The short story is that Jonathan Richman asked me to
tour with him in 1977 and I said no. The long story…
Jonathan would have known about me in 1977 from my Late Riser's Club radio show, The Boston Groupie News (where I wrote an insightful [I say.] review of his Rock And Roll album), and my EP Blowfish In The New Wave where I do a parody of him.
Photographer Denise Donahue had told me that Jonathan was interested in a project with me and asked for my number. Not long after he called. He said he was arranging a tour and wanted me to be on it. "Doing what?" was my response. I assumed he wanted me to do my comedy bits but I had only done them on tape. I had no stage show at all.
He then suggested we meet and discuss the plan. He lived very near Harvard Square. So, on a crisp winter's afternoon mid-December 1977 I tromped down there.
It was a two-story home. He lived on the second story. He had almost no furniture at all: mattress on the floor, one chair, one electric guitar with real small amp, one acoustic guitar, old single piece record player with maybe 20 records strewn on the floor, and, strangely enough, 5 or 6 inflated balloons lying around.
So, there I am face to face with THE MAN. I was nervous. I talked a little about his guitar and records and asked him to show me how to play Girl Friend. He did but I immediately forgot…too nervous.
He tells me that he wants to tour without a band. I'm shocked at this. He might use the electric but mostly it would be acoustic guitar or NO GUITAR AT ALL. Now I am shocked beyond belief. I just couldn't imagine what a rock and roller would do.
He then presented his idea. There would be a group of talented individuals who would have their acts or time on stage. The group would be interactive. So say during my act if I was doing a bit and Jonathan had an idea he would come on stage and just do it with me. During his act I could go on stage and goof on him. The whole group and its acts would develop as time went on. Always fresh. Reacting to each situation as we saw fit.
It would be sort of a Rock and Roll variety show. He talked about Ledbelly how they said he would travel with just his 12 string and when he saw a community he would just post a few hand written flyers and have a show that night. Jonathan just didn't like the whole IDEA of a rock show with big amps, big stage, big preparation, etc.. The whole codified thing was a turn off. His idea was flexible with the accent on creativity.
I asked who else would be part of the show. He said I was the first one he asked so there was no one else at the moment, but he would want a group. I thought this was a very good idea. I wished I was talented enough to do it, but I thought I was just too unprepared. I never had done a comedy bit on stage and saw no way of getting up to speed for this which would be very high profile because of Jonathan's involvement.
I told Jonathan I had no stage act and felt I couldn't do it. After some discussion where I just begged off, he asked me to watch what he had been working on. He then proceeded to give me a one-hour show. One performer, audience of one. He used his acoustic guitar only for one or two songs. He would create rhythm by stamping the floor, slapping his thighs or chest, or clapping. On the song about the baseball player he picked up a baseball mitt and socked the leather pocket for a beat. Every now and then for a dramatic effect he would stomp on a balloon (that's what they were for!).
I tried to remember the songs for later but there were too many and I was just amazed. I didn't know whether I should clap or react in any way. I did clap every now and then.
Now this was mid-afternoon in mid-December. The sun went down real fast. After a half hour it was dark. Forty-five minutes along, it was basically PITCH BLACK. Jonathan was a voice in the dark to me. I guess I should have turned on a light but it was just too unreal and I didn't have a clue on how to act.
He finished. I clapped. He turned on the solitary lamp. I told him that his act was pretty amazing. He talked to me a while trying to convince me to go along with the tour idea. I continued to say no. As I left he asked me to think about it.
Needless to say, this was a unique happening that I have remembered and cherished. I have always felt guilty because Jonathan never did what he described to me that day. Whatever I do, it was a key part of his idea. My saying no put the kibosh on the plan. Even as this thought brings on waves of self-loathing I realize I couldn't do it EVEN NOW.