I mean, don't get me wrong, I've always admired him and been a big fan of his music; but I never really understood where he was coming from; I never really knew how to take him.
It seems I wasn't alone.
Here's a passage from Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces capturing Richman in his very early days:
Richman surfaced around 1970, performing as someone you'd never notice if he weren't standing on a stage making you watch; his themes were traditional, but with an overlay of moment-to-moment, quotidian realism that made the traditional odd. He sang about standing in line at the Bank, falling in love with the teller (or maybe just feeling sorry for her, trying to decide if he'd rather be the teller or the person waiting for her to raise her eyes and not see who she was looking at). He sang about hating hippies, because they wore attitudes like shades, so complete in their smugness, so complete they never noticed anything, because they cut themselves off from everything that was good and alive and wonderful about the modern world.
Richman's music did not sound quite sane. When I went to see him play in 1972, his band - The Modern Lovers, which is what he's always called whatever band he's playing with - was on stage; nothing was happening. For some reason I noticed a pudgy boy with short hair wandering through the sparse crowd, dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt on which was printed, in pencil, "I LOVE MY LIFE". Then he climbed up and played the most shattering guitar I'd ever heard. "I think this is great," said the person next to me. "Or is it terrible?"
Playing and performing live was what Richman was all about.
It didn't matter where. A student bar, a field in Cornwall or London's Subterranea Club, when he played live life was sweet, innocent and fun.
We cheered when he got down on all fours and became the existence threatened dinosaur; we clapped when he tore round the stage with his arms outstretched being the little airplane, lips a blur with propeller sounds; we cheered in nostalgic reverence of the ice cream man; and we all did the sand dance to 'Egyptian Reggae'.
Whether it was to be taken with irony, sarcasm, distraction or sincerity didn't seem to matter; like a cheeky toddler, Jonathan could get away with it.
He could certainly be accused of ideological incorrectness and sometimes didn't seem very 'cool'; but he was easily forgiven, and was soon banging out a blinding piece of rock n roll, a heartfelt love song or another absurdist masterpiece about yetis, aliens or monsters or whatever...
The Modern Lovers - Live (1977)
I'm a Little Airplane
Hey There Little Insect
Ice Cream Man
I'm a Little Dinosaur
My Little Kookenhaken
South American Folk Song
The Morning of Our lives
Excellent Cassette rip @320kbs
Grab a copy of this very deleted album here