Down the wire
Alastair Mabbott tracks down Jonathan Richman. but finds out that this most modern of lovers likes to keep journalists further away than just arm’s length.
‘Jonathan only does interviews by fax now.‘ was
the blunt message. Not a good sign. but cult heroes l
have a mystique to maintain. don‘t they? And few cult heroes‘ names are whispered as reverently as that ofJonathan Richman: erstwhile Modern Lover; the man who sealed his place in rock‘n‘roll history with ‘Roadrunner‘; tasted pop success with the charming/irritating ‘Egyptian Reggae‘; penned cute songs about insects and dinosaurs; and reportedly lost Jerry Harrison to Talking Heads when. faced with the onset of the American new wave, Richman insisted his musicians start turning their guitars down.
Always hip. never fashionable. Richman‘s songs
are characterised by a fresh-faced innocence that‘s
been out of sync with the times ever since the early 605.
‘Only one in twenty thousand has the nervy genius of Iggy or Jonathan ofThe Modern Lovers and is willing to sing about his adolescent hangups in a manner so painfully honest as to embarrass the piss out of halfthe audience,‘ wrote the late Lester Bangs in 1972. But his following isn‘t restricted to connoisseurs like Bangs. or namedroppers. Bob Dylan, in the course of dismissing his own songwriting abilities, said he derived more pleasure from hearing others do it. ‘like that Jonathan Richman. I get a kick out ofthat. I‘d rather listen to that.‘
Richman replies faster than i‘d expected, printing his concise answers in the lines between the questions on the sheet I‘d originally faxed him. He is. in a word. concise.
‘I like Glasgow as a place to play,‘ he scribbles. unprompted. at the top. ‘These shows I do are
. I . , / r ,1 [/1 [1/ I 1,, l I!” ’/, I, @5.
I supposed to be very casual. like a beach party.‘ Does he always do interviews by fax now. or has this restriction been imposed by the conditions of ; touring?
‘It makes it easier even without touring. This way. I don‘t ramble.‘
I wouldn‘t have minded a bit of rambling, honest. And not only because that would make it easier for me. I get to find out that Richman‘s current favourites (his fondness for The Velvet Underground being the stuff oflegend) include The Jody Grind from Atlanta, Georgia. The Skeletons. Skid Roper and The Shadow Casters. and that he lives in California. ‘in a rural zone‘. but some local colour. perhaps a little description of the seasonal changes and mating habits. wouldn‘t have gone amiss.
Despite his low commercial profile, he‘s happy in the music biz— although I don‘t trust a musician who says that when I can‘t see their eyes — adding cheerfully ‘Especially right now. I wouldn‘t change a thing.‘ He doesn‘t begrudge others the column inches in the music press either: "The less ; “information”, the less stuffl have to tell people i isn‘t true.‘
1’— Jonat EThe process of cutting back his band reached
natural conclusion in 1988. since when Richman has been playing solo. with acoustic guitar and the thickest adenoidal twang in pop. Did he strip down the instrumental side because people couldn’t hear the words?
‘Not only do I want people to hear ‘em, I want them tofeel ‘em.‘ he writes. ‘(Yes. in other words.)‘
Questions about his solo status and his last album. Jonathan Goes Country — ‘A one-time thing. I had some songs I thought would sound good done country‘ — spur him into comparative verbosity. revealing that he didn‘t welcome the ‘roots‘ movement that brought attention back to solo singer-songwriters. and providing. probably inadvertantly. the best description ofJonathan Richman you could find.
‘The whole thing was too serious. ifyou ask me. Anyway. I‘m not a solo singer-songwriter. I‘m a rock‘n‘roll guy who doesn‘t need a band.‘
Jonathan Richman plays the Renfrew Ferry, Glasgow on Fri 24.
IASA LITTLE bonustor lastyear are runninga Maylest. the organisers day-long mini-seminaron who set up the New Music Tue 21 . with three sessions. World seminar in Glasgow It takes place at the GFT and
is open to anyone with an are ‘Why do London
interest in the music industry bodies invest so business. although advance little in Scotland and is the Milking '8 adViSEd- Scottish music industry able Admission tee is £5. to be to do anything about it?'; sent to New Music World. “Would a devolved Scottish
em 92 Woodside Terrace Lane. Glasgow G3 7XP. To whet your appetite, the questions to be discussed
music industry provide new opportunities or merely encourage lack oI ambition and small-mindedness?‘
ON FOLLOWING PAGES: LIVING COLOUR O BACHELOR PAD O BUFFALO TOM
and ‘lsthe lack otmedia announced. and it's at
support trom both London 2 Aberdeen Music Hall! and Scotland the major Nevertheless. tickets lorthe obstacle to more Scottish gig are available atall
bands being successiul?’ Paneltists range lrom Pat Kane (‘Iiue And Cry')to Elmo (‘inventor').
I RIDE'S ONLY SCOTTISH l date this year has been
TOCTA agents tor £6.50 (subject to booking tee) and buses are to run Irom Glasgow. Edinburgh. Stirling. Kirkcaldy. Dundee and Perth.
The List 17— 30 May 1991 43