Donal Dineen’s Sunken Treassure: Jonathan Richman - I, Jonathan (1992)
Proto-punk rocker Richman wasn’t the first to notice the machinations of the music industry, but he was one of the first to speak out
Jonathan Richman: “His path and the truth always had to be aligned”
Jonathan Richman is an enigma. A beautiful one. The truth is never far away in any one of his many types of songs. He wears his heart on his sleeve.
He could have startded off in a blaze of glory with The Modern Lovers, hanging out with his heroes The Velvet Underground and having John Cale produce their debut LP, but he seemed to have spent a lot of time putting out that fire rather than adding any fuel to it. Band members speak with some frustration about his hesitation and wild about-turns, but always with a degree of fondness too.
Around about the time he recorded Roadruner with Cale in 1972, he started to have doubts about the loose guitar sound, crashing drums and barely sung vocals that made it so disctinctive. His doubts were unfounded. It was released in 1976 and placed The Modern Lovers at the vanguard of an emererging proto-punk sound.
Richman was intent on turning back but he had found himself a following so he went with it for a little while and surfed the big wave.
He wasn’t the first musician to notice the faultlines in the machinations of the music industry, but he was one of the first to actively speak out against it. He wasn’t a man for churning out verions of what he’d done before. His path and the truth always had to be aligned. Change and evolution was his thing.
At the turn of the decade, Richman was ready to leave the brash days behind and explore a quieter sound with the lyrics taking centre stage. He had a fine-tuned ear for the poetics of language.
His extraordinary knack for finding his way to the heart of the matter and then the perfect words to turn them into songs was his greatest talent.
That Summer Feeling was written and released in 1984, but didn’t appear on an album until 1992. A better song about the fleeting magic and inherent tragedy of those transient glory days you will not find.
He tempers the beautiful innocence and joie de vivre (that hovers throughout the song with the weight of experience). It leaves you wishing you were a little wiser back then, taking some time to breathe it all in before it was gone.