What’s left to say about Jonathan Richman that hasn’t been said before? The prolific Modern Lovers front man-turned-solo artist has rightfully earned his spot in rock and roll history, but you don’t need us to tell you that. Richman’s most acclaimed work may be The Modern Lovers’ discography (and a notable role in There’s Something About Mary), but he’s dedicated his entire life to making music. To this day, he still tours with drummer Tommy Larkin, and the duo are making a stop at Paradigm Coffee & Music in Sheboygan on Thursday, March 15.
Richman is known for a few things, including his “heart on his sleeve” songwriting style, his anti-drug lifestyle, and his unconventional means of giving interviews. We spoke with Richman over email about “masculine arrogance,” the state of rock and roll, and goats.
Milwaukee Record: In 1973, you wrote a letter to Creem Magazine titled “Masculine Arrogance Blows.” How do you think masculine arrogance has evolved since sending that letter?
Jonathan Richman: Well, since that letter, I’ve seen how much of that arrogance I myself still had. I’m still working on it.
MR: A lot of people today think rock and roll is dead, or at least dying quickly. Do you agree? Why or why not?
JR: I don’t know about dead or alive in relation to rock’n’roll, but I do think that what my drummer and I do is very different from that.
MR: Do you have any idea of how your life would have been spent if you’d never picked up a guitar?
JR: I might have been a visual artist. I did oil paintings (and still do from time to time).
MR: How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
JR: I really don’t know how to describe the music you play. I’ve tried. I’ve also asked Tommy (my drummer) how he would describe it? I guess I tell people “we don’t play very loud and it’s mostly songs” (as opposed to groups that do more jamming).
MR: Are you a dog person or a cat person?
JR: I’m both now and a goat person. Have you spent much time around goats? They have this ancient silence about them (usually).
MR: Do you have any tips on how someone can become as vibrantly youthful and optimistic as you are—and stay that way as they age?
JR: Yah, don’t be too critical of stuff. See the good in it, too.
MR: If you could perform alongside any musicians, living or dead, who would you pick and why?
JR: Well, it’s great to play with Jerry lately. How about with a string section with John Cale, Andrew Bird, and Warren Ellis. Why them? Because they’re all sensitive, imaginative and soulful musicians.
MR: You’ve often said you find creative inspiration almost anywhere. Why do you think that is?
JR: I really don’t remember saying that even once. I only find music ideas some places—not all places. Boston and New York have been real good places for music ideas for me. Madrid, Tokyo, Southern Spain, Italy, the state of Maine, Los Angeles… San Francisco… or the right dirt road somewhere, especially when it’s hot outside.
MR: Can you recommend some movies, musicians or books worth checking out?
JR: Yah, have you seen The General’s Son by Miko Peled or I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish? Check ‘em out!
MR: Would you still say you’re in love with the modern world?
JR: No. Now it’s more the sky, the sun, the moon and stuff like that.