The manchild Jonathan Richman explores his deepest concerns
F. Wu | CA United States | 12/13/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First, before reviewing this wonderful album, a few words for the un-initiated about Jonathan, who is way too childlike to address as Mr. Richman. Jonathan is a boyish, charming singer-guitarist who wears his heart on his sleeve. His voice is seemingly untrained, his guitar playing unsophisticated, but his songs are honest and emotional. What Jonathan lacks in musicality, he makes up for in passion and personality; more than any other performer I know, he lets us right into his heart. Depending on the listener's personality, this sloppy sentimentality is either a complete turn-off or a reason to keep showing up at his concerts.
On this album, "I, Jonathan," (1992) he continues to chronicle conflicts in his marriage with Gail. We see his then-wife mentioned by name in a previous album, "Modern Lovers '88" (1987), in a celebratory song which has only the lyrics "Gail Loves Me" repeated over and over. In his 1991 live album "Having a Party", he sings of how he got together with her just for fun, but Gail treated the relationship more seriously, and she never laughed at his jokes. In other songs, Jonathan reveals himself to be an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs personality scale - a emotional, intuitive, feeling, perceiving person, in essence, a man-child. Gail - as Jonathan describes her in song - comes across as sober, cautious in action ("Make a Mistake for Me Today", on 1989's "Jonathan Richman" album), conservative in dress ("Everyday Clothes," also "Jonathan Richman"), perhaps even a bit icy ("Closer," also on "Jonathan Richman"). Gail is an INTJ - introverted, intuitive, thinking, judger - close to the opposite of Jonathan. Benny and Joon these two are not. Gail is the grown-up.
On this album, "I, Jonathan," Jonathan again addresses themes of personality conflict, of his free spirit bumping into the constraints of Gail (and others') logical, orderly and organized thinking. Even on songs which are not relationship songs, these issues of freedom and judgmentalism percolate to the surface. He celebrates the seminal rock band "The Velvet Underground" for being "wild like the USA ... bold and brash, sharp and rude." In "Rooming House on Venice Beach," he reminisces about a simpler, happier time when he was unencumbered by possessions, money, locked doors, or... relationships. "Parties in the U.S.A" describes the police breaking up a quiet coffee-drinking gathering of innocents, wrongfully accusing them of being too loud. In "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar," he contrasts the laissez-faire, hip-shaking, rock-and-roll bar with a more conservative, uptight, and self-conscious bar where patrons drink in sips. Is this how he views his marriage to Gail? In the swooning "That Summer Feeling," he pleads (apparently in futility) that sentimentalism and nostalgic revelry will overcome and soften the listener (Gail?). Jonathan's longing for freedom is crystallized in "Tandem Jump," about parachuting. (This latter song is thematically connected to "Floating," on "Surrender" (1996), in which he invisions himself physically distanced from his family.) Jonathan's free spirit is in chains.
On his relationship songs, he addresses these ideas more directly. He sings "'You Can't Talk to the Dude' and things will never be right until you go." Someone can't converse, someone else's sense of humor has gotten worse. The pronouns are changed around, perhaps, but when he sings about the dude's bad eating habits (cross-reference "I Eat with Gusto!" on "Jonathan Richman"), it becomes clear that Jonathan is the dude who can't communicate. Gail, being straight-laced, can't stand his manners (or lack thereof) and his inability to communicate is as annoying to her, as her mincing his words is annoying to him.
Even in the song "Higher Power," which thematically and musically parallels "Gail Loves Me," Jonathan celebrates his initial meeting with Gail. "It's magic, it's magic, the way we got together," he exclaims. But ... "I knew it from that first kiss, so stingy and so spare," and most tellingly, "I knew how it would be, the way she hated me."
All told, these are brilliant, wonderful songs; I've been listening to this CD non-stop for several months while driving around in my car. The music itself, even when singing about sad and troubling things, is happy and uplifting. The emotional honesty here is breathtaking, but it is the sadness and knowledge that the relationship is ultimately doomed (as chronicled by later Jonathan albums), which helps this album stand up to repeated listening, as it mixes the sour into the sweet.
More than anything, this music makes me feel like I have a friend who understands me, in Jonathan Richman."
Richman's coolest album
Gena Chereck | Nebraska, USA | 06/08/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Richman's 1992 album I, Jonathan has got to be his coolest. He waxes nostalgic on several tracks without becoming mired in sap. "Parties In the U.S.A." is one of his best, built on a groove (and some of the lyrics) from the '60s hit "Hang On Sloopy." "Velvet Underground" is a tribute to one of Jonathan's favorite bands, performed Chuck Berry-style except for the mid-song break in which Richman slips into a spot-on Lou Reed impression to perform a snatch of the Velvets' "Sister Ray." A six-minute re-recording of 1983's "That Summer Feeling" sonically recalls the Velvets' "Sunday Morning" and "All Tomorrow's Parties." It's a beautiful song about the gulf between childhood experience and adult nostalgia; the "summer feeling" refers to childhood filtered through the adult mind so that only the best stuff is remembered, and Jonathan insists that it is a seductive, deceptive, and potentially destructive force ("you'll throw away everything for it"). This tour-de-force is followed by the zingy surf-rock of "Grunion Run," the jangly love ode "A Higher Power," and "Twilight in Boston," Richman's dreamy spoken-word tribute to his hometown. Other gems include the tense "You Can't Talk to the Dude" and the funky "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar." I'd put this right up there with Having A Party (1991) as one of Jonathan's most consistently entertaining efforts."
JoJo as focused and fine as your going to find him
Gena Chereck | 09/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're a Jonathan Richman fan, you probably approach each new album purchase with a mix of exitement and trepidation. You ask yourself, "Will there be more than one or two great numbers on this one?"If you've been wondering what's become of the JoJo who turned you on your head-- here he is! This is head and shoulders above anything else he released in the 90's. You've got to back to 1979's "Back in Your Life," or 1975's "The Modern Lovers" to find as complete and satisfying a mix of pure, clear Jonathan."
His Best Album
Gena Chereck | 01/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I own about 10 of his albums, and have seen him live countless times. In my judgment, this is his very best work so far. I highly recommend it."
The Velvets' true heir
glubak | Mosman, NSW Australia | 07/19/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Jonathan Richman has picked up on two elements of the Velvet Underground that most of their followers missed. The first is the core of sweetness in songs like "I'll be Your Mirror", "Lisa Says" or "Rock and Roll". There's a similar spirit of innocence and joy in Jonathan's songs, and not a scrap of cheap irony in a song like "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar", for example.The second element is the Velvets' musical roots in simple 50's rock'n'roll. Jonathan has caught that sound beautifully on this album, in all its lo-fi glory."