(Photo Credit: Ali Holder)
As has happened countless times during my years at KVRX, I've had a revalation of sorts. Sure, I'd listened to Jonathan Richman before, heard (heard of really) the Modern Lovers, was vaguely familiar with his history of shapeshifting between punk rocker and Nashville songster and all that. But I'd never really paid much attention to the records, to the essence as it were, and hadn't seem him live. That changed last weekend thanks to sheer chance. Somewhere between glancing at the map one last time and hitting those oh-so-invigorating 80 mph speed limit signs on I-10, I heard tell that Sir Richman was playing a show at the book store in Marfa the weekend I was planning on being around. Cool. Sure. You don't really question whether you're going to a show in Marfa when there's a show in Marfa. That would be a boring move.
So in we file and sit down on the carpet and there's Ice Cold Lone Star While It Lasts and someone's paid very close attention to the lighting intricacies for the evening and the world is just a comfortable place. There's maybe 40 people around and most of them don't suck, which is a real blessing, and some of them obviously have no clue who Richman is, and that's a sort of blessing in itself as well, because frankly neither do I. Not in the way I will shortly, and will want to from now on. A certain slightly eccentric and absurdly nice NY art professor quizzues me on who this guy is: "Just a guitar and a drummer?" "Mhm." "Well alright, cool." And that's the feeling in the air; unsure, unenlightened, but ready for it. Richman strolls out of the gallery room, soft blues and whites slipping off his shoulders as he steps onto the carpet, picks up his nylon string. Everyone gives him polite applause and a few restrained whistles are heard, a few preemptive "yeaas" to identify allegiance, those sorta pre-show things. And then something wild happens, something discomforting, confusing, beautiful and hilarious all at the same time. That something is Richman; not just his music, his dance, his stoney-eyed (though explicitly sober) facial expressions, finger snaps and cowbell taps. From the first flamenco pluck that drips out of the PAs and fills the tiny bookstore with a Goliathan intensity and Richman's unbridled display of self and heart, his music grasps the audience by its fucking soul and whispers for it to be calm, to sit down, listen, but stand and dance when it will.
Again, it might've been the lighting, because the Marfa Book people really did a number with that whole thing, but Richman singing about "when we refuse to suffer, when we refuse to feeEel" hits some kind of nerve and I'm committed. I'm internally begging Jon to sing me more, to tell me how the world really works, and to do so in primitive words and by banging the shit out of a cowbell and ringing the jingle bells while the drummer smashes holes into our ears and kickstarts our blood rates. And I think that he does tell myself and everyone there something about it; the tall man at stage left with the short beard surely heard it, because his arms burst into full-fledge whiteboy flailing about halfway through the set, and his hips and ponytail do the same. The babe opposite the room slowly stands and slowly grooves at some point too, and plenty others join in. I don't remember the words of most of the songs, or the titles, though luckily I did have a little help with some French translation. But honestly, I couldn't pledge that what we experienced were songs at all, in the traditional sense, because surely such stark emotional honesty and ease of performance can't be crafted or written. Maybe it can, maybe Richman does it. But I'll have to get back to you on that, I've got some records to buy.
Tune in to Songs for Old Hannah this Tuesday, 7/3/12, from 7-9am for a couple J. Rich tracks and other stuff that "feels good."