With this Pablo Picasso painting getting sold for $179 million, it got me thinking of the song by The Modern Lovers off that first great album, “Pablo Picasso.” I’ve never spoken to Jojo about it, but I’m pretty sure that everyone misunderstands the song. To start with, it is not about the Pablo Picasso. It is just about a local celebrity. That cool guy who all the other guys want to be. The second verse starts, “Well the girls would turn the color of the avocado;
when he would drive down their street in his El Dorado.” You know that guy.
But the main thing in the song is that Pablo Picasso is never called an “asshole.” Not like you! And this is repeated over and over. But that isn’t the point of the song. It isn’t about how some guys are cool and others aren’t. It isn’t even about a cool guy. The hook is repeated a number of times, “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.” And this builds up to the last line of the song, “Pablo Picasso was never called!” This is, tellingly, a line that is normally missing from covers of the song.
Richman’s point is that you can be like Pablo Picasso and be cool and never make a fool of yourself. And if you do that, you will be alone. Your other option is to put yourself out there. Risk being called “asshole.” But then you won’t be alone. You will be called. This goes along with pretty much Richman’s entire song catalog.
The best example is his song “Affection.” It starts off with him repeating, “People all over the world are starving.” And then he ends it, “People all over the world are starving… for affection.” The refrain of the song is this:
People all over the world ain’t bad
But if they keep on chickening out
They won’t get what they wish they had… affection!
And that is what he’s saying in “Pablo Picasso.” That is the meaning of that song: don’t be like Pablo Picasso.