July 15, 2011
I Love Jonathan Richman, part 2

This article was contributed by Peter Grimm of Bummers. Check out the Bummers (ft. Ty Segall) on July 20th at Thee Parkside with Pamela, Rock Ceremony, and Pow!

If you don’t know who Jonathan Richman is, be happy you now get to discover him. During three consecutive nights in July, Jonathan Richman plays the Make Out Room on 22nd Street and allows San Franciscans for a truly Bohemian experience in the Mission. Richman plays a classical guitar miked acoustically, with no guitar strap so that he’s always ready to make an impromptu guitar twirl or dance break. Like Tom Waits he manages to blend humor and music without effort, but in his own Latin sound and pulse he sways endlessly between thought and jubilation.

Now more on the Bohemian feeling of last night. A little digging will have you learn that the term Bohemianism began when French artists started to concentrate in the lower class gypsy neighborhoods in the early 1800s; Bohemien’s being the Romani people who arrived in France via Bohemia. Today, the term is thrown around with great liberties, but if you take part in Jonathan Richman’s call-and-response chorus to “Bohemia,” you will have a true understanding of the lifestyle: “Pretentious artwork in my hand—showed me the door to Bohemia. They could see that it was life or death when they— showed me the door to Bohemia.” But it’s during “When We Refuse to Suffer” that Richman convinces you of the depth to a Bohemian’s soul: “When we refuse to suffer; when refuse to feel, that’s when the air conditioner wins and the real stench of the world loses. If we run from the dead algae pond with the dead fish in it and the dead grass in favor of the air freshener, we deserve the foul boring life. If our minds don’t take revenge on us, then our hearts will.”  

Towards the end of the set on his second night, Richman sang “O moon, Queen of the Night” and mentioned the difficulty of choosing between two different chords both meant to approximate starlight. For the encore, Richman started with “Day-O” (everybody joining in for “day like come and he wanna go home”) which he said was his first attempt, so it was probably best to keep it simple, and that it was actually not the song everybody was singing but a different, similar-sounding song. Then he went into Chain Gang, the Sam Cooke classic (“that’s the sound of the man, workin’ on the chain…ga—aang”) and ended, to the audience’s delight, with the Jonathan Richman classic “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.” 

-Peter

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