Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - New England

Way back in 1977, "Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers" had to compete for our attention among such mega-hits as Rod Stewart's putrid Tonight's The Night and Mary MacGregor's maudlin Torn Between Two Lovers. Although I Like Dreamin' by Kenny Nolan was number six on the charts, there was only so much room for simple lyrics and catchy melodies sung with naive (and deceptive) childlike candor.

It was tough finding radio airplay for Modern Lovers' songs such as Lonely Financial Zone, Abominable Snowman In The Market, and Hey There Little Insect, especially among the slickly satisfying production of the disco era. Society was boogieing down to, well, I'm Your Boogie Man, and dancing the night away to--that's right, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing. It would take early-80s college-radio DJs to fully appreciate the playfulness of Richman's musical style. And then a lot of bands, headed by Calvin Johnson at K Records, followed suit. Richman stayed true to his gentle muse and continued to crank out the charming tunes in his nasal twang for three decades.

I'm glad, because Jonathan Richman is a completely musical person. His songs are somewhat raw but are perfect in their execution. His live shows, especially when he was playing with the several incarnations of the Modern Lovers, were loose and spontaneous, yet tightly composed and clearly directed by him, urging his band to "Give me an E. Make that an open E. That's good. Well, here we go now..." It was like watching a fantastic music teacher demonstrating *How to play music proficiently and with enjoyment.* You can hear that throughout his career.

The 1957 footage is courtesy of Robbins Barstow from his epic, two-part documentary of his family's camping trips across the U.S., "Family Camping Through 48 States." His films are available for viewing on the Internet Archive and he's been making and showing movies for more than 70 years. Twenty-five of his films are archived in the National Film Registry. He is also a founding member of the Cetacean Society International, and has worked for decades to protect whales and dolphins, worldwide. His whale-watching films are on YouTube.

There you have it: two creatively passionate guys, working hard for world betterment.

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