Jonathan Richman autographHis Body Came To Cavort

Jonathan Richman at the Troubadour 12/8/10

I’m so glad I waited all this time to see Jonathan. Since meeting him on cassette in 1988, I’ve only once seen JoJo –– walking down the trail above Griffith Park. “Hi Jonathan!” I called out to him, right in front of me, in a pea coat and a striped sailor shirt. Very politely, he smiled and cocked his head, squinting, “Well, hello. Now when did we last see each other?” Thank you, Jonathan, for giving me a line that I use every chance I get when I bump into someone who knows me and I have no idea who they are.

Trying to describe Jojo’s dance moves is not easy, nor is it fun, which is what his dancing is all about. It’s not about rhythm or beats so much, but by being moved to show off and shake it! He knows people are watching, and that they will dig it, so he holds the guitar neck with his left hand and does the behind-back toe step, and a stiff shimmy, a drop-knee pose and at least three round-house kicks, all the time using his face and his eyes, his groove at first hiccuped by the crowd’s loud approval, then pushed into overdrive with those borderline-chaste hip-thrusts. He doesn’t even use a strap for his Spanish nylon-string, instead preferring to hold it high and close like a bolero, or let it sag a bit and crouch with a knee bent, making my 9-year old laugh that he looks like he needs to go to the bathroom –– which is a high compliment.

Jonathan is a phenomenologist, learning about life through reverie, moments of awareness reified and memorialized in pop lyric, fleshed out with six strings and ultimately offered to us from his heart and hips. “Summer Feeling” was heavy on empathy for people stuck in jobs they hate, and I don’t care if he ever had a job that he liked or hated, the song accomplishes so much more than a biopic could. “My Baby Love Love Loves Me” required him to put down the guitar several times and dance, because the guitar is only a way to get girls, and once you get the girl, anybody in their right mind would put down the guitar and get busy.

People say Jonathan’s naēve and simple, but he really makes us stretch as he lectures us to take seriously our stewardship of “These Bodies That Came To Cavort” (off the new album O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth), challenging us to get active –– in Spanish. (Jonathan sang in three or four other languages, including “Che Mundo” in Italian, translating line for line, and another in something between Portuguese and French.) Almost Buddhist in his willingness to live life raw, he implores us to resist the urge to refuse to suffer, so that we can feel life and be able to enjoy it once in a while. Then he reaches out to the Catholics (or the drunks, or both) as he reminds us that our Christ / our yuppie wine-tasting host / the bum with the Ripple “brought us the wine to taste, not to criticize or waste” but to drink it at this party which we can leave at any time, and if we want to leave this imaginary party, then go ahead, feel free to leave this party. But tonight, nobody leaves the party.

Jojo’s last encore was the title song from his new album. Like a twisted update of some lai by an original Breton troubadour, it’s a steamroller of hush, a sophisticated classic that comes to us through someone who understands silent nights, starlight, a girlfren, loneliness, the command of a key change, and the importance of being welcoming to strangers on the path. Gail Davies opened, solid with a broken arm and collarbone. If anyone can nail it steady on Vicodin, this 62-year-old outlaw can, and she did, along with her son Chris Scruggs on city-melting ‘lectric and some other freshman from Nashville. Jonathan watched her entire set from the upstairs backstage, in awe of his friend as she wailed John Prine’s “Unwed Fathers,” Bocephus’ “Lonesome Blues” and several more of her own killers.
–– Mario Prietto