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Jonathan Richman brims with local memories at the Middle East

Singer Jonathan Richman at the Middle East Upstairs, Thursday Oct. 18.
Singer Jonathan Richman at the Middle East Upstairs, Thursday Oct. 18.(Rebecca Ostriker/Globe staff)

Jonathan Richman remembers being 16 and standing in Harvard Square, a portfolio of “pretentious artwork” in his hand. He misses Schoenhof’s Foreign Books, which closed the doors of its Cambridge shop last year — his “favorite bookstore,” the singer says, where he collected Italian adjectives and idiomatic expressions for a tune about a great party. “What kind of people wouldn’t shop at such a place,” buying books online instead? Richman asked forlornly Thursday night, in a sold-out show at the Middle East Upstairs. “Where’s the justice?”

The indie charmer known for “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso,” for “Egyptian Reggae” and “There’s Something About Mary,” Richman is 67 now and a little gaunt, looking more and more like a figure in a Boston Expressionist painting. Dressed in his familiar horizontal stripes with a blue oxford on top, he brimmed with local reminiscences as he closed out a four-show run at the club. Richman grew up in Natick, roamed the world, and keeps coming back; he’s been playing the Middle East for decades, according to club co-owner Nabil Sater. Backed by drummer Tommy Larkins, the singer strummed his guitar, shook maracas, joked about Cambridge parking permits, mentioned a visit that day to the Museum of Fine Arts, sang a Rumi-inspired song about wine, and led enthusiastic sing-alongs for “New England” and “I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar.”

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Perhaps fitting on a night when the Red Sox clinched the American League Championship to advance to the World Series, he also recalled visiting Fenway Park as a boy in 1960, Ted Williams’s last year with the Sox. He barely knew who the great ballplayer was, but even from 500 feet away, he said, he could see that Williams was special. And when he heard that “crack” — a home run — he kept it with him. He doesn’t have it on video in a phone, he emphasized. He has it “in here,” he said, touching his heart. That’s “the Fenway, where I dreamed my dreams.”


Rebecca Ostriker can be reached at ostriker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeOstriker.

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