Where does one begin with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers? Maybe in college, driving at night on a road trip or coming back from a party and someone slips in a mix tape with the song “Roadrunner” and even if you don’t know the words, you can sing “WITH THE RADIO ON” at the top of your lungs and laugh with your friends? Or years later, you see Richman in a very cold and ancient Veterans Hall, where the heating has gone but you can get right up to the stage and he smiles at the crowd while singing songs that remind you of the clever boys you know who always have an original turn of phrase at their fingertips in a moment’s notice?
The Modern Lovers are considered a seminal band for a variety of reasons. If nothing else, several of its members went on to join bands that are considered seminal in their own rights. Jerry Harrison (guitar) went on to join the Talking Heads; Dave Robinson (drums) went on to form the Cars after leaving the band. Though the sound of the Modern Lovers was strongly influenced by the Velvet Underground, there was a uniqueness to their approach to music that wasn’t quite as dark and moody. Richmond wrote and still writes about real life in a very genuine way that at least made this awkward kid from New Jersey feel like someone else out there knew and understood.
Pablo Picasso is one of the more Lou Reed-esque songs on the debut album The Modern Lovers. It has all the touches of a John Cale produced song, with droning guitars and a steady snare beat by Robinson; the solo guitar work is primitive in the instrumental break. It echoes back to another Cage produced song, The Stooges “I Wanna be Your Dog”. What differeniates this song is Richmond’s lyrics. “Well the girls would turn the color/Of the avocado /when he would drive down their street/ in his El Dorado” is one of my favorite lines and reminds me of those cubist painting of women and the odd thought of the famous artist driving about in one of Cadillac’s finest.
When I first met my husband at our mutual place of employment, we were sitting around the break room and someone mentioned that they were going to see a Picasso exhibit in New York. My husband quietly commented to the group “Well, one thing you can say about Pablo Picasso, is that he never was called an asshole”. At that moment, I believe fate decided we were supposed to spend the rest of our lives together.