Friday, August 27, 2010

I want to be a Violent Femme too

I'm not sure when I first heard Violent Femmes, but I'm sure - like most everyone else - that the song was "Blister in the Sun". My first real experience with the Femmes came from a tape copy of their eponymous debut my uncle gave me in the early 1990's. I have such vivid memories of listening to it on my Walkman as I road the bus home from school.

Violent Femmes: Victor DeLorenzo, Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie. Photo by Francis Ford. © 1993 Reprise Records.

Sample Three Songs from the Album:

The first thing that struck me about the album was their signature sound. So raw and full of angst. It was punk with violins, acoustic guitars and xylophones. Sure, they might be known for their wonky pseudo-pop hits like "Blister", "Kiss Off" and "Add It Up", but it was their less popular songs that really blew me way.

At that point in time, I must have listened to it non-stop for at least six months straight. I'm not sure if I understood why I loved listening to it then, but it certainly set the stage for the next decade of my life. Listening to it again today, it's so clear: It's the perfect soundtrack to adolescence.

As a teen, you can relate to every song on this album. Who didn't beg for the car or struggle to fit in? The Femmes vocalized the hopes, dreams and fears of millions of middle Americans, seeking to break free, contemplating suicide, longing for acceptance and, mostly, hoping to get laid.

"Behind my back, I can see them stare. They'll hurt me bad, but I won't mind. They'll hurt me bad, they do it all the time." - Violent Femmes "Kiss Off"

Their sound is fashionable without being popular; weaving gritty textures and off kilter melodies to produce a distorted view of pop sensibilities. They use dis-chord and cacophony to create anxiety and tension. "To The Kill" exemplifies this with it's frenzy of off-tempo, disheveled and wandering riffs for both guitar and bass, leaving only a syncopated snare beat to keep time - and sanity.

The topically ambiguous "Good Felling" has always been a personal favorite because of it's dichotomy of emotion. It's simultaneously melancholy and euphoric, as is much of the adolescent experience. It lifts you up, leaves you wanting more, yet points out the everything must end, that you must eventually come down. It's a particularly hard lesson to learn as a teen, especially when you're unprepared for the harsh realities of life.

As an adult, Violent Femmes provides a nostalgic look at adolescence, complete with all the triumphs and failures. I need to make sure that it makes it into rotation more regularly, for the music and for the memories.

Purchase Violent Femmes on iTunes.

Appendix A
As I stated, my original copy of Violent Femmes was a tape I received from my uncle. I believe it was recorded from a CD copy of the album and did contain "Gimme the Car", but I don't remember "Ugly" being on the tape at all. These two songs were not on the original 1982 release of the album, they were added during the 1983 re-release. Additionally, "Good Feeling" was the last Violent Femmes song on side one. I verified the release data with Discogs and no release seems to match my tape.

Appendix B
After "Good Felling", my uncle added U2's "Desire (Hollywood Remix)" on to the end just to fill out the rest of side one. I just don't feel complete unless I hear it. There is something about the way the serenity of "Good Feeling" gets destroyed by the klaxons of "Desire". I honestly can't remember what was one side two of the cassette, but I know that I did a lot of rewinding.

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