(Why not take a gander at Part 1, should you be so inclined?)
6. “Roadrunner #1” (not to be confused with “Roadrunner (Once)”)
“Roadrunner #1” was released on The Original Modern Lovers – not the first “official” album, but a hodgepodge compilation put out by Bomp of two Kim Fowley sessions from ’72 and ’73 (the “original” in the title is dubious, or so Richman claims in the liner notes). Fowley’s production, here at least, is in the punk/garage tradition of “as long as there’s not too much hiss, stay the fuck out of the way” which might go a way toward explaining why it’s my favorite version – it sounds nice and harsh, as if its ideal format isn’t a CD but a mix tape, something I recorded off the radio, its proper place sandwiched between “Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles and “Said Serial” by Unwound. A more obvious reason for my bias: it was the first version I heard, and so it’s the real Secret Origin of this essay, anecdotal points of entry be damned.
That this version feels like Ground Zero doesn’t hurt. It was recorded in the summer of ’72, after “Roadrunner (Twice)”, so it isn’t a “first” anymore than “(Once)” is a “finally”, but the raw power on display makes it feel like a song with something to prove, the kind of challenge only a white and unsullied canvas can provide. Listening to it is a lot like watching an unskilled but talented and eager rookie cross the football field, ball in hand, certain of only two things: a. the goal to be reached, and b. that moving is the only way to get there, so it just moves moves moves helplessly, all antsy clatter as it rushes and stumbles its way toward its conclusion. Most versions fit as “raw and unkempt”, but “#1” feels more singular, a spilling over of nervous energy.
That was my first impression of the song: a necessary ceaseless movement which begins by counting down to that movement and ends with saying goodbye to it. Everything in between those two actions is a whirlpool of association, one detail frequently indiscernible from the next – something about “love” and “Boston” and “faster”, a matrix of key words bouncing off each other. The only bits of stability we can seize onto in that tumult are Richman’s speed through the Massachusetts night and a statement indelibly phrased: “I’m in love with the modern world.”
That last one really sticks (and stuck, but more on that later) and it’s spoken as an honest affirmative, at that; there’s simply no space for posturing or an ironic sneer, no room to properly wield those big cudgels of sophistication – our only imperative is to move forward, to say what we mean! Had I heard the song in the context of the first Modern Lovers album (i.e. had Hogwild Records had it in stock), with the speedy but more coherent “Roadrunner (Twice)”, things might be a lot more convenient – I might have assumed this beloved modern world was apiece with the “modern world” described in the song “Modern World”, both of which were apparently opposed to the old world mentioned in, well, “Old World”, and every world named absolutely embraced by Richman. As it was, all I had was another version of “Roadrunner” at the end of the CD for comparison (consider those two in constant proximity and this essay seems inevitable).
Right now, though, there’s only this segment of time to go by, four-and-a-half minutes which pass in roughly fifteen seconds, an instant too dense for proper reflection; you grasp onto what you can, not quite certain what it is. We reach the climax, with Richman’s voice trying to outpace the song’s speed, losing and finding and losing himself as he more freely associates to the Modern Lover’s reliable shouts of “Radio On”, skillfully using them as punctuation or tripping over them haplessly; it’s a chaos which hasn’t so much been built up to as finally released, having been held in check since the first second, so the song is essentially all dramatic climax, a double splash page of a thing, thoughtless and confident.
This version, at least.