Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When We Refuse To Suffer — Jonathan Richman (2008)

July turned out to be an excruciatingly busy month for Bongo Jazz, as work on an annual report consumed almost every minute of personal time. There were many late nights at the office poring over compliance documents, performance measures and financial statements — and if you think that sounds dull and soul-sapping, you'd be correct. But, once the office emptied at the end of the work day, and I settled in for the second-half of yet another double shift, I'd bring out my little iPod speakers and put on some music. I'd play new stuff, old stuff, loud stuff, quiet stuff — and, at least once a night, I'd return to Jonathan Richman's latest CD, Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild. For those 45 minutes, Richman re-connected me to the real world where romance and art and life and death matter ... and org charts don't. The record was more than enjoyable. It was replenishing.

Now 57, Richman is making the best music of his career; his natural guilelessness and sweetness enhanced by the sort of profundity and perspective that comes with age. Ruminations on mortality pervade the new disc. Richman, who declared I'm Just Beginning To Live 23 years ago, is now admitting (without lament) Time Has Been Going By So Fast. He plucks Here It Is from Leonard Cohen's underrated Ten New Songs; the song's prayer-like refrain ("May everyone live and may everyone die") providing a powerful lead-in for closing track As My Mother Lay Lying, where Richman visits his mom in a nursing home and gleans wisdom from her last minutes of life. The song is so personal, so intimate and yet so universal. And, really, isn't that what great art's about?

When We Refuse To Suffer is another highlight — or should I say they're highlights, as the song appears twice in significantly different styles. Today's post is the second version, a slow-burning rumba with some sizzling electric guitar work, but both tracks share the same sentiment: In our attempt to avoid all discomfort, we've lost an integral element of living. Or, as Richman says much more eloquently, "When we refuse to suffer/When we refuse to feel/That's when the antidepressant wins/And the fresh air and the world lose."

When We Refuse to Suffer (link expired)

As much as I've loved his recent output, my favourite Richman song remains Now Is Better Than Before, the grown-up, unsentimental love song that closed 1985's superb (and inexplicably unavailable) Rockin' and Romance album. To my surprise, he brought it out of mothballs and played it on Later ... With Jools Holland. Here's his performance brought to you by the magic that is YouTube:



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