At 2:35 p.m. Sunday, a herd of visibly anxious, slightly nerdy music fans could be seen running across the dusty field at L.A. State Historic Park in Chinatown, heading toward the Miranda Stage.
Drawing them, like Bärenjäger to alcoholic honey bees, was the awkward, off-kilter, supremely signature whine of Jonathan Richman. It was the sound of stoned, painfully introverted high school nights.
The godfather of modern indie rock was in rare form as the white-hot sun glared with a mirthful eye at the golden dead grass of the park, and the long-converted bounced in unison to the fun-loving performance of their patron saint.
"I don't watch TV," Richman declared as the Gold Line light rail whooshed behind the stage on elevated tracks, heading for Union Station. "What's that box that you keep in your pocket and it rings? Yeah, I don't got that. You know that thing with a monitor and a keyboard underneath? Yeah, I don't got that."
And it was clear that he wasn't lying. Playing flamenco-style riffs on a small acoustic guitar, accompanied by the bare-bone drum thump of his longtime collaborator Tommy Larkin, Richman appeared blissfully disconnected from the ultra-cool attitude of modern rock 'n' roll.
He danced with silly affectation -- skinny, black-jean-clad hips shaking back and forth, arms spread wide and angular like a rare bird, head preening on slender neck -- mouth twitching with the shadow of a beneficent smile, aimed with radar-like precision at the adoring crowd.
Kurt Vonnegut once said, "I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit." He followed the line by saying that he believed the Beatles accomplished that valuable task. Well, so did Richman on Sunday.
Even a gaggle of acne-pocked young teens who had no idea who Richman was, or why he mattered (despite the fact that they too are likely all alone in their rooms longing for a g-i-r-l-f-r-e-n), could be heard saying, "He's so happy, that guy won my heart. He'd be the best boyfriend ever."
"I didn't use the shuttle," Richman said at one point of the transport service that's offered by the festival to performers. "I ran, because it's hot and this is my kind of weather. It puts me in a good mood."
His good mood translated to everyone's good mood. His technologically unadvanced joy was infectious (he refused to use monitors of any kind). It was easy to wonder what Richman's music would sound like if he had been born in the modern era. But the thought of him finding online connections rather than sulking in isolation in a cold teenage room on bitter Boston winter nights is impossible to imagine.
No longer a Modern Lover, Richman is simply a lover.