The Violent Femmes

Okay, so let’s resume that conversation of “bands I missed the first time around but later am catching up to or have caught up to” aka an older music appreciation thread that exists only because I wake up sometimes with a song in my ear visited to me by a dream and then I hear it and I’m like “man, where was I when this was going on” and then I realize I am still in the dream and I can’t wake up, trapped, naked, and alone, screaming into a void that is also the womb.

Today’s band is The Violent Femmes. The only previous entry was The Talking Heads. I also previously discussed how I don’t get Cheap Trick.

The Violent Femmes seem like an oddity even in their era, let alone anachronized into the present although I think there is possibly some resonance with The Decemberists for what it’s worth…and yet, I am informed, TVF are still together and touring with a modest lineup change. In hindsight (he said, adding this bit in during an edit), I’m also hearing a bit of XTC, e.g. “Mayor of Simpleton.”

To appreciate the Violent Femmes, one must push first past “Blister in the Sun,” which is a fine song but which has just been so ground into our aural consciousness by weddings, bar mitzvahs, high school dances, and masturbation jokes that it has now been reduced to background noise: the kind of song that maybe you sing along to in your car, but which no longer provides any joy once it is over and you’re left with the same bleak anxiety that permeates all of 21st century life. Again, The Violent Femmes were out of place in their own time, and doubly so today.

Hallmarks of the Violent Femmes sound include 1) unconventional harmonies insofar as Gordon Gano’s voice is whiny and nasal on a good day but in harmony with the rest of the band it sort of rises like a delicate beauty from being sunk into an overstuffed floral-print sofa 2) unconventional solos e.g. an impossibly luxurious bassline and solo in “Please Do Not Go” and a xylophone solo in “Gone Daddy Gone,” and 3) like Queen before them, an impossible fullness of sound from a very small act – listening to TVF it’s occasionally surprising that all that sound is coming from just three people (although they do include other accompaniment both live and on some albums).

To say that I completely missed the Violent Femmes is slightly inaccurate because in the late 90s / early 2000s I went HAM for this band and just jammed out to them almost constantly. Picking them back up today I feel a little embarrassed – lyrically it’s a lot of sweaty teenage boy stuff. Some songs feel pretty problematic (“Black Girls”) and the one political song of theirs I can name (“Old Mother Reagan”) strikes me as clumsy.

Anyhow, that’s how I feel about the Violent Femmes. Feel free to chime in with your Femmes memories and / or bands you missed the first time around, and stay tuned for another 1000 words on The Eurythmics sometime in the next month or so.