|Jonathan Richman wrote “Roadrunner,” an ode to Massachusetts.|
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“It’s a song that I’ve always loved,” Hornby told the Globe by phone. “I probably heard it pretty soon after it came out, and I picked up that album on a trip to America. I think anything that celebrates a place, and survives, is special. And that’s what ‘Roadrunner’ does for Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts already has a state folk song (Arlo Guthrie’s “Massachusetts”) and polka (“Say Hello to Someone From Massachusetts”), but nothing that acknowledges a pivotal piece of the Commonwealth’s place in rock history — home to such groups as Aerosmith, the Cars, and the J. Geils Band. Only a few other states have official rock songs, including Oklahoma, which gave the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” that distinction in 2009.
Robinson was the drummer in the original Modern Lovers lineup and played on what’s considered the definitive recorded version of “Roadrunner.” Reached at his home in Rockport, he seemed genuinely bemused by the renewed interest.
“I was surprised,” Robinson said. “I didn’t know that we needed a state rock song. Now that I see there’s a state muffin, I’m not so sure it’s such an honor. I think they picked the right song, though, that’s for sure.”
“Even if I hadn’t played on the record, I would pick that song. I can’t even drive down 128 myself without thinking about the song,” Robinson added. “That was one of the songs that was a group favorite. Almost all of the Modern Lovers’ songs were about Massachusetts. Listening to [‘Roadrunner’] now, some of it is kind of funny, but it was real sincere back then. Jonathan Richman could see the beauty in a power plant, the highway, a shopping mall, a parking lot, the back of his high school.”
When Linehan spoke to the Globe, she wasn’t sure Richman would support the campaign.
“Jonathan is not on board, necessarily,” Linehan said. “We’ve put out feelers. I had Joe Pernice send him a message about three months ago. Joe said he left a pretty detailed message, but Jonathan didn’t respond. . . . That’s OK with me, because I feel like in this particular instance, the song transcends the artist.”
Attempts to contact Richman directly did not elicit a response at first. The singer is known to be reclusive and hesitant to talk with journalists. But an assistant to Richman finally e-mailed the following note to the Globe:
“I spoke with Jonathan about your request and this was his comment: ‘Thank you so much, it’s very flattering....but I don’t think the song is good enough to be a Massachusetts song of any kind.’”
There’s no state money at stake with an official designation, Walsh noted. So why does it matter?
“I think it codifies the song’s place in our world,” Linehan said. “It’s really about a group of people who love this song and understand what it symbolizes and want to shout to the world that this is the official rock song of Massachusetts.”