Though I can’t dig up the issue to prove it, the backstory is supposedly this: In 1973, Creem magazine ran something negative on The Four Seasons, arguing that rock music demanded a “masculine arrogance.” Never one to stand for the besmirching of sweetness, Jonathan “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” Richman sent them a brief what-for.
For a reminder of what Richman does think of masculine arrogance, I added a little “Pablo Picasso” at the bottom. Though the tune was recorded in 1972, it wasn’t released until 1976 on The Modern Lovers’ eponymous debut. At the time of the letter, the band was still underground enough that the editor felt the need to add the explanatory note at the end.
Recently I went on a Jonathan Richman YouTube kick, possibly instigated by my hearing “Egyptian Reggae” in a rum commercial (hey, don’t hate, even Modern Lovers gotta pay those bills). When I came across this 1984 appearance on Spanish television, I was struck by two things. First of all, the program he’s on, Arsenal, is actually in Catalan, a language effectively banned in Spain up until 1975, now spoken by a cultural minority. Catalan has an extremely heavy political history in Spain, but it’s pretty esoteric to see the title, “Who’s Afraid of Jonathan Richman?” in Catalan.
Second, amidst a fantastic performance with Modern Lovers, Brennan Totten and Andy Paley, you see Jonathan performing little skits in additional video content, narrating the story of his first guitar, and actually talking about his fame. Anyone familiar with Richman knows that while he’s an incredibly garrulous performer, offstage he often seems very averse to talking to press or journalists. This appearance is a rare and sweet moment of insight into his genuine enthusiasm for what he does.
The set list:
1) Ice Cream Man
2) This Kind of Music
3) Wipe Out
4) I’m a Little Dinosaur
5) La Bamba
6) Rockin’ Rockin’ Leprechauns
7) The Beach
8) The UFO Man
9) Let’s Take a Trip
10) Vincent Van Gogh
11) Give Paris One More Chance
12) Chewing Gum Wrapper
13) That Summer Feeling
A youthful Jonathan Richman and a surprisingly (for the time) clear-eyed John Cale interviewed on After Dark by Aussie TV host Donnie Sutherland when the pair played some dates together down under in 1983. Richman describes their Australian gigs as “Bozo the Clown opening for Jean-Paul Sartre.’
Jello Biafra was on the same show, but sadly there’s not video of that on YouTube.
In the clip below, Cale sings “Chinese Envoy” accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar:
Don’t you love it when wonderful people find each other? Bub’s dude said “They telepathically shared meditation techniques”. Of course they did.
Of all the proto-punk auteurs and of all the famous Internet cats, there is no more potent combination that that of Jonathan Richman and Lil Bub.
There will be an impulse by many to infantilize this moment in glorious Internet cat/music history, the famously earnest Richman, Lil Bub with her adorable physical anomalies. But I maintain this is no less than a beacon! A sign that there is goodness in this world, and that we’re just beginning to live.
One of the better ones is this show that was taped on January 10,1969 in Boston, at the Velvets’ “home away from home,” The Boston Tea Party nightclub.
Future Modern Lover and huge Velvets fan Jonathan Richman was often in the audience during the Boston shows:
“Sometimes you just plain couldn’t figure out where on the stage those strange sounds and harmonics were coming from, because of the eerie calm with which they played and improvised in front of you, and because every time they’d come to town they’d introduce at least one new song that would, for better or worse, sound like nothing else that had gone before in rock music.”
The opening act that night were folk freaks The Holy Modal Rounders.
There’s a particularly good take of “Move Right In” (with a Moe Tucker savagely pounding her floor toms), nice readings of quieter numbers like “I’m Set Free” and “Candy Says”; and a great rave-up of “I Can’t Stand It.” It ends, natch, with a roof-raising “Sister Ray.”
The whole thing sounds great for an old audience recording, but it sounds so much better if you REALLY CRANK IT.
1. Heroin (0:00)
2. Move Right In (8:26)
3. I’m Set Free (13:12)
4. Run Run Run (17:49)
5. I’m Waiting For The Man (25:39)
6. What Goes On (34:35)
7. I Can’t Stand It (39:05)
8. Candy Says (45:23)
9. Beginning To See The Light (50:10)
10. White Light/White Heat (56:00)
11. Pale Blue Eyes (61:42)
12. Sister Ray (68:10)
Poor guy. I’m sure all he wanted was to talk to the founder of The Modern Lovers, but all he got was Richman’s now notorious silent treatment. I’ve heard quite a few journalists and fans revel in some variation of this same story, delighting in the perceived eccentricity of a man who says he’s taking care of his voice and avoids contact with crowds if he can help it.
For the record, I’ve seen Jonathan Richman twice (once for his Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild tour- amazing). He made quite a bit of whispered small talk and took pictures with my friend and me. Maybe his voice is sensitive, maybe he has social anxiety, maybe he just prefers fans to sweaty music journalists trying to get an interview. Regardless, in my book, he seems nothing short of a swell guy with a couple of lovely idiosyncrasies.