Songs about Los Angeles: “Rooming House on Venice Beach” by Johnathan Richman

veniceI have always loved Johnathan Richman.  Apart from, y’know setting the stage for punk music to exist (along with, admittedly, Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls, the Velvet Underground, and Television), Johnathan has the special virtue of having never sung a lyric that was negative or really critical of any topic he addresses, after 35 years of performing.  No cynicism, no biting wit, no sour recollections.  Sure, Johnathan has presumably been in, and definitely sung about relationships, cities around the world, social situations, and whatnot, but he always finds joy and humor in everything.  He also seems to have a special attachment to singing about places, though most especially of his hometown, Boston.

Johnathan sings of “Nature’s Mosquito” that “You see, God put me here just the same as he put you, so I’m nature’s mosquito. And that means I’m gonna go bite-bite-bitie-witie-wite-sir.”  Or of a discarded “Chewing Gum Wrapper,” “These colors move me more than most of what I see today.  I love the faded colors like would end up at the dump,  My heart goes bumpety, bumpety, bumpety bump.” Or yet again, of his “Dodge VegOMatic” that although it sits in the parking lot, with brakes of glass and tires of vinyl, he “likes this car a lot.”

Not all of his songs are quite as silly, but they all have a joie de vivre to them.  Singing about Los Angeles is not different.  […]His iconizing Los Angeles song has a somewhat peculiar temporal frame for me.  Johnathan apparently lived in LA during the 1970s, for a bit of his early career.  However, it took until 1992’s I, Johnathan for him to set the experience to lyrics in “Rooming House on Venice Beach.”  1992 was already a time for a very different LA than was 1976; however, I never actually knew the song until I moved to LA in 2006, and quite by chance bought that album. By the time I heard it, I already knew Los Angeles well enough to nod in agreement with Johnathan rather than merely listen with wide-eyed novelty about this strange place I might someday go.

So a bit of feel of the 1970s in Venice, which somehow feels a lot like Venice of the 2000s.

It was rough rough rough

With ancient rustic hippie stuff

It was cheap cheap cheap

Nowadays I hear that rents are steep

It was eerie, eerie, eerie

Followers of Watts and Leary

You could walk walk walk

To Marina del Rey by the dock

Oh the ancient world was in my reach

From my rooming house on Venice Beach.

Sure seems to copy the eternal Venice feel, in just a few lines, no?  Let’s try a little bit more of the lyrics:

It was a rooming house on venice beach

About half a block

To the ancient sea which i could reach

With half a walk

The ancient weird guy in his toga

Staff in hand

The ancient bearded guy doing yoga

On the sand

Oh the ancient world was in my reach

From my rooming house on venice beach

It makes me so terribly sad I had to be out of town when Johnathan played the El Ray a few months back. I sure hope he’ll make it back this way. Check him out if you ever have a chance, it’s an amazing live show. Not really chiefly for the musicality–though Johnathan and the musicians he works with are indeed startlingly talented–but mostly for the overwhelming charm and authenticity he exudes. Y’know, those very Los Angeles qualities.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u96COiazRS8[/youtube]

Unfortunately, I was not able to find a video or linkable sound file for the title song of this post. As a compromise, I’ll leave you with a different old place song from Johnathan, “New England”.

Also read more posts in this series.

5 Replies to “Songs about Los Angeles: “Rooming House on Venice Beach” by Johnathan Richman”

  1. That’s so cool, I’ve never heard the song. I’ll be sure to check it out now.

    We gave away tix to his show, the last time he came thru, and I hadn’t an idea he had such a history behind him.

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