Sunday, September 24

Interview from Q Magazine (from back in 1993) continued...

Part 3

But don’t you think you gave people reason to doubt your sanity when, in the late ‘70s, you came amongst us singing those songs of insects, ice cream, and the playpen other?

“I just sing them, Tom, I sing then and I let other people interpret them. I just play them. People can like them or not like them. I’m not out to win a popularity contest. Did you ever hear a rumour that I’m a karate expert? That’s not true – but it makes a good story.”

What does a line like “I go to bakeries all day long/There’s a lot of sweetness in my life” (from Hospital) mean? Or was it “lack of sweetness” and it was…

“I just answered that question Tom. I just sing them I don’t interpret them. I sang that in 1970. That’s when I made it up. Why not sing about it? That’s what happened. I went to bakeries. Didn’t you ever go to a bakery? What’s wrong with that? It’s something that just comes from life, so I think you’re overstating it. But I still like my songs and I’m glad you like them too.”

In 1977, at the height of Jonathan Richman’s flickering flame, he played at the Hammersmith Odeon and outside the venue large, red letters proclaimed: “JONATHAN RICHMAN – THE MOST FUN YOU CAN HAVE WITH YOUR CLOTHES ON”. Heady days, what?

“Well I didn’t suggest that line, you know, I looked at that and I said, All right, what idiot thought up this Most Fun With Your Clothes On schtick? And my good friend Eugene Manzi (then Beserkley publicist) said, Well that was me. So that was all that was. That was not the highlight of my career. I wasn’t thrilled with that 1977, 1978 era when I was famous in London. It wasn’t my idea of rollicking excitement. When I get nostalgic, I get nostalgic for a show I did in 1972 in Boston in a club called The Stone Phoenix and there were about 200 people there and it just got emotional the way I like shows to get emotional. There was communication between me and the audience. I can’t explain it. I really can’t. I don’t want to talk about it. I just do the songs.”

Richman lives in California, in the Sierra Nevadas, with his wife, Gail, and a son and daughter. He still sings about Boston.

“Boston. You see, this is the kind of stuff I like talking about. This is fine. There’s something about Boston that is… I’m tripping over my words here because Boston affected me the way a lot of cities don’t. It’s got a kind of sad beauty to it. You know what it reminds me of? Belfast. There’s a certain feeling. Van Morrison, his Astral Weeks album, a lot of those songs were written in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s from Belfast. I listen to that record a lot and I think Boston, Cambridge again. I went to Cypress Avenue in Belfast. I found it. I went there. Van Morrison is my favourite singer. I met him briefly when I was a kid. Not so’s he would remember.”

If he likes to talk of Boston, there’s not much else that seems to thrill him, conversationally-speaking. “Break time!” he cries once more, and goes skidding off in loosening-up mode, alarming the traffic all over again.

go back to part 2

(To be continued)

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