The birth of modern punk rock can be traced back to 1971, when ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale produced some demos for Richman's band, The Modern Lovers. The sound was fresh and alive--absolutely contrary to the de rigueur progressive rock that was the boring result of self-indulgent rock stars exploring the parameters of pretension, usually on a Moog synthesizer. If you thought that sitting through a 20-minute drum solo was bad, 30-minute quadraphonic keyboard noodlings made you want to scream--which, unfortunately, the bands seemed to take as a sign of approval. A lot of people smoked pot so they could get into the music. Some of us did it so we could better ignore it.
However progressive it was, it wasn't rock. It was a creepy joke played on a bunch of kids who were coming of age in desperate need of a noise they could relate to. Record companies were typically slow to catch on and bands like Yes, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer pursued this masterbatory exercise throughout the early part of the decade. Spectacle was added as a precaution, just in case you would wake up and realize how insufferably dull the music was. But no amount of laser shows, pyrotechnics, costumes or make-up could hide the fact that something fundamental was missing: It didn't rock.
Toward the mid-'70s people began to wake up hungry for a good time and a dose of reality. Rather than taking his cues from Middle Earth Hobbit adventures, Richman tore a page from everyone's high school yearbook.
The Modern Lovers album was finally released in 1976, nearly five years after most of it had been recorded. By that time, the Boston-based Richman had already profoundly influenced other musicians both in the U.S. and England with his stripped down, simple songs. Richman showed bands like The Ramones, Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees that you didn't have to be a virtuoso to express yourself musically. All you needed was three chords and the nerve to get on stage, something that was lost during the heyday of prog-rock.
Kids who had been hiding in their bedrooms practicing their scales and trying to sound like Hendrix heard the Modern Lovers album and realized that they didn't need Marshall stacks or a bank of keyboards to make people move.
Richman thought that rock and roll was about the basics: sex and boyfriends and girlfriends. Songs like "Pablo Picasso," "Roadrunner," and "Girl Friend," are as brilliant today as they were when they were first recorded, making it one of the greatest rock albums ever. He delivered honesty about adolescent neurosis so raw it made the audience blush.
Most of all, it was fun.
While some members of the Modern Lovers moved on to join bands like the Talking Heads and the Cars, Richman continued to record, mixing the frivolous ("Abominable Snowman in the Market," "Dodge Veg-O-Matic") with heart-felt depth ("Important in Your Life").
Sadly, radio has largely ignored Richman, proving once again that being ahead of your time has its drawbacks. Critics now regard 1990 as "the year punk broke," citing Nirvana's breakthrough success in a genre that Richman began 19 years earlier.
Still committed to the D.I.Y. aesthetic he pioneered, Richman constantly tours back and forth across the country presenting his honest songs in a more personal setting than MTV. Lately, Richman has stripped things down even further, touring as a twosome with Tucson's own Tom Larkins on drums.
Richman and Larkins will make a stop in Tucson on Sunday, February 11, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. While we're lucky enough to have him swing through town fairly often, each show promises something new and entertaining. It's also your opportunity to see a rock and roll original who doesn't make his living off churning the past.
The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are only $5.
LAST NOTES: Stefan George & Songtower will be celebrating their fifth anniversary with a special concert performance at 8 p.m. Sunday, February 11, at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave.
The band has a lot to celebrate given that over the last five years they've had two successful CD releases, Songtower and Cactus & Concrete, while their ever-expanding audience voted them Best Acoustic Ensemble in the '94 and '95 TAMMIE Awards.
George opens the show with a solo set of slide-guitar blues. Songtower, otherwise known as Jan Daley, Lavinia White, Will Clipman and Jay Trapp, will follow with two sets of original, acoustic folk-rock. They will be playing some new songs as well as old favorites. CDs, tapes and refreshments will be available.
Tickets are $5 at the door, with a $1 discount for KXCI, TBS and TKMA members.
The Softies and Elliott Smith visit Café Luna Loca, 546 N. Stone Ave., on Wednesday, February 14. Take your valentine and make sure you're there to see Wise Folk Malcontent open at 9 p.m.
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