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."

He said that people have sent them letters about this topic AND told them in person. Can you believe how freaky people are? I mean, seriously!

Aug. 23, 1994

So today, Randy announced that making out in the backseat of his Datsun in the school parking lot (in broad daylight, mind you) while blasting the Violent Femmes is his favorite after-school activity.

Personally, I'm over it.

I'm sweating my brains out right now because I have to wear turtlenecks in the summer, and I really think that he is trying to give me hickeys on purpose, which is totally immature. And I'm sorry but I don't want to make out to that song "Black Girls." My best friend, Melanie, is African-American, and yeah, she likes to make out (as much as she possibly can and with anyone who is willing, incidentally), but we think the song is kind of racist. But when I told Randy this, he started playing "Jesus Walking on the Water" and arguing that someone who loves Jesus so much can't be vulgar or racist.

Luckily, I had my notebook, and I read him what Brian had to say about that:

"Gordon's father is a Baptist minister. So he was raised with religion being their livelihood. That's a part of his life. But he never tried to convert me and Victor or anything like that. It's just one side of his personality. So he doesn't think 'I'm a rock star, therefore I shouldn't be writing about this.' He just thinks, 'I'm Gordon and this is one of the things I think about, so I'm gonna write about it.' His parents are bummed out by some of the songs, definitely."

See? That's because the songs are vulgar. And racist, too! And in case you were wondering, Brian also said:

"But Gordon's parents accept him. They usually come to the shows when we're in the area, and they're very proud of him."

Then Randy drove me home. I don't think he likes losing arguments.

Aug. 24, 1994

I forgot this other funny thing that Brian said—he was telling me about this Sun Ra show he went to at the Racine Zoo, and when Sun Ra started playing, all the monkeys started going berserk in their cages, and you could hear them chattering like crazy. So, the Violent Femmes have this show coming up at the Milwaukee Zoo tomorrow, and Melanie brought up an interesting point: Are all the monkeys gonna start doing it?

We're gonna find out!

Aug. 25, 1994

On the way to the zoo, the local station was playing "Blister in the Sun," in honor of the Femmes show, and my mom, who was driving us, started singing along with the radio, in that high-pitched church-lady mom-voice, you know? I thought Melanie was going to pee herself.

And then I was like, "Wait a minute. Either we don't know what this song is about, or my mom doesn't." You know what I mean? Because if she were interpreting it the way we do, then she wouldn't be singing it, right? Honestly, I hope my mind is dirty and wrong, because otherwise, I just heard my mom singing a song about jerking off.

The show was too far from the monkey cage to see what they were up to, but it was awesome. Everyone was singing along, and the drummer, Victor De Lorenzo, was, like, doing jumping jacks with his drumsticks up his nose. These men might be old, but they've still got it.

So I met Brian, and he seemed a little confused that I was in high school, but he was totally excited when I told him I'm saving up for an acoustic bass, just like his. (Note to self: Get an Ernie Ball bass or just forget it.)

And I figured, since we were chatting anyway, why not just settle my "Blister in the Sun" concerns and find out what it's really about? But when I asked him, he got all weird and flustered and was like,

"Well, that's a tough one. I just couldn't tell a teenager what that's about."

In other words, it's totally about you-know-what. Which is hilarious, until your mom starts grooving to it. Ew.

We saw Randy on the way out and he was like, "Whoa, I saw you talking to Brian Ritchie. You really do know him!" And I was all, "Yeah, I was just getting some advice for this band I'm starting. We're called the Wind-Up Peckers." Of course, he totally wanted to join. He even offered to make us T-shirts that say, "9 out of 10 kids prefer wind-up toys to guns." Can we say "overdone"?

Anyway, I told him that Melanie and I have the drums, bass and vocals covered, and that we don't really need anything else. But we suggested that he invest in a tambourine, and maybe we'll let him be our back-up singer . . . NOT!

Violent Femmes with John Bisagna at House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-Blue. Sat., 8 p.m. $30-$32.50. All ages.
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