Listen to this track, a Bowiesque tale of the supernatural, or maybe just another love song from a different angle. It’s Robyn Hitchcock and his then-new band the Egyptians with “My Wife and My Dead Wife” as taken from the 1985 album Fegmania!
Robyn Hitchcock was the former frontman for the Soft Boys, and had up until this record written songs that evoked an 80s take on 60s Psychedelia, a sort of British equivalent to the Paisley Underground scene in the States. But, he was as interested in David Bowie as much has he was in 60s psychedelia, mixing in glam with absurdism. By 1984 after three solo albums, he gathered together with former Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor to form Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, a band that would last, in name at least, into the early 90s.
Hitchcock is known of course for his ability to write from unexpected vantage points, often judged as willfully weird, even if his abilities with writing pop hooks are as accessible as you’d like. The oddness is certainly front and centre here. But, the story here of a man with an unwelcome house guest – his former, in every sense, wife. But, is this a literal tale of a man and his new bride plagued by the spirit of his deceased wife? Or is this just an elaborate metaphor for a man who has remarried too soon, who has not let himself get over one love before pursuing another?
I like to think of this as an Anglicized take on the magical realism literary tradition, which allows for both things to be true. In this tradition, very popular in Central American fiction, a fantastical element like a ghost of a dead person is both literal and metaphorical, haunting the living as a literal ghost, but also at the same time as a memory, too. As such, what we’re getting here is a novel’s worth of drama wrapped inside a single song, something of a comic-tragedy. The narrator is a man in conflict, who can’t decide which wife he loves more – the one he’s with, or the one who haunts his memory.
It’s lighthearted, but somehow it’s sad. As wrapped up as it is in absurdity and irony, it paints an acccurate portrait of a lot of relationships, with the ghosts of lovers past floating in and out of them, uninivited. It’s these forces that often keep us from moving forward with the new person who is right in front of us, held as we are by the spirit of an old love that we somehow idealize instead.
For more about Robyn Hitchcock, check out robynhitchcock.com.