Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How Andy Partridge Came To Save Me From Andy Kim

...Or, the saga of Drums and Wires.

Watching football on Sunday, my most important weapon against the assimilation of my brain cells by Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Gently” (see post below) was “Complicated Game,” an XTC song I quoted last week in a post about the California State Budget process. The song, which I hummed incessantly in order to avoid Kim-ification, inspired me to pull the record from which it came – Drums and Wires – off of the shelves, and onto the turntable for a few spins.

It’s a great record, easily XTC’s best, although certainly not their only good one. Although the band never became a huge hit in the states, they managed to hang around for nearly twenty years, a successful career by just about any standard. They were blessed with two gifted songwriters, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding – Partridge played John Lennon to Moulding’s Paul McCartney, and together the two created a sound that Robert Christgau referred to as “tuneful but willfully eccentric pop.” And just like the Beatles, they retired from performing about halfway through their existence, and stuck to the studio from that point on.

I bought the album in the Summer of 1980, and at first my favorite songs were those by Moulding, including “Life Begins At the Hop,” “Making Plans For Nigel,” “Ten Feet Tall.” Great pop songs, but relatively simple and straightforward, especially compared to the wild stuff that Partridge wrote and sang: “Helicopter,” “When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty,” “Reel by Real,” “Roads Girdle the Globe,” and of course, “Complicated Game.” These were complicated songs, with hooks not easily apparent, but damn difficult to shake once they set themselves in your ears.

I can point to the exact night that those hooks first grabbed hold of me – it was December 5, 1980, the last night of finals week during my first quarter at UC Berkeley. To this day, I have to say that there is no feeling quite like that of having finished your last final – the pure release, the pure joy, the pure feeling that for at least that moment, you don’t have a responsibility in the world except to immediately begin obliterating as many of the brain cells that got you through the quarter as you can. And that’s pretty much what we did that night, up on the 5th floor common room of Deutsch Hall. A lot of people had already left for home (the “official” party was the night before), but the small group of us that was left made the most of it. I remember a lot of rum, a lot of beer, and a lot of stuff that I won’t mention here, except to say that the campus administration works really hard to keep it out of the dorms these days. I remember that we watched “Dallas” that night, and one guy (whose name I forget, but whose face is as plain as day) watched the entire show with his bong in his lap, taking a hit every time J.R. would appear on screen (hey, it was funny at the time).

At some point in the evening, I realized (as usual, way too late) that I’d had a few too many, and rather than risk getting lost between the 5th floor and my room (which definitely seemed possible at that point), I asked someone if I could crash on their bed for a while. They said “sure, cool,” and they were even nice enough to throw on a record for me to listen to – lo and behold, it was the second side of Drums and Wires, the “Partridge side.” And it was one of those turntables where the stylus reset on the first song after completing the side, and so in my stupor, I listened to that sucker at least six times before the room’s tenants politely asked me to find my way back to my own room. I did, but not before every single one of those Andy Partridge songs had been driven into the deepest recesses of my brain.

Where they have stayed ever since, ready to be called upon when needed, in the most dire of emergencies. Like Andy Kim.

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