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.