Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Modern Lovers

There are a TON of bands & songwriters that I love: The Dave Clark 5 and The Kinks and The Who and Paul Revere & the Raiders and Buffalo Springfield and Joni Mitchell and The MC5 from the 1960's; Mott The Hoople and Blue Oyster Cult and The New York Dolls and Richard Thompson and Patti Smith and Nick Lowe and about a hundred others from the 1970's, my all-time favorite decade of rock & roll.  There are a LOT of rock & roll acts I love - you've seen them sprinkled through the pages of this blog - but there are only THREE that have actually changed the way I look at the world: those three are Bruce Springsteen, Elliott Murphy, and The Modern Lovers.  I've covered Bruce and Elliott extensively in the past, today we'll be discussing The Modern Lovers.

I initially heard about The Modern Lovers from my first rock & roll best friend, Dave Blackburn.  (For an entire entry about Dave, back at the very beginning of this blog, please click here: Dave Blackburn.)  After Dave flunked out of Ohio State University (on purpose, mind you, he was WAY too brilliant to not hack a state school like O.S.U.) in 1972 and moved to Boston, one of the first letters he wrote me was about seeing The Modern Lovers in a high school gymnasium somewhere out in the Massachusetts suburbs.  (With youngsters Aerosmith opening the show, by the way, more on them later.)

I am in no way suggesting this image is the exact show Dave saw, but I love this picture.......

He wrote me that they were one of the five greatest bands he had ever seen.  And, mind you, he and I had seen The Who, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors, Cream, and Janis Joplin - among many others - together by the time we were 18 in 1970.  Plus Dave had seen The Velvet Underground at Columbus' Valley Dale Ballroom in November, 1966 before we even knew each other, so that five greatest bands thing was nothing to be taken lightly.  He wrote me that The Modern Lovers wore matching cashmere sweaters & brand-new jeans onstage that night, and this was in the middle of the oh-so-woeful-get-back-to-the-country-patched-jeans-'n'-flannel-shirts hippie heyday of 1972.

He further wrote that the band sounded like "The Beach Boys crossed with The Velvet Underground." Huh?  What?  Did Jonathan Richman, Ernie Brooks, Jerry Harrison and David Robinson enact sunny four-part harmonies on tunes about heroin & femme fatales?  That description puzzled me for the entirety of the next three years, until I sent away for Beserkley Chartbusters Volume 1 album in 1975, and finally got to hear some Modern Lovers songs.

The day it arrived in the mail I put it on my turntable and my head exploded.  There's no real way to explain lead singer Jonathan Richman to the uninitiated, so just give me two minutes, and listen to this.

Jonathan Richman (backed by The Rubinoos) playing "The New Teller"

In 1975 all of my standards of rock & roll BAND professionalism were based on Aerosmith.  The Who were long gone from my radar, I'd seen The New York Dolls at Vet's Memorial in 1974 and they sucked BADLY live, punk hadn't hit yet, and I didn't see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band live until April of 1976.  Aerosmith were my yardstick/touchstone for rock & roll bands.

When the needle of my stereo touched down on "The New Teller" that afternoon in 1975, my first thought was, "Oh no, this is TERRIBLE."  I had been waiting YEARS to hear The Modern Lovers, and here was leader Jonathan Richman: out of tune, out of time, singing about the new teller at his bank (?), backed by handclaps and acoustic guitars.  I had been waiting for Velvet Underground drug-fueled noise aggro, for N.Y. Dolls decadence, for Aerosmith power & swagger; what I was getting was a song about waiting in line at a bank.  By thirty seconds in, though - right around the lines, "There's only three in the other line, but in my line, well I count eleven / Well that's fine, 'cause I'm in heaven" - I said out loud to myself, "Wait a minute, this is great."      

And then "Roadrunner" came on, and nothing was ever quite the same again.......

Jonathan Richman (backed by Earthquake) playing "Roadrunner"  

"Wait a minute," my 23-year old rock & roll brain said, "what if 1970's rock & roll doesn't HAVE to be just about drugs and honky tonk women?  What if it could be about drivin' past the Stop & Shoppe with the radio on?  What if I could think back past heavy metal and singer/songwriters and psychedelia and The British Invasion to riding in the back seat of my dad's Oldsmobile when I was 5 years old, trying to figure out what planet Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry were broadcasting from? What if there could be some Essential Innocence in rock & roll again?"  (All of a sudden the Beach Boys side of Dave's equation came clearly into view.   And when the largely John Cale-produced  Modern Lovers' demo album was released on Beserkley in August 1976 (see below), The Velvet Underground side clicked firmly into focus.)  

And the biggest "what if?" of all: What if Warner Brothers records had released The Modern Lovers' first album in 1973 as they were slated to do before they realized, "We have NO FLIPPIN' CLUE as to how to present & promote these guys to a rock & roll industry currently salivating for the likes of Black Sabbath and Van Morrison."  And what if - in one of those scenarios I only come up with given my early childhood addiction to "Imaginary Stories" in DC comic books - it was The Modern Lovers who scorched out of Boston and became the biggest American Band in the Land rather than Aerosmith?

What if "Roadrunner" and/or "Hospital" had become the FM & AM hits that "Walk This Way'" and "Dream On" did?  What if short, fast, hard, loud, INNOCENT rock & roll tunes took precedence over ponderous 10-minute guitar solos (and half-hour drum solos, God help us) in songs about coked-up musicians fucking groupies on the road?  What if songs about "going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, to the room where they keep the Cezanne" held sway over Styx tunes about spaceships or Kansas encouraging/validating stoners to consider themselves just "dust in the wind"?  What if The Modern Lovers had naturally set the stage for The Rasberries, Blue Ash, Big Star, Elliott Murphy, The New York Dolls, The Dictators, The Patti Smith Group, The Ramones, The Clash and about a hundred others?

What if KISS never existed?  What if the great blue-jeaned masses of the Midwest went around proudly singing "I'm Straight" rather than "Rock & Roll All Night?"  What if they didn't swallow qualludes like they were penny candy and tap their feet to Journey?  What if Lee Abrams and Big Business never took control of rock & roll, strangled the radio, invented classic-rock and kept Baby Boomers forever chained to the yoke of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Allman Brothers?  What if we never had the albatross of a 70-year old Mick Jagger running around the world singing "Satisfaction" and making babies with 30-something year old models hung around our necks?

Was it Elaborate Rock Fantasies like these that kept my 1970's bands forever out of the mainstream of Midwest rock & roll?  Yeah.  Does that syndrome extend to this day?  Damn straight it does, and I couldn't be prouder.

Radio on.......



The Modern Lovers / demos recorded 1971-1973 / released August, 1976

The Modern Lovers / Live @ the Stonehenge Club / Ipswich, MA / 1970-1971


There's Something About Jonathan / Tim Mitchell / Peter Owen Publishing, 1999

c) 2017 Ricki C.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Ricki C. Interview - by the Pencilstorm Editorial Board

Growing Old With Rock & Roll is not solely an excercise in nostalgia.  I still play gigs.  To illustrate that point, tonight we update an interview that originally appeared on Pencilstorm a coupla months ago, when I was opening a show here in Columbus.  I'm rerunning it here because I'm playing the Midgard Comics Reunion Show this coming Friday, April 7th, at the CD 102.5 Big Room Bar.
(For more on Midgard Comics, check out the blog linked here from December, 2013.)  

Ricki C. Interview - by the Pencilstorm Editorial Board 

P/E/B - You’re the only rocker of our acquaintance that will be eligible for Medicare this year: Why do you still do this?  And can you remember your first gig?

Ricki - My first gig was in 1968, at my classmate Ermogene Delewese’s birthday party, in her parents’ basement rec room.  It went great.  The first song I ever sang in public was Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.”  That’s not a bad beginning.  I’m seriously thinking of trying to find out Ermogene’s birthday, booking a gig on that day in 2018, and quitting the music biz forever exactly 50 years after I started.  (I haven’t seen or spoken to Ermogene since graduation in 1970, so that birthday bit might be tough.)

And, why do I still do this?  What else am I gonna do at this point, become a brain surgeon?

P/E/B - After almost half a century in rock & roll, after seeing literally hundreds of bands, can you name your top three performers/songwriters off the top of your head?

Ricki - Absolutely!  Those three are The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Elliott Murphy.  It’s not even close.  Lou Reed would be fourth and he trails by a wide margin.  No, maybe Ian Hunter (originally of Mott The Hoople) would be fourth, because he’s still alive and putting out great records.  Anyway, after the Top Three, things get kinda sketchy, due to Rock & Roll Alzheimer’s.

Plus, The Who comes with a caveat: it’s The Who from 1965 to 1972, from “I Can’t Explain” to the Who’s Next album.  After that, from Quadrophenia on, there’s a big drop-off in quality.  And I won’t even consider the notion of any band not containing Keith Moon to actually BE The Who.  There might be a band out there containing Pete Townshend & Roger Daltrey calling itself The Who, but without Keith, it don’t count.  (Not to mention John Entwistle.)

Bruce Springsteen and Elliott Murphy – on quite the other hand – are still fucking brilliant.  They’re both only three years older than me, but I fear that someday I might inhabit a planet that does not contain them, and I don’t know if I wanna live on that sphere.

“The smart people won’t listen
And the stupid people don’t wanna know
After love, hope & dreams
All that’s left is a Trump presidency and classic rock radio”

-    Ricki C. / 2016

P/E/B - There’s a fair amount of politics in your rock & roll; given the demise of The MC5, do you think that’s wise?

Ricki - Yeah, I do.  Plus I think my political songs focus more on people than they do politics. When I first stumbled on the solo acoustic rock & roll act in 1990, my idea was that I would be the Billy Bragg of Columbus, Ohio.  I’ve lost a lot of the agit-prop aspects of the Ricki C. show, I think now it’s more focused on individuals than causes.  That being said, I will never set foot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame again EVER in my life after they inducted Journey this year OVER The MC5.  Some sins can never be forgiven.

P/E/B - Nowadays, you’re almost better known as a roadie than as a performer, how did that happen?

Ricki - When Hamell On Trial hired me as his road manager after I opened a show for him at Little Brothers in the late 1990’s, it put a real crimp into the amount of gigs I played.  Then I joined the Watershed road crew in 2005 and that cut even further into my playing time.  Make no mistake, I wouldn’t trade one minute of those tours: Hamell & I criss-crossed America five or six times in the first decade of the 21st century, I got to see 44 of the 48 contiguous United States; and the good times (and beach vacations) in the Watershed van are irreplaceable.  Plus, truthfully, I’m probably a better roadie than I am a rocker.  I’m too OCD to be a rock & roll star.  I'm not really cut out - given my shy Catholic-boy upbringing - for snorting cocaine off of groupies' stomachs.  I'm much more inclined towards wanting the gig to start on time and for none of the wires to be crossed.

Also, I’m really, really lazy.  I never seek out gigs anymore.  They just fall in my lap.  Somebody asks me to play, and I play.  Otherwise I just stay home, feel sorry for myself and write Pencilstorm blogs about The Neighborhoods and The Dictators.

P/E/B - Tell us about the gig this weekend.

Ricki - I'm playing the Midgard Comics Reunion gig at the CD 102.5 Big Room Bar (1036 South Front Street / 614-449-9612) this Friday, April 7th, 2017.  The superlative Mr. Keith Cousineau - former owner of Midgard and Keith Cretin to you - put this bash together.  Doors are at 7 pm, music starts around 8, goes to midnight or thereabouts, $5 admission.  I would think I'm opening, and the other acts on the bill are Joey74, Robots Revenge, godawfuls, and Mummula.  Plus I think Keith's playing a solo set in addition to fronting Joey74.

There’s much worse things you could do with your Friday night (like binge-watching some crap T.V. on Netflix or Hulu), you should come out.  

For some songs, check out:

If All My Heroes Are Losers

Strummer's In Heaven

(c) 2017 Ricki C.