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Surrender to Jonathan

Driving to the market for vegetables about a year ago, we heard a Modern Lovers song on the radio ( can't remember which one, let's say it was Roadrunner ) ... 'one two three four five six' ... we sang along, slapped the dashboard in time to the snare, mimed Jerry's organ solo in mid air between necessary bouts of streering and gear changing ... then the announcer came back on air and said 'And it's goodbye from Jonathan Richman'.


I got a rush of blood to the temples and a spine tingle as I contemplated the fact that the world had just lost another relatively unsung genius ... I looked to my wife for some backup, did we really hear what we both just heard ? Yep, it's 'goodbye from Jonathan Richman' as the Dj moved on to the next band in his morning's rundown of 'Boston Bands' or 'Bands Inspired By The Velvets' or whatever he was running down ... okay, so he's not dead he just fits in there on the timeline before 'The Real Kids' or whatever and we said goodbye to him for the day.


Later in the month, we drove the Great Ocean Road, which anyone with a cassette player, iPod or CD player in their car will attest is one hell of a place to listen to loud 'driving' music. I had my copy of the Modern Lovers album ( the later Beserkley version ) in the glovebox and the sun was shining so we sang along to every adnoidal word. Pure pleasure.



I first heard Jonathan from an art teacher at high school, she was a skinny weirdo temp teacher and arrived with cassettes to play during class - one of them was that live album with the 10 minute version of 'Ice Cream Man' with all the false endings - genius! Later that same school year I was passed a tape in chemistry class, no cover, on one side was written 'VU' and on the other 'JR'. So I have chemistry and my classmate Sean ( recently arrived from somewhere in North America ) to thank for getting me hooked on New England's finest ( not to mention the other side of the tape ).  That first cassette was the earlier, rougher version of all those songs - before they were cleaned up. I love both versions equally, but for many years I resented the re-recordings, my uptight, teenage authenticity-meter just wouldn't have it.


In about 1989 ( ? ) we heard Jonathan was touring ... I still have my ticket, bought way in advance for the show at a horrible Brisbane nightclub in a desolate concrete bunker under the CBD. Jonathan came sheepishly out into the crowd before the show and signed autographs, I've still got mine tucked into the cover of that Beserkley CD ... and then he played ... for about 18 minutes.


Brisbane is famous for dud gigs, often it's the last show in an artist's world tour, maybe it's one show too many ... maybe there's something about sweating, swilling Brisbane crowds that just scream DUD GIG. This is the town where The Stranglers' Jet Black led the crowd in an anti police chant ( surrounded by wall to wall fat Queensland cops ) after they played for a similar length of time ( so i'm told - I was a little too young for that one, saw them on their wireless headset-mic and propeller-head horn-section return visit ) and where The Cult had a bit of a bad night and smashed their gear ( including Duffy's genuine old White Falcon. I think they played for marginally longer though i can't verify, I wasn't a fan )

So we got 18 minutes of JR for our money ( whatever gigs cost in 1989 ). He was good, ( but not that good ) he just didn't play for very long before his wife ? manager ? tour manager ? came on stage and unapologetically told us he'd had enough. Crap.


I've since heard that he's a finicky performer, stops shows to make people butt out their cigarettes or stop talking etc ... i guess we collectively did something to upset him. I know I didn't personally do anyhting to sabotage his show, probably just stood rigid and mute, maybe willing him to do something 'fun' like that Ice Cream Man shtick. I have also been told that on his return visit in the 90's he played for hours, took requests, was charming and brilliant etc etc


When I was about 16 there were only two guys who's autograph I wanted; Frank Zappa and Jonathan Richman, Frank hadn't toured since the Norman Gunston days and then he up and died in the 90s ( I bought the paper on my lunch-half-hour from some crap warehouse musician type job - read the news, it spoilt my whole week ). I have never asked anyone else for their autograph ( oh, except Link Wray - but he was signing everything in sight the night I saw him).



I still love my Jonathan records - the Modern Lovers ones and the later 'singalong' ones and I've got someone else's copy of the country one here somewhere on CD. Brilliant stuff. I'm not leading to any great twist or conclusion or resolution here ... he just pops into my head occasionally and I sing a few bars of Modern World as i drive.


I used to do a shit cover of Hospital with my Rolf Harris Stylophone filling in for Jerry's organ at solo gigs.

I'm glad he's alive.







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