Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The Violent Femmes' "The Violent Femmes" At 30

It's hard to find an exact release date, but one of the greatest albums ever recorded by anybody came out thirty years ago this month. I can remember right where I was the first time I heard "Blister In the Sun," the first song on the first album from The Violent Femmes. I was in my friend James' kitchen, where we'd go every afternoon in sophomore year to pinch a pipe's worth of pot from the brick his mom kept wrapped in plastic under the telephone book in the drawer next to the fridge. James had a tape, a taped tape, a cassette recording someone had made for him. I forget who. But The Atlantic's Sean Michael Robinson gets it right in describing the way, "friends passed it around like a dirty magazine." This would have been in 1986, three years after the album came out, but I can still picture James' face standing in the front of the cupboards we'd lean against across from where where we'd set up his box on the counter. And I can imagine the look on my own, as those first, instantly-embedded-in-your-brain-forever 16 notes came out of the speakers. And after those, and ensuing four drum beats, and the titillating references to drugs and cum stains, what I remember as being so revelatory was the fact, "Hey, you can make punk rock on acoustic instruments!" From the bristling frustration of "Add It Up," so resonant for any virgin's ears—"I look at your pants and I need a kiss!"—to the hepcat vibes on "Gone Daddy Gone"—like an aural accompaniment to a Jim Jarmusch movie—to the gentle, plaintive beauty of "Good Feeling," its home-madeyness felt somehow closer to our lame, suburban existence than the Sex Pistols or the Clash or the Dead Kennedys or any of the other bands whose names we penned onto the canvas of our Converses ever had. It was so weird and different-sounding—very much unlike anything else I'd ever heard before. And since, too. Though you can hear certainly hear Gordon Gano's whine in lots of music that has come since. (That of the Pixies, most notably to me.) The band went on to make lots of other records—some of the other ones really good, too. And they played their first concert in six years this past weekend at the Coachella festival in California. (You can watch a full video of their performance here. Gano looks sort of like Donald Rumsfeld now.) But it's never gotten better than that first album—by anybody, really. As I sit here listening to it today, I'm struck by how it's still just a perfect, perfect flawless thing. Completely whole and simple and unto itself.

14 Comments / Post A Comment

Sir, I finished your book this weekend and the passage above reminded me why I loved it.

Dave Bry (#422)

Your my post to lean on, Dinosaur Senior. (Thank you very, very much!)

I remember exactly where I was too. Back seat of a Honda CRX on a roadtrip w/ a friend's older brother to go to the Vincennes, Indiana for a college party when we were in high school. Certainly creates an imprint.

dado (#102)

I heard "Blister in the Sun" and Trio's "Da Da Da" on the same ride into the city played on a similar tape…went to the Peculiar Pub on West 4th Street and drank my first Spaten. I just felt like sharing that.

dado (#102)

at the same time

Donkey Dance (#236,629)

I was in a neighbor's room, the older kid in the neighborhood who knew all of the good movies and good music. Just like you, I was hooked on those first 16 notes and proceeded to play down my Memorex copy until it was warped.

hockeymom (#143)

I was in Sellery Hall at Madison, when Joanie from Racine came down and made us listen to the song. Stephanie said it sucked and that Joe Jackson was way better. I didn't say anything because I had only ever listened to Springsteen. But I remember that conversation so well….we were all sitting on the floor eating popcorn, listening to music.

hman (#53)

I forget what 8 was for.

areaderwrites (#592)

I was going to post that I used to evangelize for this album by inviting people to my dorm room to hear it but then I realized how old that makes me sound…

hockeymom (#143)

@areaderwrites Joanie?

Flaneur (#998)

I don't remember where and when I first heard the album, but the Femmes played a concert at my college in 1989 and were the perfect backdrop to my ongoing tormented conversations with the girl I loved who loved another guy. I was so consumed that I didn't notice at the time how on-the-nose it was.

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@Flaneur Haha, the Femmes played a concert at my college in 1999! With Digital Underground. It's still one of the best concerts I've ever been to.

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