Rock’n’Roll With The Modern Lovers by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers

1977

My weight keeps fluctuating. At the start of lockdown I was over 14 stone. By the end of 2020, I was just over 12 stone but now I’m just over 13 stone. It simultaneously annoys me and pleases me. There are two factors at play here. One is my social life. I barely had any Harvey’s at all for a year. As restrictions have lifted and I’ve felt more emboldened to socialise, I’m drinking more and, on Saturday, after a fantastic game at The Amex (in which Brighton lost 1-4 to a sensational Manchester City team), I had my first curry for nearly two years. It was delicious. The second factor is greed. If it’s unhealthy, I love it. Anything with lots of salt, saturated fat and sugar is irresistible. I don’t socialise every day and the overwhelming reason for putting on weight in the last six months is gluttony on days when I’m not socialising.

As Roo’s mobility has lessened, she found it increasingly difficult to walk around supermarkets and so, for about four years now, we have had our Tesco orders delivered to the door every week. This became quite difficult at the start of lockdown in March of last year when I was having to go onto the Tesco website at one minute past midnight to book a slot before they all disappeared. However, after a few months, it became much easier. The way it works is that it’s possible to book a slot four weeks in advance and the order can be changed at any time up until 11:45 p.m. on the day before the delivery. Orders under £40 incur an extra charge. I have got into the habit when booking the slot, of making a “dummy” order, and then Roo and I decide what we want on the day before. It’s quite good fun making a dummy order. Sometimes, my dummy order includes pork pies, scotch eggs, crisps and chocolate. 40 years ago, this was my regular diet. Sadly, when we change the order, all these items are replaced by yoghurt, sourdough bread and fruit. On 28th September, when I booked today’s order, I filled my virtual basket with eight 500 ml pots of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. In my fantasy world, I imagined what a glorious week I could have in late October, eating two pots of ice cream a day.

Both Roo and Peter asked me yesterday why I ordered so much ice cream. The answer is that it was much quicker to do this than guess four weeks in advance what food we might want. It would be time consuming to compile a normal order and, knowing that it would probably change anyway, it seemed unnecessary. I knew that we could change the order any time, by simply going onto the Tesco website, which is always reliable….

On Saturday, Roo tried to modify the order for today but was told that the website was experiencing difficulties. It transpired that hackers had managed to infiltrate their system. All day yesterday, Roo and I were desperately attempting to cancel 8 pots of ice cream. By 11:00 last night, the Tesco site was still down and so this morning at 10:00 a.m., our 4000 ml of ice cream duly arrived.

It would be a better story if I said that we now have this ice cream and by the end of the week I was back to 14 stone but the delivery driver was very affable and was happy to take the ice cream back to the depot.

Jonathan Richman has recently achieved a some publicity because he appears in Todd Hayne’s new film about The Velvet Underground. At one point he was so obsessed with the band that he slept on the couch of Steve Sesnick, manager of The Velvet Underground. He formed a band which he called The Modern Lovers and, in 1972, managed to persuade John Cale (of The Velvet Underground) to produce a set of demos which not released until 1976 (“The Modern Lovers”). It’s a fantastic album and contains an early version of “Roadrunner”. He later re-recorded this song in a more accessible style and it reached Number 11 in the U.K. Charts in 1977; Jonathan Richman has described it as an “homage” to The velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”. Whereas the latter is a 17 minute maniacal drone, “Roadrunner” is a perfect pop song which describes driving along Route 128 in Massachusetts, late at night, looking for a “Stop And Shop”. When I went on holiday to New England a few years ago, I managed to replicate the experience and never has so much rubbish been bought at a convenience store. I was about 17 stone by the end of that holiday. The music on The Modern Lovers” is very much in the style of such Velvet Underground songs as “I’m Waiting For The Man”, “White Light/White Heat”, “Beginning To See The Light” or “Sweet Jane”.

However, a few years later, he changed his musical style completely and made a number of albums that synthesised harmony pop music with 50’s Rock’n’Roll. Above all, many of his songs were childishly naïve and due to his lack of pomposity and grandeur, he was embraced by many punk rock enthusiasts. In the same way that The Toy Dolls version of “Nelly The Elephant” became a hit, The Modern Lovers version of “Egyptian Reggae” reached Number 5 in the U.K. Charts. Not that these songs bear any musical similarities. Rather they epitomise a move away from overblown prog-rock which it takes itself far too seriously.

One thing Jonathan Richman never did was take himself too seriously. I remember seeing him at a gig in London, singing “I’m A Little Aeroplane” and waving his arms around, pretending to fly while the rest of the group sang engine noises. He also sung “I’m A Little Dinosaur” in which he crawled around the stage pretending to be a baby dinosaur.

“I’m A Little Aeroplane” (not on this album)

Many of Jonathan Richman’s songs around this time are ridiculous. Brilliant, but ridiculous. Here are some song titles from “Rock’n’Roll With The Modern Lovers”: “Rockin’ Rockin’ Leprechauns”, “Roller Coaster By The Sea”, “Dodge Veg-O-Matic”.

However, one of the songs on this album, called “Fly Into The Mystery” is beautiful and sad. It starts at 8 o’clock at night in Boston. Filene’s Department Store has just closed and it’s a cloudless night. “There’s the stars – we haven’t lost them“. It’s such a beautiful night that it’s time to fly into the mystery. At the same time, in the suburbs, it’s also 8 o’clock. A boy has lost his girlfriend. “It’s funny now, she was here just a minute ago“. It’s not clear whether he has merely misplaced his girlfriend or she has split up with him. He rationalises things by thinking that she has flown into life’s mystery. “look at her go into the mystery“. By the end, he decides it’s time for all of us to “go somewhere we’ve never seen“. Childish, simplistic and naïve or charming, direct and emotional? Every adjective applies.

Which brings me back to “Ice Cream Man”. A few months after the release of “Rock’n’Roll With The Modern Lovers”, he released a live album, “Modern Lovers Live” which included an eight minute version of “Ice Cream Man”. The song ends after three minutes and the audience applaud only for the band to break into the chorus again. It’s always funny to play that joke on the audience so he does it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Altogether, he has eight false endings. My mother always told me that I took a joke too far so I guess that’s why I find this stuff amusing. 8 pots of ice cream. 8 false endings. It’s funny. In my opinion.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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