Sunday, April 5, 2009

Jonathan Richman's Repressed Sexuality

The song "Someone I Care About" has always been a standout track for me from The Modern Lovers' self-titled collection. With only two defiantly strummed chords, the tune is one of the Lovers' (and therefore, Richman's) rawest and punkiest efforts, made all the more effective by the unconventional nature of the song's message. While rock music of the time was increasingly focused on unbridled sexuality, expanding rock's underlying hip-shake that had begun with its origins in folk and blues, Richman's songs on The Modern Lovers almost always (with the possible exception of "Modern World") focused instead on monogamy - finding the right one and staying with her, no matter what. We find this in the song's opening lines:

I don't want just a girl to fool around with
I don't want just a girl to ball
What I want is a girl that I
Care about, alright
Or I want nothing at all

Fair enough. Richman spends more time during the song's verses de-glamorizing the swinger's life than talking about the alternative, and, in his defense, it's a fairly sizable cliché to deflate. But most interesting is one of the song's later verses:

I'm don't want some cocaine-sniffing triumph in the bar
I don't want a triumph in the car
I don't want to make a rich girl crawl

Richman cracks himself up during the first line, but is it out of derision or fear of what he's about to say? The above three lines are the most brazen and sexually-charged found on the album, the moment where he drops goody-goody pretense to really let his id shine through. And honestly, the verse wouldn't stick out as much were it not for its last line. "Make a rich girl crawl"? The line is fascinating, not just for the very distinct, very raunchy image it conjures up, but the glimpse into Richman's psyche we are treated to for these brief ten seconds. Sure, he doesn't want to do it, but by presenting us with this uninhibited, sexist - and classist, for that matter - fantasy of absolute male domination in a sexual setting, he's proven to us that he has indeed considered it, perhaps even idly daydreamed about it in a masturbatory way.

From there, you have to reconsider the previous two images, if not the whole song. Suddenly, these fantasy women have become triumphs, not even girls anymore. In fact, the idea of the fantastic vacuous sexuality has gone past the idea of qualifying the females in question as human, but rather the gateways on the way to climactic achievement. Perhaps, in this world, the sex might not even be as important as the notch on the male ego belt. And we all know where we'll find these automaton-like creatures - either in the bar getting loaded, or the car fucking shortly thereafter. Unless they're rich, in which get the idea.

Like the extreme right vilifying pornography and sodomy, Richman slips in his renunciation of loose sex and polygamy in "Someone I Care About" to reveal that the same fantasies and desires have crossed his mind just like any other slob's - or rock musician's. But rather than simply calling him out on it, I mean to hold this song up as one of the man's better songs, laden with pathos in a way only a truly great songwriter can pull off.

Next installment: an in-depth exploration of the sublimation exhibited in "I'm A Little Dinosaur."

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