Big Bang of Joy

Jonathan Richman/The Blue Whales
Club Detroit
Tuesday, Dec. 4

Jonathan Richman is joy. A total joy transfusion. A full-body joy massage topped off with a gentle joy oil rubdown. Joy muffins in bed late on Saturday morning with a steaming-hot cup of joy on the side. A lazy summertime ride down PCH past Laguna in a rented red convertible, listening to oldies on KJOY. An unexpected check from the Treasury Department for your $300 joy refund. A big wriggling bowl of golden retriever puppies on your doorstep, and when they bark their little puppy barks, it sounds like "Joy! Joy!" This isn't a review; it's a love letter—but we can't help it. Jonathan, we love you because you are joy, and the unbelievers can sizzle in hipster hell.

Okay, so we're insane. Fine. But Jonathan inspires—deserves; demands, even—such insanity. Even back in the halcyon Modern Lovers days, our re-issue CD liner notes solemnly explain, girls used to faint and weep when he'd awkwardly trot onstage, guitar slung jauntily over one petite shoulder (and FYI, the ladies still love cool Jonathan: "What are you thinking about?" we asked our hot chick friend. "About humping him," she murmured absently. "No, wait, he's better than that."). It's hard to say why it works—maybe something along the lines of so-out-he's-in, so-square-he's-hip—but 30 years after this adenoidal Adonis started a breathlessly lovely cult career with his distinctive "1-2-3-4-5-6!" intro to the classic-in-every-sense-of-the-word anthem "Roadrunner," Jonathan Richman is still one giant unassuming guitar-plucking big bang of joy. Who else could play his songs for both Sesame Street and There's Something About Mary and have them be absolutely pitch-perfect appropriate on each occasion? Who else could write bubbly little rock & roll ditties like "The Lonely Little Thrift Store" or "True Love Is Not Nice" and then get Darryl Jenifer from godhead hardcore punk band Bad Brains to play bass on them? With Jonathan, you can't help but rocket right back to somebody like Buddy Holly: rock & roll at its most sentimentally undiluted and universal, a boy and his guitar—and no room for one lick of pretension between them.

We breezed through opening band the Blue Whales with a little beer and a lot of pity: you never want to open for Jonathan Richman, but you should especially never want to open for Jonathan Richman if you're some guitar-heavy rock band with all the verve and flash of an artificial houseplant. Mssr. Richman was apparently out dining or wandering the empty winter streets of Costa Mesa in search of specific geographical details to incorporate into another sweet little song about lonely love; we followed suit except that we ate bad Chinese food and hung out with some homeless guy who lectured us about throwing away bad Chinese food when there are people less fortunate than you who would gladly polish it off—a Richmanesque experience in its own right, perhaps.

By the time we made it back, the club was warm and cozy with the most cheerfully motley crowd you could hope to see: weird punkers and fat old guys and little kids and a girl who looked like an elf and her boyfriend who looked like Rod Stewart circa 1971 (these last identified by our keen-eyed drunk punk buddy, pledged since birth to make fun of anyone who looks like Rod Stewart), and Jonathan and drum buddy Tommy Larkins (whom you may have seen dropping his sticks in horror as Jonathan takes a shot to the heart at the conclusion of There's Something About Mary) were mere seconds away from approaching joy's Omega Point.

Was it a great set? Oh, mais oui, highlighted by "I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar," several selections from recent albums I'm So Confused and Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eyeshadow, and priceless Jonathan banter (seasoned Jon-o-philes know that Jonathan's talk is just as delightful as Jonathan's rock) including the story about the girl and her no-good musician boyfriend who gives himself rock-star haircuts over the sink and never changes the newspaper under the cat's water bowl so it gets all soggy and infested with microbes. And let us tell you, you haven't lived until you've heard Jonathan Richman wax poetic about acceptable levels of pet-care hygiene in his inimitable Boston drawl. You could see it in Elf Girl's eyes; you could see it in Rod Stewart's eyes. You could see it in our hot chick friend's eyes, and you could see it in ours. It was pure joy and nothing less.

 
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