In the late afternoon of New Year's Eve 2002 I was in a record store in Pamplona, Spain. The shop was in a modern quarter full of apartment complexes, not the old bull-running town centre. There wasn't a great choice of records to buy. The only one that interested me was 'I'm So Confused' by Jonathan Richman, because one of the songs, 'When I Dance', had caught my ear late one night on the radio and it sounded like my kind of catchy alt-pop.
But I wanted to save my money for going to Paris two days later, so I left the CD on the shelf. I didn't buy 'I'm So Confused' by Jonathan Richman in that small music shop in Pamplona, and that decision has had a disproportionately huge effect on my life.
In Paris I looked for the album but I couldn't find it. I went to nearly every record shop across the city and it wasn't there. I became a bit obsessed with it. This was bad news for the French girl with me, who was being dragged across town and back so that I could find some obscure CD. Later, I would wonder why things didn't work out with her.
Back in Dublin, it wasn't in any record shop either. I knew this because I forensically searched all of them. And so, instead of picking it lovingly from the tree of music, I had to descend to the level of ordering it from some warehouse in Arsebucket, Illinois. (Not only do I never order music, but I never download it either. Like with books, I have to find records in the shop after much traipsing over town and rummaging through racks.)
The album arrived and I loved it; multicoloured alt-pop songs with a pitch-black undercoat of despair and loneliness. The songs are from the time of Richman's divorce, and in all of them he's at less than top-of-the-morning form. He's either feeling socially awkward ('When I Dance'), physically threatened ('Nineteen In Naples'), rejected ('The Lonely Little Thrift Store'), insecure ('Love Me Like I Love'), heartbroken ('True Love Is Not Nice') or depressed ('I'm So Confused'). And these are the uptempo numbers.
Of course, listening to the album got me thinking of the French girl, which made me feel like Richman in those songs. So, I was consoling myself with a record which went some way to bringing me down in the first place. "What if I had bought it in Pamplona...?" I wondered.
The following year Richman brought out a new album, 'Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love'. He was happily in love again, and his new songs were every bit as drippy and naff as the title. I was so appalled that I felt the need to warn the wider world. So I wrote my first CLUAS review. Four years later, here I am back in Paris and still writing for CLUAS.
It feels somewhat strange and significant, then, to see Jonathan Richman play here in Paris last night at the Nouveau Casino. These days he's still relentlessly lovestruck and happy, so there's no room on the setlist for any of those dark songs from 'I'm So Confused'.
However, Modern Lovers fans still get to hear acoustic versions of 'Pablo Picasso' and 'Girlfriend' (spelt "G-I-R-L-F-R-E-N"), and the more recent cult favourite 'I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar'. But Richman's uneasy relationship with his own back catalogue, like your blogger's discomfort with using the first person singular pronoun, means that he doesn't play the remarkable 'That Summer Feeling'. (He didn't sing 'Give Paris One More Chance' last night, so Irish fans shouldn't hold their breath for 'Rockin' Rockin' Leprechaun' or 'Just Because I'm Irish'.)
Richman plays the whole show in Spanish-guitar style, as well as singing several numbers in Spanish, so the set tends to blur into one flamenco-lite medley. His only accompaniment is his long-serving drummer, the admirably stoic Tommy Larkins (also his wingman in 'There's Something About Mary'), who gets plenty of solo time whenever Jonathan decides to drop the guitar and start dancing. You'll either buy into Richman's innocent joie de vivre or you won't.
After Paris last night and London tonight, Richman has a short Irish tour this weekend, starting at Whelan's in Dublin on Saturday night (10 May). He then heads up to Belfast on Sunday for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and finishes at the Roisin Dubh in Galway on Monday 12 May. Go and see him.
Here's a song you probably won't hear Jonathan Richman play this weekend; the title track from 'I'm So Confused'. You know a bit too much about your blogger now, we fear: