“I say, roadrunner once, roadrunner twice….

Walking in our neighborhood these covid summer nights, a friend and I have been counting roadrunners.

They are incongruous, relic dinosaurs as apex predators (but what of the hawks, and cats?) in our suburban neighborhood.

Early in the pandemic, we’d see one or two. Rarely zero, but rarely more than one or two. We’d see bug hunting and bird hunting (an epic standoff between a pair of roadrunners and a curve-billed thrasher comes to mind) and mating rituals.

The mating rituals must have been successful, because now we see families of three. I lose track, but my friend thinks six last night (or was it seven?).

One, two, three, four, five, six

Jonathan Richman was of course not thinking about the southwestern desert bird when as a 19-year-old proto-punk half a century ago (are we that old?) he wrote one of my favorite songs.

I say, roadrunner once, roadrunner twice

I’m in love with rock and roll, and I’ll be out all night

It is, Bill Janovitz has written, “more of a chant than a song,” earnestly unadorned.

Here’s one of my favorite versions, Richman and Modern Lovers bass player Ernie Brooks playing at Coney Island High for Joey Ramone’s 47th birthday party:

The strummed single chord (briefly a second now and then, even more briefly a third) – cheerfully driven – Richman’s eager joy at the world around him – “gonna drive past the Stop-‘N’-Shop”!

An anthem for this strange summer.

3 Comments

  1. Glad I’m not alone in feeling like this about this song! I’ve listened to it more than once this summer and always repurposed it (in my head) as a Route 66 anthem. (Jonathan Richman, if you’re reading this, our apologies, but when you sing “Can you feel it out in Needham now?” we just figure you’re being poetical about Needles, out there on the Colorado.)

  2. Skaidra – Yes!

    One of the things I think a lot of bands did when they covered it was to plug in their own place to the lyrics, or the place where they were playing their concert. Joan Jett sang it “New York City when it’s late at night….” when she played it on Letterman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMLqp65BNsk

  3. Some comments long ago at the AV Club noted that Richman was both the author of Roadrunner and Pablo Picasso (of Repo Man), but was also the Greek chorus troubadour in There’s Something About Mary, and somebody recalled Homer incredulously taunting Lisa about the magical animal that produces bacon, ham, and pork chops.

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