Song of the day – 388: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Another in the series for my friend, French illustrator Vincent Vanoli‘s forthcoming book.
The caption Google translates as, “But what are you doing with those guys, dear?”
It never seemed a big deal to me, to be rock’n’roll. All you had to do was drink more, boast more, brag more. If someone wanted to take me on in a drinking competition, let them. I would always win. I didn’t care whether I woke the next day or not. Most hedonism has a desperate edge. I used to despise the hippies, pretending to be so out there: the ones I lived with in my New Cross Gate squat, end of 1980. Sometimes, they’d be so stoned (man) they’d pretend to forget I was there. Cooked up flour and water over a fire made of stolen supermarket pallets, which also provided the only light and heat in the room, and they called it living. I’d masturbate into piles of old clothes and burn them on the fire later. Their musical tastes amounted to nothing. Less than nothing. Of course, I liked some of them too. Eventually, I had to move out after a terrible day when John Lennon died and all the hippies just crowed. I had a battery-powered radio player, and I huddled under my piles of old clothes and wept.
I didn’t know Jonathan Richman then. I wish I had. It would really have helped. His music has such generosity of spirit. His voice is so open, and full of optimism. He takes childlike delight in most everything. He dances, the way I always imagined myself to dance. He’s not afraid to be vulnerable. His music … his music. ‘I’m Straight’ is more punk than any you can name. Don’t be confused by the polite tone. There’s anger and bile and frustration and repetition and a fuck-you attitude – and a killer riff to match. “I called this number three times already today. But I, I got scared, I put it back in place, I put my phone back in place. I still don’t know if I should have called up. Look. Just tell me, why don’tcha, if I’m out of place. Cos here’s your chance to make me feel awkward and make me wish I’d never called up this place.” Jonathan has such a voice, such a way round a low-key melody and emotive phrase. When he sings, it seems like you can hear the tinkle of magic from somewhere outside the grimy windows and grey skies, the promise that not all pop stars are arrogant, self-loving bores. When he sings, it’s OK to be male and sensitive again. And it’s fine to find beauty in the insignificant details.