This is Going Down on My Personal Record

Violent Femmes add it up

Illustration by Bob AulAug. 20, 1994

Dear Diary,

I had the craziest dream last night. I was in this cobwebby old clock tower, and there was this big window looking down on a college campus. It looked just like the brochures—kids reading and laughing on picnic blankets on perfectly green grass. And then I heard this buzzing, and I saw a big old desk, covered with wind-up toys—like little apes, and nuns with boxing gloves, and even a couple of walking penises. And then some guy walks in wearing a shiny graduation robe and matching beret, and you'll never believe who it was—Gordon Gano from the Violent Femmes!

My friend, Melanie, who is really good at interpreting dreams, said that the cobwebs symbolize the fact that the band is pretty elderly—because Gordon is definitely middle-aged. And he was all mad because apparently, I was supposed to be interviewing him, but I didn't have any questions or even a notebook or a pen. But I was like, "Dude, I'm 15! I don't even know what the hell I'm doing in an attic on a college campus," and then I started to cry and ran down the staircase, and the bass player, Brian Ritchie, was at the bottom! He gave me his number and told me that I could call him later when I thought of some questions.

So this is the weird part—I woke up, and I remembered the number, so I wrote it down. Melanie thinks I should call.

Aug. 22, 1994

Dear Diary,

You won't believe this. I called. It was Brian Ritchie's home number.

This time, I had some questions ready. I pretended to be interviewing him for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At first I was gonna say it was for my school paper, but it's summer school now, so that wouldn't work. Anyway, I took extensive notes because now that I'm psychic, people might want to read about my life someday, and I have to treat this journal like a serious autobiography.

So. I wanted to sound professional, but I also wanted to tell Brian that there's something about his band's music that makes it seem familiar the first time you hear it. Like, it echoes all the crazy hormones and chaos of a high school hallway, but spins it around and makes you want to dance (rather than run away screaming).

I asked him why he thinks the music appeals to all teenagers now, and like, everyone else who ever was a teenager, too. (My uncle, who is also practically middle-aged, is the one who told me about the Femmes in the first place, if you can believe that.) This is what Brian said:

"I guess it just comes down to the appeal of the songs, mainly the ones on the first album, which have this kind of perfect description of the adolescent mentality. I mean, I guess there are different kinds of adolescent mentalities. Like, you might say Nick Drake has a very adolescent mentality and he had a perfect description of that kind of moody introvert. I think Gordon's lyrics are more like the moody and demented introvert."

He laughed at this point, but I got the impression that he wasn't totally joking about the demented part. I laughed along with him, but in a "haha, that's scary and I have nightmares about him" sort of way. Brian continued:

"He was singing about some universal themes that will never really go away—loneliness, not being able to get sex."

Which sort of leads me to my real question. There's this sort of cute junior in my art class, Randy, who wears glasses and that "9 out of 10 kids prefer Crayons to guns" Pearl Jam T-shirt like every day. He asked me if I wanted a ride home from school after art club, and we were gonna go to the park so he could smoke, but then when he stopped the car, he put on the Violent Femmes, and I was like, "Oh, I love this record." And he was like, "Oh, I bet you really like this one," and he put on "Add It Up." And I was like, "Duh, everyone likes that one," but I barely got the words out before he totally started making out with me! And here I was freaking out about smoking a cigarette for the first time—I didn't even see it coming!

I mean, I do like that song, but um, hello? I don't think it's supposed to be romantic! So I asked Brian if he finds "Add It Up" to be sexy or silly. And he said:

"Well, actually, so many people have told us stuff like, 'I lost my virginity when I was listening to your first album,' or 'The first time I had sex was when I was listening to your first album, and I had an orgasm during "Add It Up."' A LOT of people have told us that. I'm not talking about 2 or 3. I'm talking about 10 or 15 people. And Gordon is totally disgusted. He's like, 'That's the last thing I'd listen to.' And I'm kind of in that frame of mind, too. I wouldn't want to listen to that stuff. I mean, even if I didn't make it. It's very weird."
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