Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Birthday: Andy Partridge

Big week for birthdays here at the PP: mine was Saturday, too.

Today, we wish a very happy birthday to Andy Partridge of XTC.

Partridge is one of a handful of performers who Changed Everything for me: the first time I heard "Senses Working Overtime" on MTV, I immediately did what any sane person would do: I went out and bought everything they had ever recorded. At that point, that was about five records (White Music and Go 2 from 1978, Drums and Wires from 1979, Black Sea from 1980, and the record on which "Senses" appeared, 1982's English Settlement.) I kept up, got quirky with the records, trippy with the Dukes of the Stratosphear, and was, as per usual, the only person I knew who thought they were worth a damn.

It was a few days before my 20th birthday that a friend who was earning a pittance as the record critic for the local paper glanced at a weird little record with a sort of faux-marble cover and handed off to me with a shrug: "You like these guys, right?": that was Skylarking. I didn't know anything about the album's production or stresses between Partridge and Todd Rundgren: all I could hear was a shimmering, thrilling ride through a life, from the dreamy endless day of "Summer's Cauldron" through the complexities of adolescence and mating--through a rainstorm of a broken heart--and then, after the flip (oh, how I miss the flip), the adult world: marriage and money and temptation and death. I was awestruck.

The version I had--have--was a promo copy, and so did not have this song:

It's the song that launched a thousand atheists.

(Some time later--88? 89? 90?--a kid at a local high school took the office staff of the school hostage at knifepoint and made them play this song over the public address system before he peacefully gave himself up. That's all he wanted.)

I gobbled up Oranges and Lemons and Nonsuch, fascinated with Partridge's fascination with his own history. When my first daughter was born, "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" was her favorite lullaby.

When they took their hiatus or went on strike or whatever you call it, it happened to exactly correspond with my graduate work. When I came back to the world, it was to an Apple Venus world, and it seemed to me as lush and gorgeous and packed with profundity as anything on Skylarking. (I have been known to dance around the house to "Greenman," but you didn't hear that from me.)

The point here, of course, is that Partridge, my almost-birthday buddy, has been profoundly important to me, and, I hope, to all of us. Thank you so much for all you've done to make my life better and more hummable, Mr. Partridge. Many happy returns of the day to you.


Gummo said...

Skylarking was the Abbey Road of the 80s (there is no higher praise from me!) -- the touching & perfectly constructed songs connected by a vague theme, the performance, the production that practically glowed -- a standard-setting album that leaves all others behind. The kind you can listen to today, 20 years later, and it still takes your breath away and transports you to a magical place.

Happy birthday, Andy!

steve simels said...

the first time I heard "Senses Working Overtime" on MTV, I immediately did what any sane person would do: I went out and bought everything they had ever recorded.

I know the feeling. I was lucky, though -- all I had to do was call a publicist from Virgin.

Sal Nunziato said...

Very nice piece. I listen to XTC the way I watch The Godfather or most episodes of The Simpsons; consistently amazed that human beings can create such brilliance.

"Skylarking," for me, was like God producing God. I played that record so many times in a row, my roommate left the apartment.

FD13NYC said...

I agree totally. Have been a fan from the very beginning also. One of the more powerful forces in music for over 30 years.

Happy Birthday to Andy and a belated one to you Mary. Great post!!

Shriner said...

My first exposure was a friend putting on English Settlement and I was hooked from the jangle of "Runaways" and it's minimalist keyboard solo in the middle.

I remember going to the record store and seeing that they had a "double-LP" and "single LP" version of this. I picked up the double version and the sales clerk only charged me the price for the single version. Score!

Then, in college, I remember playing Skylarking and one of my roommates popped in, listened to it a bit, asked me who the band was, and then ran out and bought himself copies of everything they had available at the time.

allen vella said...

Great post Mary. I remember hearing "Life begins at the Hop" in a record store on St Marks, and immedialtly being captivated. Bought Drums and Wires on the spot, and never been disappointed. Definatley one of those bands that upped the ante, great songwriting, playing, production. Skylarking was a concept record that really gelled..dreamy is an accurate description. Never saw them live and thats probably a good thing, they seem to be one of those bands that were made for the studio. Awesome band. Thanks for the reminder.

Kid Charlemagne said...

I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to see XTC live before Andy packed in doing concert performances. I will definitely take that over having the chance to see Hendrix, Morrison, et. al.

MBowen said...

Yeah, I saw them open for Talking Heads on New Year's Eve at the Palladium - I guess it must have been 1978.

All the best to Mr. Partridge!

TMink said...

Happy birthday to you both!

Andy is the real deal. He has made music that is emotionally powerful, and in so many different styles. The guy has it going on.

And that is some really fine writing Mary!


MBowen said...

Coming really late, but did anyone notice that power-pop gods Andy Partridge and Marshall Crenshaw were both born on the same day: 11/11/53!

lady shawn teppish said...

not much more needs to be said! for me, it is oranges & lemons that i play repeatedly! <3 i am especially grateful that my son appreciates you as much as i do