Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Released in 1992.
Parties in the USA
You Can't Talk To The Dude
I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar
Rooming House on Venice Beach
That Summer Feeling
A Higher Power
Twilight in Boston
First of all, there is that cover. The little things, like the fact that the lettering matches the stripes on Jonathan's shirt. And that shirt, worn halfway between the beach jamboree and the Factory. Just like the songs on the album. That guileless surprised smile on Jonathan's face. But then, look closer, and you see the lines in his face, evidence of survival and psychic victory. And that sunlit room, could be taken just after a morning stroll through Venice (Italy, or California), or a few feet away from where the cover of Horses was captured. And the title. Once again, simple and profound, all at once.
This is not an album review. I really don't want to write one. I just want to share a couple of thoughts on what I consider to be an amazing album. A remarkable album. An album I listen to quite alot.
I will say that yes, I, Jonathan is one of the most perfectly realized albums I have ever come across. Every single aspect of it is counterbalanced, and interdependent upon itself. It's stunning in its ability to take the simplest of structures (musical, lyrical, conceptual) and wring tiers of meaning from them.
On the back cover of the album, Jonathan is compared to Picasso. Yes, especially Picasso's later works, but even more so in my opinion, you can compare Jonathan to Warhol. Clean, pristine, pop art structures. Bold, primary colours (bold also appears to be one of Jonathan's favourite adjectives, incidentally). In the same way you can look at Warhol's soup cans and draw everything from commentary of food distribution to Catholicism's concepts of sin, Jonathan's songs, can provoke endless emotion and thought from the audience member with open eyes/soul.
It really is in the details...a perfectly drawn character sketch like You Can't Talk To The Dude is made complete with offhand notes like "he doesnt taste food/he's just shoveling it down", that plunge you into the scene he's painting, and really tell you everything you need to know.
Details and contrasts like how the lilting, glass-fragile, moment-fleeting closer Twilight In Boston features the most staccato flat picking on the entire album. Or how Velvet Underground (up until the moment he slips into Sister Ray, thus providing the same momentary shock Andy Kaufman would provide when he became Elvis, or like hearing Dylan suddenly shift into the Nashville Skyline voice on the Basement Tapes bootlegs), has a genial surf rock sense, far removed from the imposing urban dread of the real life VU. How the album is neatly bookended by throwback beach instrumentals, downright anachronistic, in an album so involved in there here and now. Oh, and interdependent you ask? Jonathan also slips into Hang On Sloopy to grand effect, evoking the past, where as the previously noted Sister Ray jump brings about the present/future. Just brilliant.
The main theme of the album is memory. Not nostalgia. Why not? Because the songs are relentlessly clear and honest, and not trying to recreate anything. Note that the same joi de vivre that Jonathan so perfectly communicates about the past in Rooming House In Venice Beach (a majour, startlingly insightful song disguised as a bonfire goodtime singalong), is vividly alive and well in the present of I Was Dancing At The Lesbian Bar (the clip below is great [hence its inclusion], but Jonathan only plays about half the song, no doubt he was told to "keep it brief", the rest of the song contains some of its most crucial expression). The Velvet Underground is not a celebration of the past, but understanding that they were a sign post to the future. "America at its best" as the man himself puts it. Parties In The USA, is not some simpleminded "things were better then", but a plea to make the now the best ever. It's heart rending, inspiring, hilarious, joyous, and the absolute truth of everything rock n roll can, could and should be, because he is singing for US. Not nostalgists, not the squares. His vision of the past is also his vision of the present and future. It is the voice of the outcast. Not wounded and damaged by the mania of the square world, but in joyous celebration of life for its own sake.
And I havent even mentioned That Summer Feeling, quite possibly the single greatest thing Jonathan has ever written/recorded- the perfect singing, the soaring melody, and once again, its obsessed with memory but also so many balancing moments of reality/piercing clarity/INSIGHT like "when even 4th grade starts looking good/which you hated", and the ultimate "do you long for her/or the way you were/and that summer feeling is gonna haunt you/one day in your life". I start getting choked up just typing the words, and thinking about the song, let alone hearing it.
Great art. Like anything else in life that is great you will forgo other things for it. You will lose sleep, be late for work, not return a phone call, skip dinner, etc. Why? Because it is real and alive. Because you NEED it to live. Because it NEEDS you to keep it alive. Thats the communication/relationship between art and the audience. That's what Jonathan gives, especially on this remarkable, memorable, indelible album.
Here are clips of four of the key songs from I, Jonathan...
I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar
The Velvet Underground
Rooming House On Venice Beach
That Summer Feeling
Finally, here is a brief but fascinating interview w/ Jonathan dealing with the subject of simplicity from 1978.
and here is a fascinating recent interview with the man that basically reinforces everything I've typed above
NOTE- Off-topic songs to come, at the end of this post, I just wanted to get the main part out there. Come back in several hours and hit refresh!
UPDATE! HERE ARE THE NON-RELATED JONATHAN RICHMAN FAVOURITES!!!
When We Refuse To Suffer
Important In Your Life
Ice Cream Man
I'm A Little Dinosaur
My Baby Love Love Loves Me
Angels Watching Over Me
Morning Of Our Lives...a song that ummm...moves me more deeply than almost anything else Ive ever encountered