Wednesday, July 30


Uploaded for your pleasure, from Follow My Voice, a fantastic documentary about the Wig in a Box album. This clip is the interview and documentary bit about Jonathan:

Sunday, July 13

starving hearts
Jonathan Richman by Jeffery Simpson

Lunchbucket, thank you for sharing the experience you had in Vancouver. It's unfortunate that your parents' first Jonathan Richman concert was in such a chaotic setting and I hope it won't put them off attending another one. Jonathan is a seasoned professional when it comes to unruly mobs and that's part of what makes him so remarkable — his ability to maintain his equanimity and focus. I'm sure that he has seen just about every kind of turnout during his nonstop touring over the years and lots of times he doesn't connect with everyone, and not everyone present will be a fan. But the ones who are potentially on his wavelength are the ones he performs for, whether they be few or many, and I have been to quite a few of his shows that began with disrespectful audiences and ended with everyone under his spell. I can't recall hearing of a single instance when he actually left a performance because the house was being difficult although in the situation you describe it's easy to see why any performer would be tempted. His is a class act all the way and his commitment to his following is a part of his commitment to his art and craft. He has said that "he promised himself that if it ever became work instead of fun he'd quit that day. And... if it ever does, he will." (his words, referring to himself in the third person)

There's still magic for him in making a spark with a crowd and let's hope that there always will be, right up to the time someday when everyone's finally dignified and old together.

video: Jeffery Simpson

Saturday, July 12

Richards on Richards, July 2 2008

I recently went to a concert the Richards on Richards concert in Vancouver BC, Canada to see Jonathan Richman. I was excited to finally take my parents to a concert with an artist they had never seen live, particularly because I had seen him a couple years before and it was one of the best shows I've been to. I was really appalled by what we ended up witnessing.

Jonathan is always sublime, but his fans in Vancouver are a drunken disrespectful lot. My parents watched slews of girls chugging beer, yelling his name in between songs, and then talking loudly to each other when he started to play. People in the audience who weren't incoherently drunk were shouting out either "ice cream man" or "Vampire Girl", as if he were a performing monkey. As if he'd FORGOTTEN his number one hits. They were relentless. When he came back for an encore, people were screaming his name and all the songs they wanted him to play. He threatened to leave twice, but nobody heard him. He looked out at them very sadly, and began to play his first song.

When he finished, they yelled at him louder still. He tried to talk, but stopped, because nobody was listening. Tommy went and stood by the door, but Jonathan stayed there, holding his guitar, and waiting for people to be quiet. We sat there for three minutes watching his sad face, listening to the yelling and screaming. It didn't die down. He started in on a sad quiet song about sitting at his mother's deathbed and learning from watching her. Everyone was still talking. A group of girls by the side of the stage were trying to get Tommy to talk to them DURING THE SONG. I felt so sick. How can people who love his music and identify with him be such simple minded self absorbed jerks?

In any case, it was a beautiful song. I love hearing his new stuff because it's never disappointing, and it's always catchy and fun on its first listen. The old stuff is fine, and he always plays it differently, making it fun to listen to as well, but if I wanted to hear Pablo Picasso the same way as it is on the CD, I'd have stayed at home.

The highlight of the night? One of the classy girls trying to get with Tommy jumped up on the stage mid concert, and mid song, to leave a message for Jonathan at his feet. After he finished playing, he read the message to himself for a while. He went up to the mic and said, "it seems we have a request." He then sang a song about people wanting love and attention, and how much some people crave it, and how superficial that want can be, etc. The girl turned to her friends and said, "That's weird. All I wrote on it was my number!"


Tuesday, July 8

Review: The Aladdin Theater, Portland, Oregon, July 5th, 2008

I Know Why The Aged Hippie Sings

The concert was the entire reason for going on this trip. Because clearly, driving 13.5 hours total to see Jonathan Richman wasn't quite enough, so we had to up it to 20 hours and change. I called my sister the day I found out Jonathan was playing in Portland. I had taken her to the show in Salt Lake City, and now she love love loved Jonathan even more than I prayed for. (Okay, that was the first and last terrible Jonathan pun.) So I phoned her up

Randi: Kelsey, Jonathan is playing in Portland! Do you want to go?
Kelsey: Why do you ask such stupid questions? Of course!!

I am a firm believer that all it takes to get one of your friends from lukewarm to love is to take them to one of Jonathan's shows. There's something about him that makes you think that he's playing just for you, and whether you enjoy it or not is the most important thing on his mind. My friend Cathy has always put up with my appreciation of Jonathan, and has come to like him herself. I figured if I could con her into coming along on this trip, she would love him. I knew it would be true.

So that is how we all wound up standing in front of the Aladdin Theater on a Saturday night, waiting for the doors to open. We had not gotten there as early as I would have liked to, and I knew we weren't going to get front row seats. I was trying desperately not to let it harsh my mellow. 5 minutes before the doors opened, I saw someone familiar walking by the line. It was Tommy, and by the signs of the line, I was the only one who noticed him hanging out. As it turns out, I am, in fact, a chicken, and did not say a word to him, but merely gawked in my pathetic excitement. This also lends creedence to the deeply held belief of family and friends that, if I ever got to meet Jonathan, I would do something clever and eloquent like throw up on his shoes. *eyeroll*

The doors opened, and we rushed into the theater, ending up with 4th row. One thing about the Aladdin: there are actual seats. I am not so sure I'm with this for a Jonathan concert. We tried to rock out during "lesbian bar", but there's only so much you can do in a seat. But we were close enough that our view of the stage was excellent, so i was excited. In the viewings category, I noticed Jonathan backstage with a group of people.

Cathy: Who's that chick with him?
Randi: It looks like...oh holy hell, that's his wife.

She walked out one of the side doors and down the aisle. General consensus: she's cute. So is the tiny dog she was carrying with her.

It is at this point in the review that the concert actually starts. Jonathan was his own opener, and you could feel the love in the room as he walked out on stage. He could have sung "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and we all would have been right there with him. As it turns, out that was not his first choice, and he instead opened with "Let Her Go Into The Darkness". During the concert, we got to hear "Here Come the Martian Martians", with verses that I'd never heard before, about the Martians watching Mtv and listening to the radio. Jonathan warned us that

Here come the Martian Martians/ They're just like me or you/ if you insult their taste in music/ you're gonna hurt their feelings too
However, the best line of the song was undoubtably:

Now their underwear are sagging/ how much more can we take?/ now they dance just like Madonna/ and that Justin Timberlake

the crowd met that line with an appreciative roar of laughter, and Jonathan beamed. He couldn't have asked for a better crowd, and seemed to realize that, as he was in the best mood I have ever seen him in. We hung on his every word, even when he played songs in French, Spanish, and Italian that not everyone knew. he had a sense of humor about even this, while singing "El Joven Se Estremece", he joked, while singing the chorus, "Everybody!"

He sang "Lesbian Bar", and the whole audience sang along, dancing in their chairs as best they could. Cathy turned to me, smiling brightly and said "He's great!" She smiled for the rest of the concert, watching Jonathan with as much joy as I did.

Jonathan gave us a monologue on how "Our parents meant the best for us, with those sterile suburbs with the manicured lawns. They wanted the best for the next generation". But in his case, he wanted the hubbub of the city, the smell of the diesel, and went right into the 'The World Was Showing Its Hand". He also had a discussion with the young man inside his head before "Couples must Fight"

Young Jonathan: Jonathan, me and my girlfriend never fight, we've been dating about 3 years now, and we never fight, isn't that great?
Old Jonathan: Well, you see, young man. *Dramatically puts his hand on his chin and thinks* In my experience, not fighting is a sign of...deeper problems. Perhaps you're the exception! But in my experience, couples must fight.

As far as new songs, he pulled out "Older Girl", which I absolutely love, and if anyone has any sort of recording of it, please indulge me. The song is funny and a little sad, about how even the ice and snow were telling him he was just too young for that older girl, and all he could think to say to her were the things 14 year old boys say to 15 year old girls. He also played the song that he played at the Makeout room, which I'm guessing is called "Stultified". You can see it here, it's the second song, the first one is "Es Como El Pan". He played a song about how he can barely say goodbye to his wife sometimes, and how he loves the way she decorates and basically everything she does. It was unbelievably adorable, and I have no clue what it was called.

He led the entire crowd in a rendition of "The Cellphone Song", which is great no matter how many times I hear it. When he asked himself what he was going to do when there were no more payphones, his answer was a simple "Well...I don't know!"

When it came time for the concert to wrap up, the entire crowd protested with a sad "AWWWWWW". despite the fact that he played for a good hour and a half. He played 3 encores, and then, picking up a note someone had put on the stage, sang Happy Birthday to a member of the audience. Then he left the stage, and we were all left basking in the glow of another fantastic Jonathan concert.

Afterwards, we went to VooDoo Doughnut, where I had a doughnut with Tang on. It was delicious, but the best part of the whole evening was when Cathy turned to me as we left the theater and said "I really hope he's playing when we go to San Francisco. Or we could crash in Seattle or Denver to go see him too!" Oh Jonathan, you've done it yet again.

Set List (Maybe not complete, and certainly not in order)
Let Her Go Into the Darkness
Es Como El Pan
Couples Must Fight
Time Has Been Going By So Fast
Here Come the Martian Martians
Stultified (?)
Sometimes we can barely say Goodbye (?)
I was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar
Egyptian Reggae
El Joven Se Estremece
The Lovers are Here
Les Printemps De Amoreux
This Romance Will Be Different For Me
Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild
Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eyeshadow
Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love
En Che Mondo Viviamo
He Gave Us The Wine
The World Was Showing Its Hand
Older Girl
The Cellphone Song
No One Was Like Vermeer
Happy Birthday

More pictures at my flickr

Monday, July 7

Interview #22 :Glenn MERCER from the FEELIES

The Feelies, a mythical band is often in many friends of mine top 10 list for best bands which ever existed. They lasted gloriously a bit more than 15 years splitting in 1991 after having released 4 albums which were as vital to rock as those from the Velvet Underground a decade before. Johan Kugelberg writes in Ugly Things #26 : "(...)White soul : if black folks have Solomon Burke, James Brown and Wilson Pickett, us white folks can consider the troika of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, the Feelies and Penguin Café Orchestra".

All the Feelies members, but Bill Million, kept on playing music in other projects after the end of the band, for information about the band and its musicians go to: the night of the living Feelies (
On July 4th in NYC, the band reunited for a concert at Battery Park after warming up gigs had been going on the previous days at Maxwell's in Hoboken, where the Feelies played a lot in the past.

Glenn Mercer is one of the 2 guitar players of the Feelies, a band which had also two drummers and a girl bass player. I have to admit that Glenn is one of my heroes, I have followed his career since the very first Feelies album and last year he released "wheels in motion" a beautiful CD which had that distinctive Feelies touch. Just before the Feelies reunion show, Glenn agreed to answer my questions, he kept on posting as the band was rehearsing. I would like to thank him now for the care he took sending me his answers day after day.
"Crazy rythms" the first LP, in the middle of the picture Bill and Glenn, 30 years ago...

- When your first LP (“Crazy rythms”) was released in Europe in 1980 on Stiff records it was a shock for a lot of us. We had found a sequel to the line initiated by the Velvets and followed by the Modern Lovers. And those crazy rhythms sounded so fresh and natural. Something new was obviously starting. So had the velvets and the Lovers really influenced you?

Yes, we were influenced by the Velvet Underground and the Modern Lovers, as well as the musicians who had influenced them like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly through the Beatles, Stones and Who, then, later, MC-5, Stooges, Alice Cooper, T-Rex, NY Dolls (the list goes on).

- Your sound was original based on what I used to call duelling guitars - you and Bill - but your trademark was the speeding up of the rhythm along one song. I loved that concept and when “the good earth” came out after all those years of waiting it was just fabulous because these constant accelerations were everywhere to be heard on the album. Could you comment on that ?

We always tried to take an 'organic' approach when arranging a song, the idea being to allow for the natural dynamic of the material to develop, so the song would follow a path that would, hopefully, take the listener on a journey. In other words, during the course of the song, it might develop from one place to another by the end, through the interaction of the parts. I prefer to think of the guitars as being 'woven' together, rather than 'duelling' with each other.

Feelies ad in1991

- Now to come to Jonathan, did you ever see the Modern Lovers on stage ? If you had that luck, what are the memories you keep from that time ?

How did you become familiar with Jonathan Richman’s music ?

I was fortunate enough to have seen the original line-up of the Modern Lovers, with John Felice on guitar, when Jonathan didn't play any guitar, he only sang. They were the opening band for the New York Dolls on New Year's Eve in 1972. I had read an interview with him in Interview Magazine and was intrigued by his point of view about performing, but that didn't prepare me for the intensity of the show - they blew the Dolls away, which was hard to do because the Dolls were the 'hip' band of the moment.

Jonathan was wearing a cardigan sweater and, needless to say, looked rather shocking in the midst of the 'glam-rock' crowd. I was impressed that such a plain looking group could seem more outrageous than the band wearing make-up and glitter. At that moment, the distinction was clear to me, and it was like the 'changing-of-the-guard'.

- The Feelies have covered some of Jonathan’s songs. It is funny because as time went on you were covering older and older songs starting with “Egyptian reggae”, then it was “Roadrunner” and eventually “I wanna sleep in your arms”. Is there a reason for that ?

July 4th Battery park, l-r, Glenn and Bill Milion, © Jason Bergman

We didn't plan it that way. We started doing "Egyptian Reggae" in the Willies (our instrumental side-project) and first played "Roadrunner" when we ran out of songs during an extended series of encores one night. I remember that Brenda wasn't too familiar with the song and seemed a little reluctant to play it 'on-the-spot'. We explained that it was just two chords and she agreed to play it. But we had forgotten to mention the part that stops when Jonathan sings "Roadrunner once, etc.", but she fell in place pretty quick. I think we decided to play "Sleep in Your Arms" because the other two had always gone well with the audience. We also felt that the earlier Modern Lovers material fit our sound more than the later and solo stuff.

- Were all members of the band fans of Jonathan’s or the choice of these covers were more individual ones ?

We never talked that much about the Modern Lovers or Jonathan Richman. If I remember right, it was Stan who suggested doing a cover of "Sleep in Your Arms", so I think he's a fan. Bill was also at the Lovers/Dolls show and I know he was as impressed as I was by the performance. I'm pretty sure that everyone liked the Modern Lovers, I never heard anyone say anything negative about them.

Brenda Sauter , © J. Bergman

- Of course “Roadrunner” with its Bo Didley/Sister Ray beat suited you perfectly, a road song which can be speeded up as well. Could you tell us about that particular song ?

I consider Roadrunner to be a classic car/driving song on one level, and also one of the few good songs about the Rock and Roll genre itself. It's hard to write a rock&roll song about rock&roll, but Jonathan is able to pull it off because of his sincerity and passion for the art-form. The heavily-syncopated rhythm is almost like a 'boogie-beat' in it's relentless drive. It's got a great, catchy chorus that begs you to sing along (you don't have to be a good singer to join in). Another great thing is how he improvises the words at the end in an almost rap-like manner to drive the point home.

- Speaking of covers you were also often covering Patti Smith’s “dancin’ barefoot”. Did you know the riff had been ripped off “Karen” from the Go Betweens, Patti admitted it eventually. My point is you should try to cover “Karen” it is a real gem of a song.

I hadn't heard the song "Karen" before. It came out prior to "Dancing Barefoot"?

"Karen" was released in May 78 as the b-side of the Go-Betweens first single. Patti wrote the lyrics of "dancin' barefoot" towards the end of 78 and it was recorded for Wave in 79.

- Are you familiar with Jonathan’s music evolution ? what do you think of it ?

I'm most familiar with Jonathan's early stuff, especially the Modern Lovers and his early solo work. As far as the evolution, I appreciate the sound of his songs with a rocking band like the Modern Lovers, but I also get the appeal of the stripped-down, low-key, approach. I think the gtr/voc./perc. line-up that he's used most recently is perfect for him now. I really liked his performance in the film 'Something About Mary'. He seems relaxed, direct and sincere.

- You had a substantial following in Europe as still does Jonathan. Do you think your music and his have something to which Europeans can relate to and which is less obvious in the US ?

That's hard for me to determine. I guess having the distance of the geographical and cultural divides provides a different perspective, as seen from the outside. There's also an inherent novelty attached to something foreign. I can't say I feel as if the Feelies are any more appreciated 'abroad' than in the U.S.

- What would be your favourite Jonathan song ?

It's probably "Roadrunner", the obvious choice. I also really like "She Cracked". I guess it's kind of a toss-up between those two.

- I have the impression that being from New Jersey was the same kind of inspiration to your music than Jonathan being from New England. What is the quality you find on these East coast states ?

I'm not sure if that connection to 'place' is related to the East Coast as much as it is a connection to our past in relation to our environment. I've always felt my 'roots' were firmly planted in this area and the types of sounds I'm surrounded by have been an influence. I also feel strongly affected by the changing seasons and the various weather variables, as opposed to a more constant climate. That might be another factor.

- Would you have any anecdote related to Jonathan ?

I went to the Modern Lovers/N.Y.Dolls show with a friend, and when the M.C. came out to introduce Jonathan and the band, my friend said "Hey, that's my cousin". So, after the show, he invited us backstage to hang-out awhile.

I thought about approaching Jonathan to tell him how much I enjoyed the set, but he seemed to be in some sort of trance, so I left him alone.

- Now let’s come to the Feelies reunion, the musical event of the year for me. How did you manage to bring Bill back after he had resigned from music for 15 years?

Not much, really. We just asked him. We had been considering a reunion for a few years. The timing just worked out.

- You are sharing the bill of the Battery Park festival with Sonic Youth, how do you feel about it ?

Since the past few nights have been so incredible, and the show is tomorrow, I'm really excited about it.

- How are the rehearsals going? Are you enjoying playing together again?

Rehearsals went great. We work real hard and get things done. We worked on about 33 songs, so there's a lot to choose from.

Rehearsing in June 2008, l-R, Brenda, Glenn, Dave, Bill and Stan

- Is there any project of a tour in the US or over to Europe ?

We have no plans that are worked out. We've all agreed to play more, but not likely to tour at this point..