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Richman's Party Open to Everyone : Pop music: The singer brings the exuberance of his current album to an appearance at the Coach House tonight.

January 22, 1992|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jonathan Richman thinks his current album, "Having a Party With Jonathan Richman," is his best yet, and that's probably true, at least until his next one comes out.

The disc is chock-full of rockin', heartfelt songs about the power of love ("When She Kisses Me"), the constrictions of some relationships ("My Career as a Homewrecker"), the iciness of the New Age ("Cappuccino Bar"), Richman's own artistic thaw ("Monologue About Bermuda") and the beauty of deep night ("At Night").

"There's only one thing I'd do different" about the album, Richman said Monday, after riding Amtrak from Northern California for an appearance tonight at the Coach House, "and that's have more revelers and partiers. I needed more partiers on it."

Indeed, in the annals of party albums--which tend to be brash affairs with much shouting and clinking of Coke bottles--Richman's may be the loneliest-sounding bash around.

"It isn't so much me having a party as it's me hoping for one," he said. "The difference between my record and so many other party records you hear is my party record is made by a guy living outside a town with about 80 people in it. And of those 80 people, some of them have passed away. And I don't even live in town."

For those not familiar with Richman, the cover photo for "Having a Party . . ." may seem curious: The ever-exuberant singer evidently is having the time of his life entirely by himself in the nature-strewn back yard of his home in the Sierra Nevada foothills above Sacramento.

That image, though, may express a good deal of what he's all about.

While many of us try to make deals with life--"I'll let go of the handrails if you promise I won't get hurt," "If everything falls into place, then I'll be the person I want to be"--Richman, rather, got happy long before his circumstances gave him cause to be.

The story's there in his music: In his 20 years of recording there's hardly a song that doesn't spring from his own feelings and experiences.

There's a great body of love songs, unwavering through the years he waited for the woman who is now his wife to see him in a similar light. There are dance songs geared for the sort of party Sam Cooke attended in "Twistin' the Night Away," which also is the sort of party Richman didn't much see happening in the '70s and '80s. So he made his own personal shindig look like so much fun that he's persuaded concert audiences from Madrid to Osaka to join in.

Along the way he has virtually painted with music, catching the vibrancy in everything from a Van Gogh painting to a "blue-jean jacket in the sun." With a child-like eye, he views crucial things about adult love not addressed in others' songs: for example, the way marriage should be a celebration instead of an obligation, and the way married folks can let the fear of giving the neighbors false impressions keep them from having deep friendships with those of the opposite gender.

And about his number entitled "I Eat With Gusto, Damn! You Bet"? He means that, too: Have a restaurant meal with Richman, and you'll likely bear the admiring stares of the other patrons as your table partner scoops up the potato salad with his fingers.

But then for Richman, rock 'n' roll lives in the moment. That's why he never uses a set list. For an entertainer to achieve an honest performance, he said, "all you have to do is just say how you feel right that minute, and I think that's as naked as you really need to be.

"You do that and everything else takes care of itself. I've got to make sure that I'm not singing a song that's one mood when I'm feeling another mood, so, song-wise, I have to make sure I have something for all the moods I might have. That's why sometimes I make them up right while I'm playing."

And once in a great while, he said, "I have moments when I don't know what to do next. I don't make a secret of it. I just tell the audience, 'Look, I don't know what I feel like doing now.' But I wait around, and I always think of something eventually."

Richman says he's the only performer he knows who gets nervous only after he performs, when he has to deal with club owners and drunk-hour traffic. He's at ease on stage.

"Some people make records and then they do live shows to 'support' the record," he said. "I don't do that--I'm a live entertainer who also happens to make records. The show is completely affected by the audience that turns up. I'm usually a good time, but I don't even promise that."

The one thing he wants from his audience, he said, is emotion. After one show last year in a concert hall in Victoria, British Columbia, Richman wasn't satisfied with the response he got from the audience, so he proceeded to play for a small group of fans in the theater lobby to get the intimacy he wanted.

He's aware his notion of rock 'n' roll isn't necessarily the one shared by most rock acts.

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