort of glorious mess
of Indian-esque scales and lots of spun-in or sped-up sounds.”
“McCartney psychedelia is probably banana fingers piano, inevitably a ukulele in the background.
And probably bubbles. He’s singing it, or he’s done it for Ringo to sing.”
With “Brainiac’s Daughter,” Partridge worked
McCartney-style, using the titular supervillain from Superman comics as inspiration. “I was a big comic collector in my
teens and twenties-American comics. I had a huge collection of Marvel and DC
and all the other brands, Dell and Harvey
and all that stuff. I thought, ‘Let’s do a song about another unusual
character.’ Brainiac didn’t have a daughter, but I liked this idea of a woman
with green skin and lights on her head just like her dad, doing goofy stuff.
while later, I was on a signing jaunt, one of those meet-and-greet types of
things, in New York.
A couple of guys came up to the desk and showed me some pictures. They’d turned
Brainiac’s Daughter into a real character and, in honor, they called her XTC.
Being a big comics fan, that was a real thrill that somebody liked [my song]
enough to create a real comics character.”
To be continued… keep
your eyes peeled for part two, tomorrow.