From the Eugene Weekly, Eugene Ore:
Jonathan Richman is a rock and roll god. Maybe he’s not on the level of say, an Iggy Pop or a Lou Reed (one of Richman’s early influences). But he definitely sits nicely with the likes of Tom Verlaine, Bob Mould and even a less volatile Mark E. Smith. And although Richman has tailored a highly acclaimed solo career, his fame blossomed from one fateful record from 1976, The Modern Lovers.
According to a self-penned 1983 press biography, Richman’s impetus for starting his own band came when he first heard the music of The Velvet Underground. The story continues that when Richman was 18, he left home for New York to hang with the Velvets. After a brief, transient affair on the couch of the band’s manager, Steve Sesnick, Richman relocated to the notorious Hotel Albert, where he first hashed out some early versions of Modern Lovers classics such as “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso.” Jaded with his lack of success at getting anything solid going musically, Richman returned to Boston, where he connected with his old friend John Felice, who was 15 at the time, and The Modern Lovers name was coined. Soon after, Richman and Felice picked up drummer David Robinson and keyboard player Jerry Harrison.
From a transcript of an NPR interview by Liane Hansen with Richman:
HANSEN: As a songwriter, Jonathan Richman takes the experiences of his own life and distills them into lyrics that are both direct and full of childlike wonder. On “I, Jonathan,” his new CD on Rounder, he sings a romantic ode to twilight in Boston, songs about love, parties and a tribute to the prime minstrels of 1960s Bohemia.
HANSEN: Jonathan Richman doesn’t like to explain his songs, and he’s known to clam up during an interview. But bring the conversation around to his favorite 1960s rock group--there’s no stopping him; because deep down, Jonathan Richman loves to tell a good story.
RICHMAN: See, I was 18 years old and I’d just moved to New York. I wanted to be near the rock group, The Velvet Underground, and I wanted to be that--near that whole New York scene. I--I’d--had already been auditioning at local coffee houses and they weren’t interested--maybe because, like, I couldn’t play or sing or anything. That might have had something to do with it.
So I moved into the cockroach-infested Hotel Albert where rents were cheap and it was rich in musical heritage. The Lovin’ Spoonful at one time practiced in their basement, Lothar and the Hand People practiced in their basement--so I practiced in their basement. And I wanted an audience, see, because--some people don’t like attention. I’m not one of them. Me and attention, we get along pretty good.
So I just went up to the roof and there was a bunch of people walking down eight stories below so I did 30 minutes’ worth of material for them. Well, they started gathering and I was real excited because I was thinking ‘all right!’ And I felt like a big rock star then, you see, because people were starting to crowd the sidewalks. When I knew that my spectacle had gone somewhat awry is when I saw the presence of law enforcement officers down in the street, and the manager of my hotel.
I could see her down there, pointing at me and shaking her head no. (Laughing) This was not a good sign. So I figured I’d better wrap it up. So I did one more number for the throngs, you know, and I figured that my little spectacle should end, so I went down back to my room. And I knew that something was brewing. I knew that I wasn’t just going to get off the hook. Like, in other words, I knew there was going to be trouble with the hotel management for my little spectacle. So I didn’t want to wait around for them to get me, so I went right down to the manager’s office and figured I would discuss it with them.
She said, `You! You! Out of here!’ And I said, `But, but--but wait,’ and she said, `You! Who do you think you are? Donovan? You think you’re the Strolling Minstrel and you think...’ She--like, she was beside herself, you know. And I said, `But wait a minute, Loretta. I didn’t do it on purpose. I just...’
What! People thought you were going to jump! I said, `Was I that bad?’ I said, `Look, I won’t do it again. I didn’t know it was, like, that big a mistake. I thought they liked it.’ And because I was only 18 and probably all pathetic and everything, she let me stay, and that was the story of my spectacle at the top of the Hotel Albert in the fall of 1969.