Did anyone else have a really brutal week? Our nominations this round sure did. And it was such a brutal week personally that I didn’t even manage to vote on my own post or for my own nominee. Not that my vote could have secured a victory for “The Origin of Love,” by Jonathan Richman. I’m not surprised at its loss; in this tournament I only nominated songs that I truly love, without regard for their potential mass appeal, and if you’ve never heard Richman his appeal is not necessarily immediate. But the thing is, when you love him, you love him. You feel about him the way people feel about Mr. Rogers, and for much the same reasons. And when you have posting privileges, you can write swan songs, so let me tell you about Jonathan Richman.
Jonathan Richman first came to be known for his band The Modern Lovers in the 1970s, and continued to be influential in the punk and New Wave scenes in the 80s an underground sort of way. If you want to understand modern indie rock, listen to their eponymous 1976 album. But my first experience with him came two days before September 11, 2001. I was 18 and on the verge of leaving California for college in Seattle, and in one of the inaugural moments of my independent life, I drove down to San Francisco with a couple of friends to see Belle & Sebastian at the Warfield. Jonathan Richman was opening, and I had never heard of him. When he came on, my friends and I were unimpressed. Like the snotty, overconfident, ignorant teenagers that we were, we sneered at his storytelling and talky, simple songs played on a jangly acoustic guitar. He would stop in the middle of a song and just start telling a story. We scoffed. We left and killed time before Belle & Sebastian started looking at merch and buying t-shirts.
The next day, we drove back to Sacramento. The day after that, the Twin Towers came down. Two weeks later, my grandfather died, and the day after that, I left for college. The world reeled.
I forgot about Jonathan Richman for awhile as I tried to find my footing a new world, until I met a boy who I’d soon fall in love with who put one of his songs on a mix tape for me. The song was “Affection,” and I gained a lot of it for Richman. This song encapsulates a lot of his style and themes: he brims with sincerity and boyish enthusiasm as he sings about love and makes fun of himself for when he used to be too uptight. Richman started peppering my playlists and mixes, as I collected more of his music.
It was nearly 10 years before I was able to remedy my 18-year-old stupidity of blowing off the opportunity to see Jonathan Richman live, but when I did it was like being wrapped up in a nonjudgemental music hug. I was dealing with being dumped, and nothing could have been a better balm. Jonathan Richman invites you to share in a more authentic world. He believes in the importance of connection between people. And he loves a good party.
So, voters, I urge you to look into Jonathan Richman. Give him a little time. Come back to him. And just see if he doesn’t settle into your heart.
And with that, I give you the numerical results, which were across-the-board quite low:
“Love Me” by Department of Eagles defeats “What Goes On” by Sufjan Stevens with a mere 4.4 average, 79.4 to 68.5.
With an even lower average of 4.35, we have “Common People” by William Shatner over “Friday Night Fever” by the Silver Jews, 78.3 to 72.8. David Berman, the singer for the Silver Jews, writes in one of his songs that “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing.” If you understand that sentiment, you probably love the Silver Jews. If you think that’s bananas, you probably scored this song low. But Jacob, I’m with you on the Silver Jews love. A great and underrated band.
You crazy kids love your contemporary songs and just don’t appreciate the classics, with “Bad Romance” by Lissie with a 4.8 average defeating “Origin Of Love” by Jonathan Richman, 91.7 to 72.5.
And finally, with a 6.4 average and the only competitive score of the day, “Heartbeats” by Jose Gonzalez defeats “When Doves Cry” by Quindon Tarver, 121.3 to 76.5.