In This Worrisome Modern Age, We All Need Jonathan Richman’s Unique Perspective — A Worldview That Was On Glorious Display On Sunday Night At Three Links.
I surrendered to Jonathan Richman long ago — but not long ago enough, it turns out.
Last night at Three Links, while watching the founder of proto-punk group The Modern Lovers perform, the guy standing next to me mentioned that he’s been going to see these shows since 1981. I wish I could claim that longevity in my own history with Richman.
The first time I saw him was in New Haven in ’98. I was playing drums for The Queers at the time; he was playing an early matinee show in the same room where we were playing a late-night set. We arrived to the venue just in time to catch his entire mesmerizing performance from the side of the stage. I was instantly hooked. Richman danced, spoke different languages and sang a capella, with his audience in awe of the whole experience throughout.
After the show, I met Richman and his longtime drummer Tommy Larkins, and told him how much I enjoyed their show. That was cool — but par for course, I would immediately learn. For the next 45 minutes, Richman and Larks continued to chat with their adoring fans. I remember thinking how humble they were as they answered fan questions about Richman’s career, his philosophy and his penchant for avoiding the spotlight.
I became a fan for life that night, and I’ve seen too many Jonathan Richman shows to bother counting at this point. But that doesn’t make his performances any less of a treat or must-see, and every time he plays within an hour drive of my location, I make a point of going to see his unique offering of philosophical pop songs that exist at the intersection of poetry, history lessons and therapy sessions.
Last night’s set at Three Links was no different, except in the fact that the audience at this show was perhaps more varied than the ones at spotted at past performances. There were older fans like myself that were out past 9 p.m. on a Sunday only because they knew that taking in such a concert was well worth being a little sleepy the next day. Then there were the younger fans — starry-eyed sorts who seemed to understand that they were watching a true legend along the lines of a Tom Waits, a Lou Reed or a Bowie. Seeing that generational cross-section come together over a common love for Jonathan Richman was rad to see, for sure.
And they were all there to see Richman perform his beloved songs, which came without any set list, mixed and mashed however he felt like at any given moment, and interspersed throughout with conversational asides, words of wisdom and laugh-out-loud jokes. His message was, as ever, an uplifting one centering around accepting our humanity for good or for worse, learning from our inevitable fuck ups and finding beauty in the unsanitary.
It was the exact message the old and the young alike in the audience needed to hear, and they listened intently as Richman shared it, with the oftentimes raucous Three Links venue in almost complete silence as its crowd reverently lent Richman its ears. In turn, these fans were treated to songs from across his extensive catalog, including a few deep cuts that longtime fans like me haven’t heard performed live for years.
After the show, I watched Richman engage in the same fan interactions that helped to hook me on his live shows all those years back. He signed autographs and posed for pictures. He humbly and graciously answered the same nervous questions I’ve heard him answering for almost 20 years now. Speaking to one young fan in particular, he discussed how important it was to be present and aware of the zeitgeist — to bear witness to the world unfolding around you while remaining hopeful and forgiving if both yourself and others because we’re all in this together.
There, right out on the sidewalk in front of the venue, Richman appeared just as comfortable and in his element as he’d looked moments prior while on stage. And the fans circling him looked just in as awe here as they did inside the club.
Like me, this crowd had surrendered to Jonathan. And, also like me, they were happier for it.