Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gone Daddy Gone

I did a brief interview with Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie yesterday morning in advance of their upcoming Austin show at Stubb's on May 18.

Like so many chronically unmotivated, alienated and unsexed high school kids who fully expected to be dead of nuclear war before age 30, the Wisconsin-based trio's self-titled first album was a big-time touchstone for me. If I would’ve known how many ohter kids wore out copies of that album, maybe I wouldn’t have been so alienated.

I first heard Violent Femmes in 1985. The album was two years old then. My buddy John picked me up in his beat-up VW bug and told me he had a tape of this band I just had to hear. We cruised down lower Westheimer in Houston listening to “Blister in the Sun” and “Add It Up” over and over again. Gordon Gano’s articulation of adolescent rage and longing is perfectly pitched, but Ritchie and drummer Victor De Lorenzo’s folk and jazz-alluding rhythmic arrangements are no less important in ensuring the album’s classic pedigree.

It took more than a decade, but Violent Femmes eventually went platinum. To this day, it’s still the only album to sell over a million copies without ever appearing on Billboard’s top 200 albums chart. Slash Records couldn't afford the hype, so almost everyone who bought the album learned about it via word-of-mouth until the X-monikered commercial alternative stations started playing the Femmes during their mid-Nineties "flashback lunch" hours.

I'd put Violent Femmes in my top ten albums of the Eighties, right up there with X, Prince and the Minutemen. The Femmes could’ve continued on in that style, but starting with Hallowed Ground (which has its own set of devotees), they’ve continued to evolve in far-reaching ways. Ritchie’s solo albums are out there in Sun Ra country. He’s actually a master of the Japanese shakuhachi flute, too.


Karla said...

That was a pivotal album for me, too. As was, Trio (remember them? "da da da") and PIL.

Sigh. It's hard to find music that speaks to me the way that did nowadays.

Tim said...

I was listening to Gnarls Barkley yesterday, and was totally knocked for a loop by their cover of "Gone Daddy Gone." Totally awesome. And who can resist "Dance MF Dance"?

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure John turned me on to that album too.
That and a cassette called "Oklahoma" by the Deadbeets...