We have this friend who’s obsessed with Jonathan Richman. She’s fine, really, until something reminds her of a Richman lyric. Which happens pretty much every day. It’s like how Seinfeld fanatics can’t go to bakeries, airline ticket counters or parking garages without saying, “Remember that episode … ?” Richman, like Seinfeld, is an observationist — he’s spot-on with his musings on lesbian bars, parties, rock and roll, uptight assholes, Boston, summer and tandem jumping (and all that was on just one album).
Also like Seinfeld, Richman has that whole childlike, sparkly eyed, Peter Pan thing going on. Seinfeld’s television character eats cereal for dinner and reveres Superman; Richman has a voice full of wonder, writes profoundly simple songs and dresses not to make a statement but because his mother once told him he had to wear clothes. As a matter of fact, consider Richman’s entire appearance — the hangdog face, the knobby nose, the dark and curly coif, the skinny ass. Add some stubble and a couple of bags under the eyes, and you’ve got yourself an underground-rock-star Seinfeld.
So, yeah, these lovable, dorky observationists are always winning people over. Like our friend, who left one summer for an internship in New York and came back with a bunch of burned CDs and a goofy grin. Seems she stayed with a couple in Brooklyn who had all of Richman’s work, from his time with the Modern Lovers to his time with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, through his country period and his Latin period. The couple also had a CD burner when no one else did, and this is how our friend was baptized into the cult of Richman, which she has since found to be a pervasive and enduring religious fixture across the globe.
She tells the story of when she saw Richman and his longtime drummer Tommy Larkins play the Bottleneck in Lawrence. She had told her newspaper she couldn’t take an assignment that night, which is something you just don’t do in the world of journalism, but she did it anyway, all for Richman. She was right up against the short little stage, singing along with Richman’s ode to his utmost inspiration, Velvet Underground, and she turned to see none other than her managing editor, to whom she had told a fat lie to get out of work. They eyed each other, nodded and never spoke of it again.
When the concert ended, our friend showed herself up a little flight of wooden stairs to the backstage area, where Richman, regrettably, was too catatonic to engage in conversation. Downstairs at the bar, our friend’s boyfriend had greater success. He stumbled into a drinking contest with drummer Tommy Larkins — much to the dismay of our friend, because what did her boyfriend know about the Jonathan Richman experience, anyway?
So what we’re saying is, if Richman were smart, he’d release a boxed set around Christmas.