Friday, February 05, 2010

FNV: Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman and drummer Tommy Larkins will "put the finishing touches" on a still-untitled new record after their 27-date US tour, which started on January 24. Two of those shows will be in Georgia, one tonight at Atlanta's Star Bar, and the other at Athen's 40-Watt Club tomorrow evening.

With his idiosyncratic humor and guileless honesty, Jonathan has been writing songs, making records, and performing his playfully catchy compositions most of his life. Over the years, Jonathan's music has absorbed a multitude of influences, from doo-wop to country to a variety of international styles, all without sacrificing the artist's effervescent personality. Untainted by cynicism or transient notions of hipness, his deceptively straightforward songs usually embody timeless qualities of humanity, optimism, emotional insight, and a boundless sense of humor.

He began playing guitar at the age of 15, and in the early 1970s formed the Modern Lovers, whose raw, minimalist sound and emotionally forthright songs helped to lay the groundwork for punk rock. The band's debut album in 1976 included "Road Runner," a regional hit in Massachusetts back when I was a college student in Boston. But by the time that record had been released, Jonathan had already moved on to a quieter sound and more gentle lyrical focus. Since then, he's continued to record and tour prolifically, first with a series of Modern Lovers lineups, later on his own, and eventually as a duo with drummer Tommy Larkins.

Jonathan's records have long held a special place in the hearts of his fans, who have remained fiercely devoted over the years. His audience expanded substantially in the 1990s, thanks to his frequent guest spots on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, his prominent appearance in the 1998 film There's Something About Mary, and the inclusions of his Modern Lovers classics "Ice Cream Man" and "I'm A Little Airplane" on Sesame Street.

For much of his career, Jonathan has toured almost nonstop around the world. I first saw him perform live back in 1986, where he gave a concert at a small club in the back of a White Castle hamburger joint in Albany, New York, and since that show I've been a part of his almost cult-like following, seeing him perform on numerous occasions.

Through his tireless touring, Jonathan has also built a loyal international audience. "Traveling and playing for new people in new places is one of my favorite things," he notes. "It's great playing places that are off the beaten track. You can learn a lot when you play in a little town in Holland or Western Australia, and you learn different things than you would learn playing a big city. This year we're going to try to play in Extremadura, which is the southwest of Spain--we might become the first American entertainers ever to play there. I'm hoping that we can able to play the Canary Islands soon. "

Beginner's mind: "Playing shows and making records keeps getting easier and more fun," Jonathan states, adding, "Me and Tommy play totally different than we played two years ago. We already play a different style than we played on that live DVD, and the way we played then was totally different from the way we played three years before that. I still feel like we're just starting out, and I still learn new stuff every night."