"Lots of good things are going on. Medea Benjamin is part of an organization called Global Exchange. Among other things, they insure that the products sold in their stores are ones where the people who made them get a fair working wage: fair trade, not to be confused with free trade. I think when Americans learn about the difficulty other people have getting paid what they should, there's a certain number who will respond to that."
I mentioned something about how Wal-Mart is driving the whole planet the other way, to which he rightly responded, "Yes, but they'd be helpless if people didn't shop there. You can't just blame corporations because every advantage they have—advertising, lobbying—they got through having money, and they got the money from people buying their stuff. I'm saying the buck stops here, with us Americans. If we don't like it, then we've got to make sure we don't use or support it. That's why I'm driving the bio-diesel car now."
We got on the subject of a bootleg DVD of live Rolling Stones performances from the early '60s and how maracas just aren't deployed as well these days. I get maudlin if left to dwell on how much more fun things used to be.
Many of Jonathan's songs wax nostalgic for days gone by, but he's not anxious to see them come back. When he lived in the Sierra hinterlands, one of his far-flung neighbors was the great activist folkie U. Utah Phillips, who was prone to point to advances in racial and women's rights, organic foods, and such, and suggested, "Maybe we're winning and we don't even know it."
"That's the exact phrase I keep in mind," Jonathan said. "Name an era, pick a year that seems like fun. That Stones stuff was made in 1963-64, right? At that time, black entertainers in Las Vegas couldn't stay at the hotels they were performing at. It was the same time the freedom riders were murdered in the South. Some things may have been better then, but a lot of things were definitely worse."
The media, of course, has changed, as in: good luck hoping to ever hear anything good on commercial radio again.
"So? There are still a lot of things that people can do. People give shows in their houses. There are always ways around things. It's not time to despair."
Not So Much to be Loved as to Lovewill likely be released in April or May, and it will feature Jonathan and his nylon-stringed guitar, Tommy on drums, the wondrous sometime Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney on horns, and Miles Montalbano on bass. It's got an atmosphere, Jonathan says, and if you've seen his live shows, you know he knows a thing or two about atmosphere.
So what about the songs?
"Some are in Italian. Some are in French. Some are in English. That's about it."
But wait, there's more. How does the CD compare with his live shows?
"It's easier to put in your pocket."
Jonathan Richman, with Tommy Larkins on drums, performs at the Gypsy Den, 125 N. Broadway, Ste. D., Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840. Sun.-Mon., 9 p.m. $10. All ages; They also perform in a benefit for Voice of Democracy at Laemmle's Fairfax Theater, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Hollywood, (310) 842-8794. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $10.