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An Interview with Jonathan Richman

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Jonathan Richman.
  • Jonathan Richman.

One of the things that makes Jonathan Richman so different from other rock 'n' rollers is this: He's always somehow embodied the innocence of childhood with the thoughtfulness of advanced age. Even as far as back as his years with protopunks the Modern Lovers, he was singing about being dignified and old one minute and then about not letting one's youth go to waste the next (see his odes to both "Modern World" and the "Old World" on the Boston band's highly influential, eponymous 1971-1972 album). One didn't have to forsake the past, he seemed to be saying during a time of restless youthful rebellion, for the future. But conversely, Richman, who will return to the Beverly Lounge this month, has fostered a long and fruitful solo career since retiring the Modern Lovers moniker in 1988 and doesn't like to be overly beholden to his own past. Rather than relying on the hits, his uplifting, up-close acoustic performances exist in the moment, couched in his magically eccentric and gregarious persona—and his devoted audiences love him for exactly that. The legendary singer-songwriter answered the questions below via email. Jonathan Richman will perform with drummer Tommy Larkins at the Beverly Lounge in Kingston on March 23 at 7pm. Tickets are $30.

—Peter Aaron

The Velvet Underground, a band that was extremely unusual in their day, were very influential on you, inspiring you to start the Modern Lovers. What other music were you listening to you before you discovered them?

I also listened to the Lovin' Spoonful, the Rolling Stones, the Seeds, the first Mothers of Invention album, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, the Isley Brothers, Motown, the Doors, the Who [and others].

You've recorded many wonderful songs in Spanish and French. Were you multilingual before you decided to begin singing in these languages? As an artist who had previously been known for writing and singing rock 'n' roll songs in English, what prompted you to write and sing songs in other languages?

Four years of high school French. I flunked out. But traveling in Europe I realized I need to know more, so I learned.

It seems like you've found your musical soulmate in drummer Tommy Larkins, who you've been playing with for almost 30 years. What is it about Tommy that makes him such a perfect partner?

Tommy swings!

The show this month will be the third time you've played the Beverly Lounge in Kingston. I understand that you're very selective about the venues you play. What is it about the Beverly that's made you want to return there?

The Beverly's great! Nice, intimate feeling with good sound because they haven't soundproofed it yet. Soundproofing wrecks the sound for my shows.

What do you most want the people in the audience at your shows to feel when they come to see you play?

Since I never know what I will sing until I sing it, I want the audience not to think of anything in the past, but [instead] for us to discover what we will feel together.

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