The Village Voice put in an interview request to talk with Jonathan Richman — Modern Lovers founder and frontman and overall pop-rock purveyor as they wanted to know more about his time in New York, how it inspired him then, and how he feels about the city today.
Before long, the weekly newspaper got word that their interview request had been forwarded to the singer by priority mail, Richman’s connection to the outside world runs through the United States Postal Service. He does not do phone interviews; he does not own a computer.
In his handwritten response sent via snail mail, Richman riffed on his short stint living in New York with the kind of romanticism and eye for detail that make his music so treasurable.
Sorry I can’t do phone interviews but here’s something: I moved to New York when I was 18 to be near the Velvet Underground and that whole Andy Warhol art scene. I thought I would do art with them but what really happened was I spent the 10 or so months I lived there, more or less alone, walking around after work (work was as a foot messenger for Esquire Magazine and before that on Wall Street).
The grand, monstrous scale of the place sticks with me. The Battery on a cold Saturday afternoon in the winter by those ancient ferry buildings with the huge ferry buildings of New Jersey and Staten Island off in the distance and the monstrous fifty-story financial buildings all closed up looming over you. Chinatown nearby on this ten-degree afternoon with the fish and salt smells cutting through the cold air.
Or a winter Saturday morning in that Ukrainian neighborhood at E. 5th and 1st Ave., with the silent old men in those little shops that sell ikons and sell honey and stuff too — with the cold, silent street outside with the rat piss smell cutting even through the six-degree air.
Yah! Bethesda Fountain in the Spring! Chestnuts as work lets out at 5 PM in the late fall! It all still lingers in me! And, as have so many other strong atmospheres, it has affected my ear for sound and music just as it has affected my eye for color.
Here’s a full shot of Jonathan’s letter:
Via Village Voice