Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole

A couple weeks ago I went to see Jonathan Richman at The Local 506 in Chapel Hill. I wanted to see someone play at the legendary Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, which even though the address says Carrboro and not Chapel Hill, is still just down the street from The 506, but I guess I'm getting too old to know who the hell all these bands lined up to play there for the next three months are (who the fuck is "Los Amigos Invisibles"?). The only artist I knew and was remotely interested in, who was scheduled to play for the UNC crowd, was the singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist Jonathan Richman. I only knew about Richman from the Farrelly Brothers' movies, "Kingpin" and "There's Something About Mary". He was the singing narrator in "There's Something About Mary" and he sang in the background in a couple scenes in "Kingpin".

I've seen Kingpin countless times (it's my favorite Farrelly Brothers' movie) and for some reason Richman's brief performance of "Corner Store" and the other song that was played in the background of another scene (I think it was "That Summer Feeling") always made an impression on me. Enough of an impression that I was willing to drive the hour and a half from Winston-Salem to see him live after years of not thinking anything about him or buying any of his albums. I did a little research before the show, so I would at least know a few of the songs he would play. Most of his songs are filled with honest emotions about simple things like missing his "Corner Store" or remembering "That Summer Feeling". He is known for his "wide-eyed and childlike innocence", and some have called his lyrics simplistic and naive. How else can I put it? This is the kind of guy who gets choked up when he reads a poem like "The Lamb" by Romantic Age painter/poet William Blake. No, really...

Yeah, if you described this guy to me, I would say, "Not my cup of tea", but somehow his style works for me. Go figure. I mean there's still a lot of humor in some of his songs. He's not John Denver. And somehow he still has a real "rock" or even "punk" aesthetic even when he's singing about his old "Corner Store". Back in the seventies he was in the protopunk band "The Modern Lovers". Yeah, protopunk. The Sex Pistols covered "Roadrunner", and "I'm Straight" sounds like it could be the anthem for straight edge.

Six of the songs on The Modern Lovers' debut album were produced by John Cale, and the Lovers have kind of a Velvet Underground sound, but the songs are sung with Richman's "wide-eyed innocence" instead of Lou Reed's world weariness. The songs are about growing up in Massachusetts, love of life and dating awkwardness. Besides "Roadrunner" the most popular and oft covered song from the album is a song about Picasso. "Pablo Picasso" is a simple and sarcastic song all about how your petty problems were not those of the great artist. "Some people try to pick up girls and get called asshole. This never happened to Pablo Picasso," sings Richman. "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole," is repeated several times throughout the song, which implies to me at least that he should have been, even if no one dared.

Even if he was only five foot three, if I had to live an important artist's life it would be Picasso's. He was rich and famous long before he died. He seems to have lived much of his life as a celebrity, and had countless mistresses and lovers, all while being one of the most prolific artists in history. I found this website, "Picasso's Women", which lists Picasso's eight "major" relationships. Several of these women have claimed that he was abusive, and I've read that he often teased and belittled his long time friend Jean Cocteau. Whether these things are true or not, everyone knows if you've got power you can get away with being an asshole.

Anyway, Jonathan Richman and his drummer Tommy Larkins put on a great show at The Local 506. I hope that it was smallest place these guys played, because The 506 is only the second smallest venue I've ever seen anyone play. Someone at the show said Richman was originally scheduled to play the Cat's Cradle, but was moved to The Local 506 to accommodate "Los Amigos Invisibles". I think that's a shame. I was inspired enough by the show and what I've subsequently read about Jonathan Richman to make the following video...

Speaking of Picasso, about twenty years ago I painted these two Picasso knockoffs for my own use:

"Still-life with Candle", 1990

"Bullfight", 1992

1 comment:

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    Pablo Picasso Paintings