The Philosophy of Underground Legend Jonathan Richman
Jonathan Richman is a superstar, he doesn’t act like a superstar, but he definitely shines like one. He’s low-key and cool, he doesn’t have social media and isn’t connected to the internet all the time like the rest of us. He is present, making art and music. Living in the moment. You can feel that when you’re at his show. He is playing this Saturday, December 17th at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco brought to you by (((folkYEAH!))).
He doesn’t call himself a songwriter because a songwriter can have a block, a guy who just makes music can take a break and that’s not called a block. He doesn’t play the game most artists are playing and maybe that’s why his music is so pure and original. There’s no pressure for fame or recognition and still his fans include only the coolest people ever, like David Bowie, Joey Ramone (watch him playing at Joey’s birthday in 1998), and John Waters!
He is truly one of a kind. I saw him perform countless times and promised myself to never miss an opportunity to see him play. Whether this is your first time or not, a Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkin’s performance will always lift your spirit and make you smile with your heart. When they played at former Burger Boogaloo, now Mosswood Meltdown at Mosswood Park in Oakland, John Waters introduced them, they opted to not play on stage, everyone was sitting around them at the park, and I felt like if this was a cult, that’s the kind of cult I want to be a part of. It was so special (you can watch the full show here).
When I had the opportunity to interview Jonathan Richman (thanks folkYEAH!) I was nervous. I didn’t want to ask him the same old stuff everyone does, I apologized in advance in case my questions were weird, but the thing is, Jonathan Richman is the coolest soul ever and he was so sweet and generous. By the way, the book he recommended is the same book my therapist got me for my birthday. Isn’t everything so beautifully connected? Here’s my interview, hope you enjoy it!
Jonathan Richman: Dear Patricia, Thank you for asking questions which are probably the most pertinent questions to this music that I can remember being asked in quite a while.
Patricia Colli: I’ve started meditating a few years ago, and I have a feeling you’re also a meditator, are you? You have such a powerful and strong presence. When you’re on stage you keep the audience tuned in the whole time, I’ve experienced this countless times at your shows. There’s no room for other thoughts and it really feels like we all get into a meditative state. Does it make sense to you?
Yes, I have a meditation practice and this started when I was 17. As I was searching Boston’s music scene for an entryway into I knew not-exactly-what, the janitor and carpenter at the rock ballroom where the Velvet Underground played asked me if my parents would maybe permit me to come to a meditation group he was a part of. They did permit and I found a home in the world. I also found a silence-among the two dozen other souls each striving for peace inwardly – that was of a different sort from any sort I’d been a part of before. Even my earlier recorded music borrows some of this from that group. Even on the road I try to sit in the morning as well as at night. Not always possible. So sometimes my morning sit will be in the passenger seat as Tommy drives for a spell. I’m not sure exactly why my stage presence is the way it is. My focus is on the song, though – I can say that.
I feel that music is a spiritual practice, do you have other spiritual practices? Do you ever participate in Kirtan?
Kirtan? Yes. I love Kirtan – especially with just the tamboura and tabla but also with harmonium sometimes. Guitar and Kirtan? Not so much. But I’ll use my guitar as a substitute for a tamboura if guitar is all there is. (I just play the root-note and the “fifth” interval (“Sol”) as a tamboura does.)
I noticed you drew a couple of your posters and merch, do you enjoy drawing and painting? Is this something you do often? Did you make the art for “Cold Pizza & Other Hot Stuff”?
Yes, I make the pastels for some of our posters, some book illustrations and some of the artwork for “Cold Pizza”. I drew and painted first and music hit me, as a teenager, second.
Which visual artists inspire you?
Vermeer, VanGogh, Sisley, Monet, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio…oh…dozens and dozens!
When I want to bring sweet thoughts to my mind and heart, I always think about when John Waters told on stage (at Burger Boogaloo in Oakland) that he loves you and that he cooked a vegan dinner for you at his place. It really warms my heart to think of two of my role models being friends. How long have you known each other? How did you meet?
I love John Waters too! We met when he asked me and Tommy if we’d open for him on a few of his holiday shows some years back. I’ve called him up within the past few months but miss being with him in person. Maybe somehow this year? I hope.
I go to you and John for relationship advice, I find you both tune my heart to what’s sincere and important. In your life, who are the people you go to (either a person, an artist or writer) for relationship advice?
Advice? Have you read “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yogananda? I read his stuff a lot. People, health, nature….all kinds of things are discussed in his writings.
The Velvet Underground was a huge influence to you, do you still listen to them? And if so, can you still connect to that same feeling you had when you first discover them?
The Velvet Underground was such a huge influence on me that we might correctly say that perhaps there would have been no “me” as a public musician were it not for them. Yah, I still listen to any music they made, especially the album “White Light/White Heat.” Especially “Sister Ray” and the guitar solo on “I Heard Her Call My Name.” And yes, sometime hearing their music brings back much of the effect their music had on me as a teenager.
How was it for you not performing with an audience during the pandemic and how does it feel touring again now?
I do stone and brick work when I don’t play in public so I just did a lot more of that. That was fine too – I like coming home for dinner. And I had a chance to build uninterruptedly. I always play around the house and down whatever street I live on at any time. So I still played. But I missed playing with Tommy, and now…we’re back again. At Herbst Theatre, I believe our tamboura player on the recent records might make an appearance too.
P.S. Not only do I like Kirtan, but I wish they’d hire us for one o’ them Kirtan Festivals. Maybe they don’t know I can do stuff like that. We could do some bhajan for ‘em.
Jonathan Richman with Tommy Larkins on drums at Herbst Theater
Saturday, December 17, 2022
Doors open at 7pm, show at 8pm
price: $32 – $50