Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man...
--Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
I mentioned in my last post that I passed on seeing Austin Lucas. The $8 cover seemed a bit too large an expenditure. Jonathan Richman, on the other hand, I wasn't going to miss. I mean, c'mon--a guy whose first album was produced by John Cale and who's gotten props from everyone from Bob Dylan to the Sex Pistols? That's a guy who's worth paying $15 to see. I didn't need to eat that badly this week anyway.
"Torn Curtain" by Television was playing on the jukebox when I got down to Neurolux. That seemed rather appropriate (Richman spent some time in New York in the late 60's). I bought a beer, staked out a booth and put on "Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks. I love sitting near the windows and listening to that song as the evening sun goes down.
I drank my beer and watched people trickle in. A pretty substantial crowd had built up by the time that the show began. It seemed evenly split between the Bengay brigade (40/50/60-somethings) and youngish hipster types. I saw quite a few familiar faces: the owner of Neurolux and Pengilly's, Sam and Catherine Merrick, Josh Gross, Jeremy Jensen from the Very Most (I think), Ben Turner from Range Life, and a good number of folks whom I always see around but whose names I don't know.
Jonathan Richman took the stage at a little after nine o'clock with only a drummer and an amplified Spanish guitar, which he played much better than I'd somehow expected. Within seconds of his first song, nearly everyone in the bar moved up as close as they could to the stage. Someone I spoke with later believed that they did that because of the lack of amplification. Personally, I think that it had much more to do with Richman's stage presence. He was just so open, so friendly, so goofy, so seemingly guileless. I wanted to cheer the guy on or give him a hug or something.
"If you're not gonna dance, gimme a beat," Richman told the audience at one point. "Otherwise I'm gonna think it's a concert, and I hate concerts." The audience was more than happy to oblige him. At one point, he put down his guitar, picked up some sleigh bells and did some charmingly awkward dancing. Well, it looked awkward, anyway: I noted that the jingle of the sleigh bells kept the drummer's beat perfectly. I also noted the James Brown quotation that Richman slyly snuck into another song a little later.
While Richman didn't play any of the Modern Lovers chestnuts that any past or present punk-rockers in the crowd might have hoped for ("Roadrunner," "Pablo Picasso," etc.), his selection of older and newer material was so sharply written and performed that no one seemed to mind. My personal favorites were "My Affected Accent," a hilarious apology for youthful pretensions ("I drawled like William F. Buckley does./ Uuuuhhhhh./ I should've been bullied more than I was.") and "Bohemia," a fond, clear-eyed portrait of the man as a young artist.
Throughout the show, his strong material and endearing stage presence enabled him to slip past any defenses that the audience might have had and achieve the intimacy and engagement that both punks and folkies strive for. "No one was like Vermeer," he sang in one song. Though he may have set the template for folks like Beat Happening and Daniel Johnston, no one's quite like Jonathan Richman either.