My friend Mark Monnone (The Lucksmiths, Monnone Alone) is fronting The Bermuda Strollers, a Jonathan Richman tribute band at Longplay on Thursday 17th December at 8pm. I wrote this as part of ‘The Day I Met a Rock Star’ series.
Mark Monnone fell in love with Jonathan Richman in 1992. His discovery of the proto-punk trailblazer, credited with godfather of punk status for his work with The Modern Lovers on hits such as ‘Roadrunner’ and ‘Pablo Picasso’ and also known as chief balladeer in the Greek chorus bits of There’s Something About Mary, was so momentous that Monnone shared it on a Jonathan Richman fan page, twenty two years later:
Monnone became obsessed. The next year, he and Marty Donald, the tape-snatchee in the above story, started a band, The Lucksmiths, writing and performing lyrical, jangly pop songs that were to some extent ‘Richman-esque’. By 1996, when Richman announced his Australian tour, the Lucksmiths had enough indi success for Monnone to brave approaching the promoter.
‘We’d so, so love to play support,’ he gushed, perhaps including one too many sos. ‘I reckon they caught the note of desperation in my voice,’ Monnone laughs. ‘I owned twelve of his albums by then.’
Refused entry by way of the front door, the young guitarist started plotting alternate means of meeting his hero. ‘I got a tip off that he was staying at the rock n roll hotel, The Cosmopolitan, aka The Cosmo, in St Kilda. My idea was to give them a call, check that he was staying there, and then just go down and hang out.’
Monnone wasn’t sure what his tactics would be from there. ‘I think I just planned to find a bar or something, and sit there all day and try to talk to him and see if he wants to hang out.’
Step one was the phone call. ‘I wasn’t even nervous! I was just sitting on Mum’s couch in Bonbeach, feeling really casual because my expectations were so low. I figured they’d stonewall me. I mean, surely they’re not going to divulge that somebody is staying at the hotel, just because some goofy kid calls up.’
A female receptionist answered.
‘Hi. Is Jonathan Richman staying at that hotel by any chance?’
Monnone grins, remembering the moment. ‘Then she said … “yeah sure, I’ll just put you through”.’
Suddenly he was on hotel hold, a heart-thumping breve away from speaking to his idol.
Monnone’s Jonathan Richman impression matches the slow-talking, rambling, surfer-dude baritone I’ve heard on tracks such as ‘The Morning of Our Lives’. If anything, it has a touch of the Stallones.
‘Oh, hi Jonathan, my name’s Mark, I’m just wondering … ‘
It was panic time for Monnone. He couldn’t just gush his admiration, and yet, because he’d not expected to speak to Richman, had not put a lot of preparation into what he was going to say. He had, however, read almost every Richman related thing there was to read in those pre-internet days, and knew his hero was a non-drinker.
‘I couldn’t ask him out for a beer,’ Monnone explains. ‘Nor could I ask him out for a coffee. You wouldn’t be able to pull that one on Jonathan Richman. You’d actually have to offer something a little more interesting.’
‘The other thing I knew was that he’d been out to Kalgoorlie to go camping, just him and his drummer, Tommy Larkins. They drove out there and spent a week walking around and stuff, so I thought I’d have to ask him to do something special —something he hadn’t done before.’
‘Then I remembered that he loves sport. That he’s a sports fanatic who loves running around and doing excercise.’
‘I’m just wondering …’ The young Monnone made his decision. ‘I’m wondering if you might be interested in coming out for a kick of the football with me and some friends.’
‘What did he say,’ I ask. ‘Did you play kick-to-kick with Jonathan Richman?’
‘He was very polite,’ Monnone replies, before again lapsing into his Age of Aquarius Richman drawl. ‘Weeeell, that sounds great, Mark, but unfortunately I’m booked for an afternoon at the planetarium. But it was very nice of you to ask.’
Monnone grins. ‘So I got politely knocked back. And that was the end of that little chapter.’
Monnone has almost finished closing up the cafe he works at, Cam’s Cafe at Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent — sweeping floors and wiping tables. He adjusts his Buddy Holly glasses.
‘‘The Lucksmiths did actually end up supporting Jonathan Richman.’
I turn my voice recorder back on. ‘What?’
‘Yeah, we did. It was five years later, 2001, just after 9-11. Our UK record label somehow wangled it that we’d open three shows for him. So we played the Shepherds Bush, and then drove up to Birmingham and Manchester.’
‘Did you get to have a chat?’ I ask, willing Monnone to tie up all the loose ends, perhaps with a spot of kick-to-kick around Stonehenge.
‘There wasn’t that much hanging out,’ Monnone admits. ‘Jonathan and his drummer, Timmy —they’d offer us the wine in their dressing room because they didn’t drink. We got along pretty well, just nothing that stands out. I do remember one conversation [Lucksmiths vocalist] Tali [White] had with him. They were talking about stone masonry, because Jonathan had just become a stone mason, and Tali had been working on restoring an old castle in Croatia or something. So they raved on for ages. It was quite impressive.’
‘Did you personally have any long chats?’ I ask.
‘Not that I remember. He’s not really the sort of guy you have a heart to heart with. But he and Tali instantly bonded. Because they were both into bricks and things.’
Now the story really is over. Although I do think of one last question. ‘Did you tell Jonathan that you’d called him? That you invited him out for a kick?’
‘No no no no. No way. Hell no!’