The crucial boundary between appreciation and stalking was observed a few years ago at a pub in San Francisco. Jonathan Richman, about to walk onstage, was addressed by a young man: "Can I shake your hand?" Richman obliged, then slapped the respectful fan on the back encouragingly. But unbeknownst to Richman, a woman at the foot of the stage was about to test the limits of her charm and that of the eminently charming entertainer himself.
As he pranced through his set, Richman's poetic sock-hop folk sent the woman over the edge and into complete Richmania. Maybe it's the gentle way "I'm a Little Dinosaur" and "The Lonely Little Thrift Store" move the listener to identify with the travails of humanized animals and objects. Or "Give Paris One More Chance" -- so picturesque it could reform the worst Francophobe. In any case, sometime after "When I Dance" and Richman's accompanying soulful jig, the woman hopped up onstage, expecting him to sweep her off her feet. Instead, the 51-year-old punk vaudevillian cast a worried sidelong glance at the interloper and continued with the show until she headed back into the crowd. Such is Richman's power -- more than that of any conventional singer-songwriter -- to make music organically personal. He may seem like your old friend, but don't get carried away.