15 reasons why Roadrunner by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers will become the official rock song of Massachusetts in 2013

UPDATED FEB 13: A bill to declare "Roadrunner" the official rock song of Massachusetts will be filed on February 14. And there's a Facebook page. Scroll down for details

It appears the two sides of Joyce Linehan’s life – politics and rock and roll – are coming together in a manner both spectacularly absurd and brilliantly inevitable. In the rock world, Linehan — a lifelong Dorchester resident — is known as the former manager of the Lemonheads and Boston rep for Sub Pop as well as the current manager of Joe Pernice, with whom she's also published a book of Twitter correspondence. She’s a mover in the larger Boston arts scene, with a PR client list that includes ArtsEmerson, the Boston Book Festival, and First Night. There’s also the matter of her having kick-started Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for the US senate (Warren has publically agreed that her campaign started in Linehan’s kitchen). Only a person with such a deep grasp of underground rock and a state-wide reach in ward politics could imagine, let alone pull off, what could be Linehan’s most glorious project yet: to make Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner” the official rock song of the Commonwealth.

It began last week with a simple post on Facebook: “I am putting together language to submit to petition the state legislature via Rep. Marty Walsh to make ‘Roadrunner’ the official rock song of the Commonwealth,” Linehan wrote. “Anyone have anything helpful they’d like to contribute? Key word being ‘helpful.’ ‘It fucking rocks!,’ while true, is not helpful.”

It was no joke. Contacted via e-mail, Linehan said that the idea came during the Warren campaign, “when I got incensed at that online poll that Radio BDC had about what rock song they should play first when they went on-air, and ‘Roadrunner’ (the OBVIOUS choice) didn’t win.” She began posting about the state-song idea on Facebook, got a good response, and announced that it would be “the first order of business after we got Sen. Warren elected.”

Her first step: finding a legislator brave enough to take up the cause. Linehan’s first stop was her last: her friendship with long-time Dorchester Representative Walsh goes back years. “I asked him and he laughed and said, ‘Sure, whatever you want.’ ”

Walsh, 45, says he was “aware” of “Roadrunner,” but that his tastes run more to U2. He says he remembers going to “the Rathskeller” — more popularly known as legendary Kenmore Square rock hole the Rat — “dressed as a Dorchester kid. . . . It’s like, okay, you can see who doesn’t belong here.” In photos and on television, Walsh appears these days to be someone who could easily pass either as a senior officer in the state police or a member of Dropkick Murphys. But, as he allows, Jonathan Richman is from Massachusetts (Natick) and U2 aren’t, so, after being “pushed a little bit by Joyce,” he’s preparing introduce the bill to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Linehan, meanwhile, has presented Walsh with a rough list of reasons, citing all the usual language you’d expect (a song written by a Massachusetts resident, recorded by a Boston band, that celebrates “the beauty of the Commonwealth” from the Mass Pike and Rte. 128 to . . . Stop & Shop), and the high regard with which the song is held (#269 on Rolling Stone’s "500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time"). But, amidst the “whereas’s” you can also find some pretty astute rock criticism, not only quoting Greil Marcus but also suggesting that the song “contains one of the most brilliant lyrics ever: ‘going faster miles an hour.’”

Walsh, for his part, is taking this particular legislative task seriously. Once the bill is drafted, he says, there will be the usual committee hearings, and then the task will be to move the bill out of committee and onto the floor of the House for debate. Does it look like this will be a tough fight? “No, I anticipate the Phoenix is going to do a great story to help me,” Walsh laughs, “and that Howie Carr’s going to rip me.” Of course, there will be those who argue that this whole affair is a waste of the legislature’s time. But, says Walsh, “This is about acknowledging an artist from Massachusetts who’s obviously had a very good career and one of his masterpieces outlines our Commonwealth. Why not recognize the people that have helped us become such a great place?”

It should be said that among the many “state things” on the official Commonwealth of Massachusetts website, there are already a Massachusetts state song (“All Hail to Massachusetts,” by Arthur Marsh), a state folk song (Arlo Guthrie’s “Massachusetts”), a state bird (black-capped chickadee), a state insect (two-spotted lady beetle), a state cookie (chocolate chip), and official muffin (corn).

“As an elected official,” says Walsh, “when we file legislation, not all legislation affects everyone. It affects areas. So this is certainly not an area that’s going to affect people who don’t listen to music or don’t follow rock. But it will mean a great deal to the rock community.” And hey, if there’s room for the corn muffin, there’s room for “Roadrunner.” “There’s all kinds of different types of things,” says Walsh. “But I’m going with the rock song for Joyce.”

The official language is still forthcoming, but the following 15 statements are taken from a draft submitted by Linehan to Walsh:

We would like to petition the Massachusetts State Legislature to make “Roadrunner” by Jonathan Richman (as recorded by Jonathan Richman, The Modern Lovers and Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers) the Official Rock Song of the Commonwealth, for the following reasons . . .

  1. Jonathan Richman is a Massachusetts native, born in Natick.
  2. The Modern Lovers started out in the Boston area.
  3. Many of Jonathan Richman’s songs reference growing up in Massachusetts.
  4. “Roadrunner” is an upbeat, youthful ode to the greatness of being alive, and the simple beauty of the Commonwealth.
  5. “Roadrunner” is a tribute to the urban landscape, with nods to Massachusetts landmarks both civic and industrial, including the Mass Pike, Howard Johnson’s, the North Shore, the South Shore, Routes 3, 9, 90, 495 and of course 128, the Prudential, Quincy, Cohasset, Deer Island, Boston Harbor, Amherst, South Greenfield, Needham, Ashland, the Sheraton, and Stop & Shop.
  6. “Roadrunner” celebrates Route 128, which opened in 1951, the year Richman was born, and came to be known as “America’s Technology Highway.” To this day, it still represents Massachusetts’ vibrant Innovation Economy.
  7. The many versions of “Roadrunner: contain lyrical variations and musical deviations that have inspired many passionate late-night conversations among rock music fans about which is the best version.
  8. “Roadrunner” has been consistently popular and relevant since its creation in 1970.
  9. “Roadrunner” has been described as the first punk song.
  10. “Roadrunner” communicates its unbridled, unapologetic exuberance about youth, freedom and Massachusetts essentially and economically using just two chords.
  11. “Roadrunner” contains one of the most brilliant lyrics ever: “going faster miles an hour.”
  12. Rolling Stone ranked “Roadrunner” #269 on their “500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time.”
  13. A recent article in the Guardian UK convincingly made the case that the “Roadrunner” rock ‘n roll pilgrimage is just as important as those to Chuck Berry’s Route 66, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and others.
  14. Legendary rock critic Greil Marcus called “Roadrunner” “the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest,” which just proves that HE’S never driven Route 128 at night. Of course, he is not wrong.
  15. “Roadrunner” is a song that describes the mystery of the modern Massachusetts landscape. It has taken the specifics of that mystery and captured the imaginations of people around the world who have internalized it as their own, creating awareness of and interest in our beloved state

UPDATE, FEB 13: Joyce Linehan announces, via Facebook, that the official bill -- which now has its own Facebook page -- will be filed tomorrow, February 14:

"The bill to Make Roadrunner Massachusetts' Rock Song is being filed by Rep. Marty Walsh's office tomorrow. When I have the bill number, I will be asking you Massholes to call your reps and ask them to sign on as co-sponsors. (A few of you already have, as a couple of reps have already called Rep. Walsh's office!). The best part - at some point there will be a public hearing at the State House - probably in April or May, where you can all testify about WHY this should happen. It's possible we could be challenged by another song, but I'm not worried. If there are two things we know how to do, they are 1) run a grassroots campaign and 2) put on a show!"


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