"People assume that I sit there in a paisley shirt with colored sunglasses in a cloud of colored fumes dreaming of Nowhere Land or whatever," says Robyn Hitchcock, lamenting what he feels is a distorted public image.

"That isn't the case," continued the English rocker, who plays the Lingerie tonight and Saturday. "I live in the same world as everybody else--or I live in my version of it."

Hitchcock, 33, might not relish that stereotype, but it's the kind of thing that happens to cult artists, especially one who's often identified as an heir of legendary loony Syd Barrett's offbeat legacy.

But Hitchcock says that Pink Floyd founder Barrett is just one of many influences, which include authors as much as rock singers.

Hitchcock also bristles at the suggestion that his songs are eccentric. But vignettes about a fellow who's torn between his current wife and the ghost of her predecessor, and about an "Egyptian Cream" that changes one's sex when applied, seem to fit that bill.

So does his recollection of his childhood. "The only ambition I ever had was to build a time machine," Hitchcock said during a phone interview this week from his home in London. "But I wasn't really good at science or physics, and I also noticed that people who were hadn't managed to build a time machine. So I didn't have any ambition at all. I was really totally aimless."

He gravitated to music ("It was a natural way to express yourself at the time I was growing up") and eventually made his mark as the leader of a group called the Soft Boys. The band gained a loyal following in England in the late '70s, but it never managed to overcome the trend of the day.

Said Hitchcock: "It was very catholic at a time when everybody else was trying very hard to trim everything down to two chords and pretend they couldn't play or sing. At the time the dictatorship of punk came up we were much too eclectic.

"It was like trying to cross the Atlantic in a canoe, upside down. It was a totally desperate, futile attempt. At the time we were really kind of despised, apart from a very small hard core of people. People would criticize us for the most ridiculous things, like being middle class, as if you deliberately choose to be middle class. We just didn't disguise the fact that we were."

The band (which included Kimberly Rew, now the musical force of Katrina & the Waves) is doing better now that it's the stuff of semi-legend. Its albums, never released in America, will be available here soon through the Important distribution company, along with outtakes and other miscellany.

After the Soft Boys, Hitchcock made an unusual move in the keenly competitive rock world: He took a two-year hiatus from music.

"I was really tired. I'd done a lot of stuff and I just wanted to stop for a while," he said. "I think you can oversaturate the place, like (Elvis) Costello or someone, releasing too many records with too many songs and too many words. I think it makes it hard for people to digest. I just wanted to stop and think for a while."

Since returning to action, Hitchcock has conducted a deliberately low-key career, releasing three albums under his own name and two with his current band the Egyptians (which includes fellow Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe on bass and Morris Windsor on drums). Hitchcock's music might take off on flights of fancy, but his outlook is down to earth.

"I'm not interested in being blown up out of proportion, but I'm not an avowed enemy of the music business," he explained. "I just aim to make a living, really."

Accordingly, Hitchcock's position as a cult artist is fine with him. "I'd rather be that than the Thompson Twins," he said. "You know, people are always blown up way beyond their actual worth and then they're given all these things they don't know what to do with.

"I mean, I know when you're a cult figure your followers can get sort of funny ideas about you. But I just don't want that sort of thing to intrude on my life very much. I do the occasional tour and put out records to make enough money to keep alive the rest of the time."

As for the prevailing opinion that his songs cover the spectrum from dark to deranged to twisted, Hitchcock observed: "I can really understand it, but it's not how I really would want to be remembered. I'm not sitting around trying to reflect evil or trying to create it.

"I'd like to be a positive force. I certainly wouldn't want to be an excuse for people to cut their wrists or jump under a bus. I hope the stuff doesn't actually bring people down. Hopefully it makes them laugh."

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