The Hum ~ 7/26 ~ Something about Jonathan

Jonathan Richman

Remember a movie from the ‘90s called, There’s Something About Mary? The Farrelly Brothers raunchy rom-com begins with shot of a couple of guys in a tree playing the title track, a song that sets the scene in a tale about a guy who just can’t forget a girl.

“His friends would say be reasonable, his friends would say just let go, but there's something about Mary that they don't know. Mary, there's just something about Mary.”

The singer was rock ’n’ roll legend Jonathan Richman. His percussionist, Tommy Larkins, is up in the tree with him. Throughout the film they act as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action as Ben Stiller’s lovesick character Ted pursues Mary, played by Cameron Diaz. Spoiler alert: There’s a happy ending, but not for Jonathan, at least for the guitarist he played in the movie.

In reality, it provided a welcome little boost for the career of a songmaker who’d been making cool music for decades. Asked by an interviewer about how he writes songs, he said, “I don’t write, really. I just make up songs.”

Mr. Richman will be in town this weekend, playing some of the songs he’s made-up at the Arcata Playhouse Saturday night for what may well be a SRO audience. He filled the place with fans of all ages last time was here. 

Jonathan headed out running down the road in 1969, “with the radio on” and songs in his head. Still a young man, he left his home in Massachusetts for New York City and ended up couch-surfing at the Velvet Underground’s manager. He didn’t get far at first and returned to Boston. He wasn’t worried, he was having fun. He told that same journalist (Arielle Mae from Synthesis), “When I was 17-years-old I made myself a promise, that if it ever became work, I’d have to quit… I don’t believe in music like that.”

In time he put together a band, The Modern Lovers, with some sidemen who would find their own success later. (His keyboard player, Jerry Harrison, was in Talking Heads; drummer David Robinson joined The Cars.) The Lovers worked with John Cale (from VU) recording some true post-punk classics such as “Pablo Picasso” and “Roadrunner,” (not the Jr. Walker song), but they were perhaps ahead of their time. It was years before they released a record and they never hit the big time.

Eventually Jonathan went “solo,” or as he does now, he worked with a minimal backup from his friend Tommy on songs that told his own pure truth, simple yet deep. You can’t help appreciating his unabashed love for the world and his lack of pretense and cynicism. He’s rough around the edges and, on stage, seems almost out of control (in a good way), like the guy out on the town in his song “I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar.”

“Well in the first bar things were controlled, but in this bar things were rock and roll! In the first bar things were so controlled, in this bar things were way, way bold. I was dancing in a lesbian bar, ooh, ooh, ooh…”

They will definitely be dancing at the Playhouse, bring your kids, they’ll like it. Be prepared to shake your hips. Showtime 8 p.m. Again, advance tickets recommended.

At the LGBTQ+ bar

Speaking of dancing in a lesbian bar, DJ Anya is a bit worried about some gossip going around. She says, “I heard a rumor that Club Triangle was ending. Don't fret, Club Triangle is NOT going anywhere!” In fact in dance party is happening at The Jam Friday night with Anya joined by DJ Zero One and Joe-E from Deep Groove Society.

Anya continues, “I really appreciate everyone who has reached out and showed your love and support for Club Triangle. As the founder, promoter, DJ, manager and performer, Club T is an event that means so much to me. For the past 15 years, I have performed as a DJ in Humboldt County and dreamed of manifesting regular radical queer dances and performance art showcases.

“About 3 years ago, The Jam was the first venue to finally let me host regular dance parties for the LGBTQ+ community on Friday or Saturday nights. What started as a DJ dance party, has grown and evolved in so many ways, including an inspirational and much needed all ages shows [earlier, before the 21+ rules kick in], diverse drag, dance and burlesque performances, and regular community gatherings.

“Many of us have worked incredibly hard to create this sacred place and I am honored to be part of it. I look forward to growing and learning how to continue sharing the love and joy that I feel and see at Club Triangle with everyone in the community. Our next dance party is a ‘90s Night on July 28th and I hope to see you on the dance floor!!” The key word: Dance!

Who is she? I have no idea.

Meanwhile across town Friday, Humboldt Brews has Who is She presenting Brew 'n Bass with deep thumping music so you can “round up all your ridiculous dance moves” with Dub Cowboy, Mr. 415 and AneuRhythm. Remember, bass music does not typically involved bass guitar players, at least not with their instruments.

Like Johnny and Jerry

Kevin & Miss Lana

At the Logger Bar Monday, it’s a free show by Miss Lana Rebel and Kevin Michael Mayfield from Tucson, playing what I used to call “alt. Americana,” until the stupid right-wing troll types ruined the use of “alt." They have a newish record of what their liner notes refer to as “cosmic American music” to differentiate from country from “the ultra-patriotic death machine in which Walmart was born.”

Miss Lana told me she’s not exactly traditional, but sticks to the classic country themes. "They're pretty consistent you know — heartbreak, drinking, partying, being poor, mostly heartbreak — things that come up in life that are confusing. You try to get through your trials and tribulations thoughtfully and you sing about it. In that sense it's traditional, but I'm not trying to steal from old country songs, I try to make it personal.”

She admits, “I didn't grow up on a farm or anything; I grew up in Tucson leading a pretty normal life. I got into country later in life with some friends. We liked sitting around after hours singing together and learning old Johnny Cash songs, learning to harmonize, just having fun. After a while I figured I could write my own songs. I found that fulfilling so I kept on with it.”

Local country crooner Gabe Rozzell opens with some of those tunes by Johnny, George Jones and the like. ^^

Tuesday is August 1. If he hadn’t died, Jerry Garcia would have turned 75. In what’s become a tradition or a ritual, The Miracle Show is marking the day with Jerry’s Birthday Bash at Humboldt Brews, unofficial local Deadhead headquarters. Will there be a psychedelic light show? Probably. You can bet people will wear tie-dye.

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

Speaking of hippies, back-to-the-landers and the like, the annual backwoods firefighters benefit, Roll on the Mattole, is all day Saturday, July 22. A bunch of my friends are playing there: Wild Otis (bluesy rock n' roll), Stevie Culture (conscious reggae), Vanishing Pints (hippie Irish folk, but not quite Celtic) and some other local bands (see above), with the out-of-town headliners, Poor Man's Whiskey, who were all over the Kate Wolf Festival, playing their patented whiskeygrass versions of Kate's songs, Beatle covers, songs from the Summer of Love, etc. They also have a "wild land firefighter's challenge' and that's a lot of fun. They risk their lives protecting us from fires as best as they can, so they deserve our support. Roll on!

Ready for Reggae?

Rockers Saturdays at the Jam is a semi-regular reggae night, with this week’s party billed as “Reggae on the River Pre-Party North Humboldt Edition.” The show, presented by NobleTobal Sound and the Mateel, features Arkaingelle (from Guyana), Teomon (Maui) with NobleTobal Sound and Inner Standing (from Cali). They explain thus: “Roots>Digi>Dub>Steppers.” (Got that?) BassCraft SoundSystem is in the house, and you know what that means (lotza bass). If they make extra $$ it goes to the Mateel’s Tools for Change, sending tools of all sorts to Africa, for example to Zao village in Koupela Province, Burkina Faso, where they sent a previous shipment. They’re looking for gently used tools too. BTW, Reggae on the River starts next Thursday, Aug. 3, running through Sunday.

Tuesday (Aug. 1) at the Jam you get reggae plus from Pato Banton and The Now Generation with local funky/reggae/rockers Dynasty One opening.

Pato is not your typical reggae musician, nor is his music limited to reggae. Born and raised in Birmingham, England, he first came to prominence in the ‘80s during the two-tone ska era when he teamed up with Ranking Roger for a track on an album by the English Beat, and that Brit ska influence stuck with him, and not just the hiccuping beat. The two-tone movement was not afraid to take a stand on political issues, racism in particular. As Pato told me a few years ago when we chatted about his music, he sees having a message as crucial, especially since his audience is typically young.

“Sometimes I do songs that are hard-hitting and serious, and then I’ll do a silly kind of chorus that will have a serious verse with it. People will only hear the chorus like, ‘Na na na na na, niceness,’ and they go, ‘Here’s a silly lyric,’ but the youth, they hear the verse where I say, ‘The whole wide world is in a great big mess, because of political foolishness. When we should be striving for happiness, everyone's putting up their defenses. To make things worse, some mad scientists seem to specialize in destuctiveness.’ The kids hear the message hidden in there, and if it’s right, they’ll hold on to it.”

“I chose this career because it meant that I could touch other people, I could meet people and talk to them and maybe change people — guide them in the right direction. I think everybody’s got light, but some of us keep throwing liquid on it, it could be beer or whiskey or sex or drugs. I think if we all took a little time to fan the light, we would all shine.”

Lately it seems letting our little light shine seems more important than ever in the face of the darkness that often envelopes us. Be positive, or at least try. And be kind.