In answer to the unasked question, yes, Jonathan Richman, "rock's wonderfully eccentric craftsman," is the same slightly bemused-looking singer/guitarist who popped up now and then in There's Something About Mary. Credit is due to the Farrelly brothers for recognizing Richman's status as rock's greatest practitioner of magical realism and for introducing him to a whole new audience. Richman's musical narrative embodied the "destructive/redemptive power of love" theme buried under the scatological humor of the film, and the sight of him singing while perched out on a tree limb with drummer Tommy Larkins visually punned on the precarious nature of Richman's music and career.Although Jonathan's appearance in the film was suitably odd and enchanting, seeing him live with a roomful of strangers is the best way to experience the full power of his art. Something mysterious and wonderful happens to people when this boyish-looking man with the smiling eyes takes the stage with his guitar and begins singing in his clipped, nasal New England accent. Richman's sublime songs about how love breaking hearts and fixes hearts, and how selfishness breeds loneliness, and how revealing naked emotion is the cause of and cure for life's greatest disappointments are more than epistles from a man who is supremely self-aware and disarmingly unselfconscious. His heartfelt lyrics and wry, playful guitar weave Sesame Street naiveté and Dorothy Parker witticisms into powerful magic that opens hearts and makes strangers smile sheepishly at one another as they clap and sing along with the anthemic "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar" or the devastating "Affection." Why is it so comforting to know that even as you're struggling to maintain a hold on your branch, there's someone even farther out on a limb trying to keep his balance? Try not to think about it. Just hold on and listen to that guy sing, and know that you're in good company.
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