Friday, August 9, 2013

The Modern Lovers -- "Roadrunner" (1976)

Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive to the Stop 'n' Shop
With the radio on

Jonathan Richman is a very odd duck, so it should come as no surprise that "Roadrunner" -- his most famous creation -- is a very odd song.

A young Jonathan Richman
In fact, legendary rock critic and music journalist Greil Marcus has described it as "the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest."

It's the perfect song to feature in this 2 or 3 lines post not only because this post is a very odd duck as well, but also because both the song and the post mention Stop & Shop, which is the dominant supermarket chain in southern New England, including Cape Cod.  (Stop & Shop is now owned by the largest grocer in the Netherlands, Ahold N.V.)

I usually hit the Stop & Shop in East Dennis the first morning of my Cape Cod vacation.  Most of the groceries I buy are for myself -- the rest of my family has donuts or muffins from local bakeries for breakfast, and picks up sandwiches or chowder from nearby delis for lunch.  (Money is no object -- especially when it isn't your own money that you are spending!)

I know that you are eagerly waiting for me to share my personal grocery shopping list.  My narcissism knows no bounds, so I will do so gladly.

I am known for preparing two fabulous recipes each summer.  The first is gazpacho -- which consists entirely of fresh vegetables and fruit and vegetable juices), making it shockingly healthy compared to what I usually eat.

My gazpacho recipe was featured in the best pro football and recipes blog on the planet, Naptime Huddle (currently on indefinite hiatus).

Click here to see that recipe.

A couple of my family members are big fans of my gazpacho, but no one has ever asked to share the other dish I traditionally make when on Cape Cod.

That dish is as yet unnamed -- suggestions are welcome -- and consists of a small can of tuna, grated carrots, sliced raw mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and a can of beans (pintos, great northerns, kidneys, cannellini or habichuelas rosadas), all of which I combin in a big-ass Tupperware container and splash with Italian dressing.  It's low in fat but high in omega-3s, antioxidants, and fiber (which is, as Jack LaLanne once told me, "nature's broom").

I'm not sure why I bothered giving you that recipe -- there's not a damn one of you out there who is man enough to eat it.

While the rest of my family is gorging on cinnamon crullers, chocolate-chip donuts, and blueberry muffins for breakfast, my favorite petit dejeuner consists of ripe canteloupe, seedless red grapes, and a cold chicken drumstick cooked on a charcoal-burning Weber.

Believe you me, that's a combination of sweet and savory that can't be beat.

(My current wife asked me today why I never eat that breakfast when I'm home.  First of all, I usually have leftover pizza for breakfast.  Second, I eat that pizza in the car as I drive to the Metro station -- I try to get to my office downtown by noon if I can, and that doesn't leave a lot of time for dawdling at the breakfast table.)

Jonathan Richman was born in a Boston suburb -- you can bet his mom did her grocery shopping at the local Stop & Shop -- and founded the Modern Lovers in 1970, when he was barely out of high school.  (The band's keyboard player later joined the Talking Heads, and the drummer joined the Cars.)

"Roadrunner" was recorded in 1972, but wasn't released on an album until 1976, after the band had broken up and Richman had moved to California to pursue a solo career.  His early songs were inspired by the Velvet Underground, but he soon decided he wanted to play quieter acoustic music.  

Richman is a naif -- his songs and his manner of singing is often described as childlike.  Critic Robert Christgau, who once described Richman as a "moderately gifted neoprimitive egomaniac," had this to say about one of his albums:

[I]ts self-indulgence represents not the manipulative arrogance of a star but rather the craziness of an almost powerless case of arrested development, and you can hear that.  However unattractive a child Richman may be, he does convey the fragile lyricism only children are capable of.

Christgau described another of his albums as "great kiddie music -- lotsa innocence, lotsa animal songs, even a snot joke. But kiddies seem to prefer Donna Summer. So put him down as an original and wonder yet again just how much that counts for."

Jonathan Richman today
"Roadrunner" is a strangely compelling song -- I've been a big fan of it ever since I first heard it in 1976, when I was in law school.  (As noted above, Richman was a native of the area and extremely weird to boot, so naturally he was a darling of Boston reviewers and audiences.) 

"Roadrunner" has been covered by a lot of people -- including the Sex Pistols, the Feelies, Wire, and Yo La Tengo.  The most famous cover version is Joan Jett's.  (As I understand it, Joan used to sing the song in concert, altering the Boston references in the lyrics and mentioning instead grocery stores, road names, etc., in the particular city in which she was performing.)

Here's "Roadrunner":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:


  1. Jonathan Richman is great singer. As I feel old is gold. Old songs stay in heart for long time.

    Tahitian Noni Juice

  2. As you might guess, I'm familiar with the Joan Jett version, and have seen her do it live in LA with references (as I recall) to the Long Beach Freeway. When my wife and I drove across the US in 1990, I planned the trip to cross the Hudson on the "GW Bridge" as mentioned in the recorded version. I also have the completely different song recorded by Bo Diddley back about 50 years ago. When I lived in Duarte (an LA suburb best know for the City of Hope medical center) we had real, live roadrunners running through our neighborhood. (no, they didn't go "beep beep")