Ramon, who maintains the simply awesome "Jonathan Richman Chords Site" webpage sent me this personal story so it could be posted here on the blog.
It's interesting to read these kind of stories as Jonathan isn't the easiest artist to find out about and it can take years to traverse his catalog! I've often wondered what path other fans have taken in their discovery of JR.
If anyone else has any cool Jonathan stories send 'em and we'll post 'em!
There hasn't been that much activity on the blog and it's been 15 years since I started my website, so I thought I would send in this note …
I first heard Jonathan while visiting my brother back in 1991. I was at his place for a few days and he told me I should really listen to this cd and he put in the "Modern Lovers Live." From the first chords of "I'm a Little Airplane" I was interested but when I heard "Ice Cream Man" I was hooked. Somehow the cd ended up with me after the visit (don't worry, I returned it later) and I became a life long fan.
Slowly I heard more and more as I bought what I could find of his work. Ok, I became somewhat obsessed. One could still find many of his CDs and records then in local record stores (it has been a while since I have perused local stores, maybe one can still find them). All of it I loved. Well, perhaps not all. My brother warned me that Jonathan's earlier work was quite different and while I avoided the earlier stuff for a long time, my obsession eventually drew me to buying those cds. I know I'm in the minority here but I found it hard to listen to and I to this day have trouble understanding its popularity.
But the idea of a hard rock punk artist turning his back on his band and moving into a completely different style, almost childlike in its innocence, was intriguing to me. The stubbornness and determination he had to completely change his direction, often against the will of the audience who came to his shows, was frankly inspiring. I normally have little patience for simple songs that children would like, but I've never grown tired of "I'm a little Dinosaur" or "Chewing Gum Wrapper" even after all this time. Part of the reason has to be that underneath the simplicity of the songs is the hard choice that Jonathan made; the songs, though often simple, have a layer of seriousness and complexity under the surface. Well that and the songs are simply great (and often beautiful, "Springtime" still brings tears to my eyes).
A few years later (sometime in the spring of 1998) I became a part the leadership of a church group for children in grades three to six. We would do different fun activities, about once a week, such as movie nights, visits to various local sites etc. I was asked to lead an evening with the kids and I said I would do a performance for them. Since I was still obsessed with Jonathan's music and since it seemed entirely appropriate for children, the performance was going to be entirely of Jonathan Richman songs.
I had a guitar but I was (and still am) a rank beginner at playing so I knew I needed help. Two of my best friends played guitar and were willing to assist, so for a couple of weeks before the performance we transcribed and practiced a bunch of Jonathan's songs. I looked online for help with how to play the songs but I found almost nothing. So we had to do it ourselves. I don't remember the exact playlist but it was a selection from "Modern Lovers Live" and "Back in your Life." The performance was fun (I was the dinosaur) and the only performance ever in which I played a prominent role.
After it was over I had all these transcriptions of lyrics and chords and I wasn't sure what to do with them. I couldn't find much help when I wanted to know how to play the songs so I figured others could use some help. So in October of 1998 I started the website. Initially I was just going to post what we had done but people (from the old mailing list) sent in more versions and I kept finding more cds to buy so the site kept expanding.
For three years I worked at lyrics and chords for all the cds I had. I knew I wasn't a good guitar player but I figured I would give people a start. My goal was to post the lyrics and at least one version of chords for every Jonathan song out there. But every time I thought I was getting close to done, I would find another cd I didn't already have or people would send me bootlegs. Sometime at the end of 2001 I ran out of some enthusiasm for the project partly because I had done all the chords I knew how to do and because the large number of bootlegs I had left to transcribe (and because I started to get obsessed with Tom Waits).
I left it for a couple of years and only started to work again on the website in 2004. The Castle reissues of the earlier material got me interested again so I started once more working on the lyrics. I have done little work myself on the chords for the songs since 2001 since I don't have the skill. Almost everything since then has been lyric transcriptions. But I stopped again in 2006, again running low on enthusiasm.
I only really picked it up again last year. I don't know exactly why I lose enthusiasm for the work at times. I often have trouble believing people still find the site useful (and closely listening to dozens of versions of songs can get tedious). But many people have sent me notes of thanks and appreciation over the years (not to mention the many contributions of chords and foreign language translations). Still I am not sure people need 26 lyric versions of Ice Cream Man or not. But perhaps they do.
What keeps me doing this? Part of it is that no one else is. But that isn't enough. The real reason is that Jonathan's music is so compelling. And often it takes more than one listen to appreciate. I haven't always been a great fan of his more recent material but the more I listen to it, the more it grows on me. And of course he is such a wonderful live performer. I have only heard him live twice, both were memorable, and listening to so many bootlegs it feels like I heard him live many times.
I am determined to do lyric transcriptions to all I have (which is about 50 more bootlegs than I currently have listed on the site). But at the rate he performs live I know I'll never catch up.