It often takes me quite awhile to get around to seeing films, and I miss most of even those that I know I certainly want to see and would enjoy. I don't know exactly why this is, but probably is something of a form of self-discipline, I suppose -- I can't make something every day of my own if I spend too many hours sitting and watching something someone else made. There are pros and cons to this, I know, for as much as the little things I make and do are very important to me, the work of others can add to my life in such a deep and positive way. They are treasures that I keep with me and that no circumstance may ever take from me, outside of my own eventual sparkle and fade into the cosmos and/or dirt.

I initially was quite thrilled to hear back in 2008 that British musician Robyn Hitchcock would be releasing a concert film featuring his 1984 album "I Often Dream Of Trains." But the mundane and the profound distractions of everyday existence removed it from my "to-do" queue, and perhaps I avoided it a little bit as well. Let me explain why.

"I Often Dream Of Trains" is a album masterpiece. A grey, somber, silly, strange, heartbreaking masterpiece that, like its thematic cousin, the Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society," builds within its songs an entire world that never really existed, save for the songwriter's emotional landscape of longing, loss, isolation, and painfully-clear reflection and observation. It was a cathartic record for me at age 22, facing what I felt were at the time insurmountable personal failures and a future that would never be as kind and stable as the one I needed. Hitchcock had made a record that was able to give me a place to be, to cry and laugh and think and process the emotions that I needed to, when I was feeling so hopeless that I could barely stand to listen to any music at all. So perhaps I did dodge this concert film, at least subconsciously, for as much as I truly love "I Often Dream Of Trains," it still evokes some strong emotions that can take awhile to recede again.

Yet tonight, the film simply appeared on my living room TV set on the Sundance Channel, and so I decided to sit down and watch it. What a funny creature Hitchcock is! I imagine he was born that way: jittery, gawky, brilliant, hilarious, gifted or cursed with effortless elegant verbal surrealist ramblings, as if Salvadore Dali had turned to poetics rather than paintings and ingested the world's entire coffee supply in one comically-oversized mug. Yet he is not just an Oddster; there is, beneath the comic splatter of wordswordswords and nervous tics and strangeness, what seems to be a Good Man, with kindness and humor and fiery compassion, and substantial intelligence put to proper use.

The film is a simple concept -- a performance at Manhattan's Symphony Space of most of the album's songs along with a a handful of others from Hitchcock's large catalogue -- interspersed with interview snippets recorded, of course, on a train headed towards the city. He was ably assisted onstage by musicians Terry Edwards and Tim Keegan, the song arrangements kept sparse in keeping with the album's original sound and theme. The Robyn of 1984, with his dark-brown funny '80s hair, is replaced by the Robyn of 2008, with silver-grey funny '00s hair, his beaming smile and quirky mannerisms and thoughtfulness all still quite intact.

If it turns out somehow that you have never heard Hitchcock's hilarious acapella "Uncorrected Personality Traits," and even if you have, you can enjoy it right now from the film. It is very fun to sing along with.

Robyn Hitchcock, "Uncorrected Personality Traits"

Hitchcock's songs seem to feature trains, birds, and sea creatures far more than, say, Barry Manilow's.

Robyn Hitchcock, "Trams Of Old London"

All the pieces on "I Often Dream Of Trains" are small gems, ranging in style from modern classical to country to folk to rock, flowing effortlessly one into another. They make the most sense as a whole, even though Hitchcock did not have a concept or set styles in mind as he wrote and recorded the songs nor had sat down deliberately to write them at all. They simply came, he says in one of the interview segments, and he let them develop with little interference. He then continues to say that he feels that the material was best interpreted and understood by others, and not himself. The songs were the psychological outpourings driven by what needed to be vented out, and we the listeners are there to have the distanced perspective to be able to hear and shape meanings that were perhaps consciously unavailable to the composer himself. Is this true in all artists' work, or all of Hitchcock's own work? No. But with "I Often Dream Of Trains," there is enough nuance and space left for wondering.

The first time I heard the title song, I was utterly struck by what was, to me, so clearly a song about life and death: leaving one world for the unknown of another, or leaving and never arriving anywhere ever again. Our traveler boards the train in a mindscape of little towns and stations and trees and fields and cities, passing too quickly from summer to autumn to winter, hopeful his destiny is "paradise," but always waiting for eternity, paradise never revealed in "Basingstoke...or Reading."

The final verse rarely fails to bring tears to my eyes, in that universal, core longing: the need to believe that we in some way will live after death, and be reunited with those we love, even when we know it cannot be. To reconnect, to hold close, to reverse a loss that seems unbearable...we cannot stop trying to change what is impossible to change, so we reach out, and dream.

I often dream of trains when I'm with you
I wonder if you dream about them too
Maybe we'll meet one night
Out in the corridor
I'm waiting for

Robyn Hitchcock, "I Often Dream Of Trains"

It doesn't matter if I "correctly" interpreted Hitchcock's lyrical intent, not to him or me or you. The point is that he was able to make something that ended up being important and transcendent, for me and so many other people. This is why "I Often Dream Of Trains" was filmed, and I hope you don't wait four years to see it like I did.

Thank you, Robyn.