Jonathan Richman Four-Night Album Release Party
Make-Out Room; San Francisco, CA

{When We Refuse To Suffer}

It is possibly simpler to feel invulnerable by being cynical and worldly and jaded. Jonathan Richman, though, thinks that it’s better to suffer.

I know this because of his new song, "When We Refuse To Suffer."

"When We Refuse To Suffer" is nice to hear, because I have been sleeping on my friend’s floor for two months and am now sleeping in a sublet bed. After that, I’m cat-sitting for a friend for two weeks, then another month’s sublet in another friend’s room. I am unemployed and peanut butter has begun to taste like loneliness. So hearing Jonathan sing "When We Refuse To Suffer" reminds me of why I moved to San Francisco.

So does Jonathan, which is what I am going to call him because that’s who he is, like how the dude in The Big Lebowski is The Dude. I first heard "I’m Straight" and "I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar" at a time when I was not straight at all — straight-edge I mean, which is what the song is about. And as for lesbian bars, the only ones in South Carolina... oh wait, nope, no lesbian bars in South Carolina.

I have still never danced in a lesbian bar, even though I live in San Francisco. I have, however, been to Jonathan’s favorite place to perform in the city. That place is the Make-Out Room, a night club with old-school class and new-school swank: red velvet curtain on the stage, deer heads of glittering metallic behind the bar. I see him the second and third of the four nights he plays.

He performs it at the Make-Out Room July 16 through 19, a four-night album release party.

The album is called Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild. It is his 23rd.


I am a little shocked to be seeing him, which is what I need. I have been suffering. I mean it is just that I am so very unemployed, coffee costs $3, I miss my family, my sweater smells like cat pee, and other stuff too. But that is life, my friends. So it’s reassuring to hear Jonathan sing

When we refuse to suffer

That’s when the Prozac wins

As my +1 Peter says, it is impossible to be depressed when watching Jonathan perform. He smiles from within like how a yogi stretches from the core, connecting physically to his instrument like a jazz or blues musician does. You know, a sort of abandonment. So maybe he does have a song that encourages us to go through pain so we won’t get numb. The mood he induces though, with warm classical guitar licks as Tommy Larkins provides a mellow outpouring of drum beats, is pretty painless.



Jonathan would be boring to see if I didn’t like his back catalogue of the past 35 years. (He’s 57.) But in a friend’s roach-infested, crayon-scrawled apartment in Columbia, South Carolina last summer, I first listened to the song "I’m Straight" and got excited. The song is an answering machine monologue to a girl he likes, a girl who keeps running around with these perma-stoned hippie johnnys.

Jonathan isn’t the hot young thing with the guitar and blue eyes who wrote "I’m Straight." He’s now playing classical guitar, singing in French and Spanish; his taut face is creased the way leather creases; and he plays songs like Pablo Picasso with a glazed, even nostalgic attitude.

I wonder what it is like for him, looking out at a crowd 20 and 30 years younger than him. He plays "Time Has Been Going By So Fast" from the new album at both of the shows I see. It is a damn charming song. He actually attempts to carry notes, revealing a flawed baritone. The jangly guitar and subtly raucous cymbal clanging of Larkins are pretty upbeat, even though the message is that

"Time has be going by so fast

So that I can foresee the day we’ll say goodbye

We’ve been having fun all these yesteryears

But time keeps going by"

I think that this song is about the music community. Jonathan is still at the party, but he won’t always be.



"Girlfriend" has the feeling of a song like "My Girl" or an Al Green song, except with more of a slow ’70s groove. The song is like he is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and that’s fine, but something he really understands is a girlfriend. One line of the chorus is, "I’d have a G-I-R-L-F-R-E-N," which of course everyone sings with him at the show.

That song was released 37 years ago. Fast-forward to the title track of the new album. Here’s some of the lyrics:

"Because her beauty is raw and wild

She is at the core of the stars we see

Because her hair is curly and wild

She don’t need nothing in it to transcend"

Raw and wild? Core of stars? Hair transcending? What the fuck? He plays it both nights, and both times I wish that I was still a heavy drinker.

He does play a new love song that I like, "The Lovers Are Here And They’re Full Of Sweat." It is about young love, which apparently encompasses being smelly, youth hostels, trains, not changing clothes, being no good at business, writing bad checks, and making sterile places live.

“So what if they owe you five dollars,” he says during the bridge. “They’re lovers.”

Modern lovers.



"No One Was Like Vermeer" is one of those songs off Because Her Beauty in which Jonathan’s sense of humor ruins his attempt to be serious. It gets as deep as

"Vermeer was eerie

Vermeer was strange

He had a more modern color range "

What I really get out of this song is the classic rock sense of paranoia, maybe like you would expect from Jim Morrison had he gotten out alive.

He also nods to Leonard Cohen in his cover of "Here It Is," which is a dark song that comes off as not so much — he sings some lines about life and death, then busts out a shaker and starts dancing.

He’s funny, see. The best joke of the second night comes when it’s time for intermission, during which he says that “Smokers can eat cigarettes, you can put on deodorant — anything can happen!”

Jonathan appeals to me the way that pewter cookware and vintage dresses do. He brings out a nostalgia for the middle age I want to go home to one day, when I’m not too broke to get my teeth cleaned and assimilating myself constantly to the smell of urine in the street. It is perhaps indeed best to suffer. Better still if you can do it with a smile and a hip swing and a wink to the pretty people on the flanks of the stage. Life is good, according to Jonathan Richman — even when it’s not.

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