Violent Femmes


The story is that Keith Richards met Mick Jagger on Dartford Railway Station and was impressed to see that Jagger was carrying around records by Little Walter, Chuck Berry and Muddy Walters. Carrying around a cassette or CD isn’t quite as ostentatious and I’m not sure how you carry around a download. It used to be quite a statement though, to carry around records by artists who were up and coming. Carrying around a Beatles album in 1969 was a bit passe to be honest but if you had “On The Threshold Of A Dream” by The Moody Blues, it made you look really cool. Or so I thought at the time.

Why would you carry records around though? Simply to look cool wasn’t really a good enough reason and so you had to be taking them to a friend’s house to play. Or, shocking as it may seem now, to lend. Borrowing and lending records amongst my friends used to be quite common. For years it was my very good friend Alex who used to lend me his favourite records and he always seemed pleased to get the latest Moodies in return. I listened to a lot of his Beach Boys albums by taking them home and listening to them. He had a friend called Paul and I once borrowed “L.A. Woman” from him. Later when I went to Royal Holloway, it was quite common to lend records to friends. I once loaned “Greetings From L.A.” by Tim Buckley to Bob who was a really great guy but had very scary friends who were fully into the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll aspects of University life. I once had a very strange conversation with a complete stranger who had been in Bob’s room listening to this record. He was in awe at the explicit sexual lyrical content of the record which of course had completely escaped me. He started the conversation by thinking I was really “with it” but ended it realising I was completely “without it”.

I once borrowed Jackson C. Frank’s debut album from a teacher at Netteswell, probably around 1980, and I never gave it back. I’ve still got it. I think it’s a first pressing. It’s in Mono. A similar item is currently on sale on Ebay for £200. I’m too embarrassed to do anything about it.

I once loaned The Violent Femmes first record to a kid at Chancellor’s School. I can’t remember why I did this or what his name was. I was in my thirties at the time but I guess my need to impress people by letting them see what a groovy guy I was never left me, even when I was a short fat maths teacher. Anyway, I never got the record back and I left the school. A couple of months later I saw Lesley who was the music teacher at Chancellor’s and mentioned this to her and the next time I saw her she gave me the record, having retrieved it from this kid. It’s brilliant.

The lead singer in Violent Femmes is Gordon Gano. He was 19 when the record was recorded. He plays guitar, Brian Ritchie plays bass and Victor DeLorenzo plays percussion. Once, in a concert I saw in London, Gordon Gano described how he had been for a meal the previous day and the people sat at the table next to him, heard him talking and assumed he was Jack Nicholson. He does sound like a very manic Jack Nicholson. Live, they were fantastic and when Martin and I saw them play at The Mean Fiddler, probably in 1986, they played for an hour and a half and then finished their set at about 01:00 a.m. They came back for an encore and played “Children Of The Revolution” for an hour and walked off stage at 02:00. By 09:00 the same day I was teaching quadratic equations to my bottom set 5th year class. (That’s Year 11 in case you’re very young).

The first song is “Blister In The Sun” and it’s about masturbating. “Big hands – I know you’re the one”. The sleeve notes of my CD re-release (yes, I know) have this by Brian Ritchie which describes Violent Femmes’ music quite well: “Our original concept was to play acoustic instruments but generate the same musical intensity as a full throttle electric band.”

In my opinion, the best song is “Add It Up.” It starts with Gordon Gano singing “Day after day, I will walk and I will play/But the day after today, I will stop and I will start” unaccompanied. Then the bass and drums kick in and a manic pace accompanies some adolescent yearnings. The second verse starts with “Why can’t I get just one screw?” The third verse starts with “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” The song builds, pauses briefly and then builds to a climax with “Day after day, I get angry and I will say/That the day is in my sight when I’ll take a bow and say goodnight”.

The last song on side one is “Confessions”. Back to Brian Ritchie and those sleeve notes. “This song is a good example of the extreme dynamics that we were capable of. Our theory was that to play extremely quietly at times allowed the loud passages to have even more impact.” The song starts slowly, builds and builds into some crazy free form improvisation and tails off with a menacing Gordon Gano sneering “You see I learned my lessons/And I don’t even want to hear about your confessions”.

They are still performing although Victor DeLorenzo is no longer a member of the band. They have released 10 studio albums. The last one “Hotel Last Resort” was released in July 2019. I haven’t heard it. My completeness obsession has let me down.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

3 thoughts on “Violent Femmes

  1. I remember carrying Ummagumma by Pink Floyd around like a fashion accessory in 1972. It was about three years after it came out, but I still thought it made me look pretty cool. The other LP I used to like carrying around (a lot more than listening to it) was The Faust Tapes by Faust which I bought in 1973. I thought it made me look especially enigmatic because as well as not having a title printed on it, the cover was entirely taken up with a big black and white painting by Brigit Riley. Ultra stylish and much cheaper than a pair of platform shoes and ultra-flared loon pants.

    Liked by 1 person

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