The world may look different, but every generation goes through high school—or something like it.
Back in 1983, Violent Femmes documented the boredom, the anxiety, the elation, the depression, and
the wonder of the high school experience, while living it on their seminal self-titled full-length debut,
Violent Femmes. Akin to other totems to growing up a la Catcher In The Rye, this album has only proven
more relevant as it’s lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall, the advent of the internet, an uneventful
Y2K, a very eventful turn-of-the-century, seven presidents, and one pandemic to celebrate its 40th
So, how did these tracks make it this long?
For starters, they’re real. Frontman, singer, songwriter, and guitarist Gordon Gano chronicled life as a
high schooler in Milwaukee as it was happening to him (he didn’t do so years retrospectively as a
twenty-something). So, his lyrics reeked of glorious awkwardness, whether it be the head-scratching
confession of “I stain my sheets” on opener “Blister In The Sun” or the prick principal’s warning, “I hope
you know that this will go down on your permanent record,” during “Kiss Off.” This was the ultimate
report from the frontlines of the teenage experience– back when the drinking age was 18 – before we
got so used to such a thing in wantonly self-indulgent social media posts .
As the story goes, Gordon, bassist Brian Ritiche and drummer Victor DeLorenzo recorded at Castle
Recording Studios in Lake Geneva, WI over the course of one weekend. For as open-hearted as the lyrics
may be, the single recording takes allowed for Brian’s acoustic bass to drill through Gano’s masterfully
plucky riffs in a way that gives the listener the feeling that their witnessing a – the cracks and grooves of
Victor’s sole snare drum to rattle your brain.
The record also harbors a quirky history befitting of its unlikely legacy. Of note, their fans practically
destroyed Carnegie Hall when they played there in ’86, leading to a ban for the group and every other
rock band for the next 20 years!
It was also the album that enshrined Violent Femmes as folk punk progenitors. The album steadily sold a
million copies in its first decade, going platinum in America by its 10th anniversary. Not surprising– a
well-worn cassette of Violent Femmes and a dog-eared copy of Catcher in the Rye were rites of passage
for high school and college kids from coast to coast. To date, the album has sold over 3 million copies
worldwide, placements on “greatest albums of the eighties” lists by the likes of Pitchfork, a slot on the
first Lollapalooza in 1991, co-headlining Big Day Out Festival with Nirvana in 1992, prevalence in Grosse
Pointe Blank in 1997, and a cover of “Gone Daddy Gone” by Gnarls Barkley [Cee Lo x Danger Mouse] on
their platinum St. Elsewhere in 2006. Violent Femmes has proven to be a singular cultural artifact–as it
continues to be the perfect companion piece to teenage angst and pubescent aspirations.
Some of Violent Femmes’ contemporaries may have shifted tens of millions of units, received constant
rotation on MTV, picked up GRAMMY Awards, and sold more shirts at Hot Topic, but few (if any) made
an album as prescient, potent, and powerful from top-to-bottom as Violent Femmes. The master
recordings may have been lost for over three decades, but the band will play it once again in its entirety
on tour in 2023.
If you haven’t seen them since high school or college, bring your kids and their friends, because Violent
Femmes are just as daring, dangerous, and dynamic as ever. You know high school still sucks, but Violent
Femmes fucking rule.