June 8, 2009

XTC Is Dead! Long Live XTC!

Any XTC fans out there? Mark Caro recently interviewed Andy Partridge for The Chicago Tribune and you can read that interview right here.

I couldn't have discovered XTC at a more opportune time in my life. As a gawky, shy, and overweight teenager with a lot more zits than friends, I had withdrawn into a fantasy world of comic books and tv shows, and was more than a little depressed by the circumstances of my existence. I might have thrown in the towel, but The Beatles had other plans. I had, like many ignoramuses, thought of the Beatles as those four weird British guys with identical suits and bowl haircuts who went "Oooooooh!" a lot when they sang. I really didn't start listening to music regularly until I was 11 or 12, around 1985, and only then out of sheer boredom. Local rock station WRDU 106.1 held a Beatles A-Z Weekend and I happened to tune in during "Back In The USSR" and I was instantly pulled from my emotional abyss. There was, and still is, something special about Beatles music. It's the synergy of the individuals involved, their creativity, and their dedication to their chosen craft, not to mention the sheer aural joy of listening to the fruits of their labors. Those boys worked. And XTC, who I first heard in 1988, did too.

My first taste was "Mayor Of Simpleton", an insanely catchy reframing of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World". At that time, I ordered most of my music from mail-order music purveyors Columbia House. I think I had about 17 different accounts with them, all under different names (ha!). Oranges And Lemons, the album "Mayor Of Simpleton" was on, was not yet available from them, so I ordered Skylarking. When it arrived, I hastily removed the shrinkwrap, popped it in my Pioneer 6-Disc changer, and hated it. Then I played it again. And one more time. And I was hooked. XTC is an acquired taste, but when it finally hits, it packs quite a wallop.

After Skylarking and Oranges And Lemons, my next find was a cassette of Black Sea, which was released in 1980, and has a different sound entirely. This is where the problem lies in attempting to find a mass audience for XTC. Like The Beatles, their sound evolved from one album to the next; unlike The Beatles, they didn't have a giant fan base already in place to follow this evolution.

Those of us who have taken the exhilarating thrill ride that is the XTC discography have been positively changed by the experience, and many of us are more than a little dismayed that a majority of people have never even heard of XTC, except for ravers, but that's a different story. On the other hand, knowing that a person you know is an XTC fan is like a litmus test for lifelong friendship. I've never met an XTC fan I didn't like, at least a little bit.

Anyway, it looks as though the ride is coming to an end and I just wanted to communicate to Andy and Colin and Dave, and even early members Barry and Terry, thanks for the magical moments. Your talent made Wayne County, North Carolina a much happier and more exciting place to grow up in, and I'm eternally grateful. Cheers!

1 comment:

Michael said...

excellent post! I'm one of those you mention who have been changed by XTC . The great thing about this band is except for a few moments in the eighties, nothing they've done sounds dated. As far as the difficulties of getting someone into XTC, you make an excellent analogy with the Beatles- some probably still think they are all about "yeah, yeah, yeah" even though they radically changed the history of pop-rock forever. Chances were better pre-1982 when there was a direct lineage through playing live. As comps such as "Coat of Many Cupboards" aptly shows, those guys could play intricate songs like "Yacht Dance" live if they wanted to. When they became a studio-only band, the rule book went out the window and the path was overgrown with thorns for all but the most ardent fans, even if the riches found in that thicket were even more sumptuous that the more easy to pick fruit of earlier years.

Anyway, nice job, thanks!