Complicated Game –
Inside The Songs of XTC
By Andy Partridge & Todd Bernhardt
Jawbone Press – £14.95
I like accidents. I like to put myself in the way of musical harm. I like being at the wheel of that musical car, and aiming it at the wall. Just to see what shape the car’s going to come out. It might come out an interesting shape that would have taken me forever to decide on otherwise.
Hmm, had the above been said by someone like Pete Townshend or Kurt Cobain, I’d have felt more inclined to fully embrace it.
This partially explains why great chunks of this book are akin to talking and listening to someone who’s drunk, while you’re not. As such, a lot of what’s being said, or in this case written, is either subject to question or to just not be taken too literally. For sure, all the prescient and sometimes perplexing material on the nitty-gritty aspects of the actual music itself (which perhaps makes up the bulk of these 398 pages, including an Introduction by Todd Bernhardt, a Foreword by Steven Wilson and a chapter entitled ‘Swindon: A Perambulation’ by John Morrish) is as plausible as it is believable.
As it is fundamentally aimed at the uber-prime-initiated, in-house, rather extraordinarily excessive XTC collective; so many of whom, inadvertently yet regularly find themselves kneeling at the alter of the Partridge. And let’s be honest here: wherever there is kneeling involved, there is (excessive) blind faith.
A sparkling pandemonium of high-octane blind faith, which in this particular instance, partially accounts for Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC not entirely coming clean. Nor being on the money. Money of course (or the ardent wish for oodles thereof on behalf of the subject), being the operative/key word here – as the following exchange between interviewee and interviewer (in relation to XTC’s ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’) more than substantiates:
”I’m obviously bitter about not getting the money I thought I ought to deserve or something. I look around, and I see people like Elvis Costello, or other contemporaries, and I think, ‘Jesus, they’re so much richer than I am!’ You know, ‘I wrote songs as good as he did!’ I can say that, not facetiously or boastfully. I think I’ve written songs as good as Elvis.
And from what I’ve read in interviews with him, I think he thinks that, too. He admires your songwriting.
But when I see him on the Sunday Times Rich List…
Oh my. I didn’t realise he was that wealthy.
Oh yeah, I don’t know, I think his last count was something like twenty million. But I never made the money, or a fraction of the money, in this game that I thought I would. And I guess that, even by that age, I was thinking, ‘Grrr, grrr.”’
The fact that Andy Partridge stopped playing music live almost thirty-five years ago, and Elvis Costello continues to tour the world to this very day, might have some bearing on (t)his clearly envious state of affairs – even if only from a promotional perspective. Pristine rocket science it really isn’t, although the trajectory of such self-proclaimed, financial woe, is something of a subliminal undercurrent throughout these thirty chapters in their entirety. It’s always there. Not always in as many words, admittedly, but it’s there nevertheless: ”Oh, we went well over budget on this album. They said, ‘Look, we’re going to pull the plug fellows, we can’t afford for you to finish it off.’ I think we’d run up a bill of a quarter of a million pounds” (‘Chalkhills and Children’).
Moreover, there are assorted, endearing moments of literaral artistry within the book, which, in and of itself, (ought to) say far more about Partridge than even he himself. For instance, when discussing the use of alliteration in (chapter 22), he asserts: […] It just makes it more pungent if you have lots of L’s in a row, or lots of S’s, or sounds that sound similar between one word and the next, and the next, if possible. It becomes it’s own little internal kingdom – it’s lovely to do […]. I love alliteration. It seems to shake hands with itself, and it seems to be like a little infinity loop, perfectly completed. I like that in other people’s work too.”
Suffice to say, this book essentially entails Andy Partridge talking to the American freelance writer and musician, Todd Bernhardt, on the subject of thirty random XTC songs, scattered throughout their entire career in chronological order. Commencing with 1978’s ‘This Is Pop’ and concluding with 2006’s ‘2 Rainbeau Melt,’ the two traverse the relative gambit of ye world according to Mr. Partridge.
An exceedingly safe, charmed, buffered and closeted world, very, very far removed from that of the real world – wherein (it would seem) nothing is ever enough.
Might it be said that Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC, really would have benefited with having had an outside editor come on board – even if only to do the proof-reading. The amount of times I had to re-read certain sentences, simply because key words were missing! Although Bernhardt’s most horribly glaring error appears at the bottom of page 33: ”When The Beatles were appearing at the Kaiserkeller in Berlin […].” Surely almost every music fan on the planet knows that said infamous Kaiserkeller was in Hamburg?
XTC fans will undoubtedly love it; although in essence, it’s nothing other than a highly cryptic read for the idiosyncratically initiated.