I've always wondered if Jonathan Richman's faux-naïf personality and songwriting style was something of a put-on, if one can really maintain that much childlike energy into one's 50s. I think the answer to that, like to most things, is - sort of. Case in point: Sunday night at Radio Radio, Richman performed a new song, "My Affected Accent," in which he apologies, 30 years later, for an early adulthood when he put on airs, speaking with a professorial rounded "O," saying "the aforementioned" when he should have said "that." It suggests that Richman, like Dylan, knew a time when he was so much older, but has devoted himself to crafting a personality where he's younger than that now.
Why? Well, to accommodate a sense of curiosity and exploration that can be employed describe a lover as creating an atmosphere of peppermint and "root beer color" or catalog the objects in a thrift store ("the avocado green appliances with the smell of domestic violence"). To experience things directly, without the intermediaries of air conditioning or antidepressants - "When we refuse to suffer, when we refuse to feel / that's when we can't win, because our whole body will have the last laugh." To look at a painting and really dig on the artist's vision of the world - "Some paintings smell of joy and sweat, some paintings look so fine... But Vermeer sends a chill up your spine."
Playing on a classical guitar with only his longtime drummer Tommy Larkins, Richman ranged in style from flamenco, French café music, harp-like picking (in his tribute to Harpo Marx) and country music. It was as quiet crowd as I've ever seen at Radio Radio, and nearly a full house; even if Richman doesn't sell so many records (perhaps hampered by an allergy to technology chronicled in his song about why he hates cell phones), there's plenty of people in Indianapolis who know his work with the Modern Lovers and appreciate his legacy.
Richman was relaxed, keeping an open mouth that resembled a smile throughout the show, looking a little devilish in a bright red shirt and a smattering of facial hair. Cosmopolitan despite his lack of pretense (and affirmation that the Old World is dead), Richman not only sings goofy but engaged paeans to the great masters, but he's also multi-lingual, singing in Spanish and French, translating from one language to another. He even used a Spanish tune - "Es Como El Pan" - as a mission statement for the night; each show is like bread, not entirely invented or improvised, but created each night for the crowd, with little flourishes or changes to keep things fresh, never more than a few hours old. A clever and economical songwriter, endearing and joyous presence and capable and inventive guitarist, Richman did seem to create himself anew, drawing from his broad catalog and new songs that suggest he's still exploring, still curious.