Saturday, August 21, 2010

Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild (2008)

In some way that I cannot entirely explain, Jonathan Richman appears to be back in my life. It started with a show he happened to play in Olympia late in 2008 (promoting this, I guess, at least inasmuch as any of his shows are ever in support of product). "Please," I thought, indulging a nostalgic fantasy, "play 'That Summer Feeling,' play 'Pablo Picasso,' and for gods sake leave your shirt on." My wishes came true! And more—the show closed on an unexpected second encore, with me out of position and halfway to the door, standing there nervously shifting from foot to foot to see if this was going to be worth hanging around for, as he played, softly, so softly you could hear people rustling in the crowd, what turned out to be the most devastating song of the evening (in an evening full with more than its share), "As My Mother Lay Lying." At that moment my own father lay lying, three months away from his death, though I couldn't know that then any more than Richman as I stood there in the dark quiet and absorbed the words, the profound impact of them deepening by the moment. Now I'm starting to catch up with what Richman has been doing these past 25 years. All I happened to notice going by were the cameos in There's Something About Mary, which I was happy to see, but otherwise he's got a good couple handfuls or more of albums I barely know. Often accompanied, as in the movie, only by drummer Tommy Larkins, whose phlegmatic presence is a nice foil to Richman, many seem to include songs explicitly celebrating one artist or another—here it's "No One Was Like Vermeer"—a number of foreign language selections (here, "Es Como El Pan" and "Le Printemps des Amoreux est Venu"), and the usual silly but often endearing foofaraw (here, "The Lovers Are Here and They're Full of Sweat"). He takes a surprisingly hard line against antidepressants and the culture of eternal happiness in "When We Refuse to Suffer," which actually gets two treatments here, and indeed also opened both of the shows I have seen in the past couple of years. He appears to be very serious about this, and there are other songs in that vein as well (more for me to research, not sure if they're brand new or from albums I don't know well). He even includes a Modern Lovers cover on this, "Old World." I still like the Modern Lovers version better, and ditto with "Pablo Picasso" for that matter, whose language is unfortunately and ridiculously cleaned up in the latter-day version. But it's nice of him to take us Modern Lovers clingers-on into consideration that way. If you want Jonathan Richman back in your life, take it from me, this is as good a place to start as any, and worth your time too. I find myself thinking, once again, that he's maybe some kind of saint on earth.

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