by Rick Cornell
There were warning signs from the start. The first two Web sites encountered during a little table-setting—the Vapor Records site and Richman’s MySpace page—delivered direct hits to my optimism. “Please note that Jonathan Richman does not have any direct involvement with the Vapor Records Web site and does not participate in the Internet on any level,” offered the former in polite parentheses. And the latter helpfully (and equally as politely, although the host did raise his or her voice twice) pointed out, “Please be aware that I am NOT Jonathan Richman nor has he anything to do with this here site—it's strictly unofficial and fan run. Just as—to my knowledge—EVERY internet site dedicated to Mr. Richman is.”
Thus, I wasn’t surprised when his manager told me that Richman hasn’t done print interviews for years, engaging in only the occasional TV or radio spot. And with that, a rather crucial component of “Five Words with Jonathan Richman” went missing. But the show must go on though.
Please be aware that I am NOT Jonathan Richman nor did he have anything to do with these here responses.
Give yourself a dime for every “proto-punk” you run across in a Richman write-up, and finance a trip to Extremadura (see below) and back. He’s always had a DIY streak a mile wide, and he percolates on raw energy—certainly two main punk ingredients. But that tag fits high-strung early rockabillies, ’60s teens playing in their garages, primal bluesman, and a bunch of other subsets. More importantly, there would have been no Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers if there hadn’t been a Velvet Underground, who a post-Lovers Richman celebrated with a song by their name.
Ever since its creation by Al Gore and Ryan Schreiber, the Internet has been used for both good (Soul Sides) and evil (any self-absorbed blog—in other words, 98% of them). Richman is apparently a glass-half-empty guy when it comes to the Web—or, more accurately, a glass entirely full of evil. I was hoping to find out whether this was more of a Luddite thing (see his single “You can have a cell phone that’s okay but not me”) or distrust of the Internet’s ability to instantly broadcast and spread information and misinformation.
The band he led in the ’70s and ’80s was named the Modern Lovers, and that group’s signature song “Roadrunner” references “modern moonlight.” Yet Richman’s stripped-down, peeled-back approach to music and his no-use-for-computers stance are the antithesis of modern. What gives?
My wildcard word. It’s an area in western Spain where Richman has always wanted to play, becoming the first American entertainer to do so.
The description “child-like” shows up almost as often as “proto-punk” in Richman write-ups, and he is nothing if not wide-eyed and fearless. He’s written songs about the superior dance possibilities of gay clubs; about artists and ballplayers and Harpo Marx; and about guitars and cappuccino bars. He’s recorded songs in French and entire albums in Spanish. And I wonder what Richman would have come up with in response to the word “modern.”