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Violent Femmes: Decades of Disorganized Music

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Violent Femmes formed in 1981 as an acoustic punk band playing on the streets of Milwaukee. Their main influences at that time were Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, and The Velvet Underground. Their goal was to rock harder than any other acoustic act on the planet.
 

They were rejected for an audition by a local nightclub and set up outside a Pretenders gig. Chrissie Hynde asked them to open that night's show. This gave the early Femmes a publicity boost which led to them being invited to play in NYC supporting Richard Hell. A rave review in the New York Times led eventually to a record deal, which in turn spawned worldwide touring. 

Their eponymous first album became the first and only album in Billboard history to enter the charts as a platinum album, eight years after its release. The Femmes became a mainstay of festivals, clubs and theatres in over 30 countries worldwide in the ensuing three decades. 

MTV's "Unplugged" show was inspired by the Femmes, although they never actually appeared on it. Their raw sound and honest lyrical perspective has been cited as an influence by artists as diverse as Pink, Keith Urban, The Smiths, Nirvana, Lou Reed, John Cusack, Mark Morris, and Wim Wenders. 

Violent Femmes are currently touring in commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the release of their first album. 





Violent Femmes Trivia




* Victor DeLorenzo met insane Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson at  Summerfest in Milwaukee. Wilson pointed to Lake Michigan and asked Victor, "What ocean is that?"

* The Femmes played at the Newport Folk Festival with both Joan Armatrading (a fifty year old black woman) and Odetta (an eighty year old black woman). Gordon approached Odetta and said, "Hi Joan, I am a big fan of your music." Odetta was not amused.

* When Victor was on hiatus for nine years, Lou Reed asked Brian, "Whatever happened to your old drummer?" Brian said, "As a matter of fact, he is currently playing with Mo Tucker." (from Reed's old band, Velvet Underground) Reed deadpanned, "Any port in a storm."

* VF shared the bill in Spain with both Lou Reed and Alex Chilton/Big Star. Reed told a puzzled Brian Ritchie, "Hi Brian, I thought I might see you here." He told Victor, "Hi Victor." Chilton told Brian, "Hi Lou." Those wacky 60's rockstars!

* The Femmes first album has sold millions of copies. Their newest album has sold hundreds of copies.

* The Femmes were at O'Hare airport in Chicago. An old man walked up to the gate, started talking to the attendant, stiffened and keeled over dead. Paramedics rushed to the scene and tried to revive him with heart stimulators which created a huge noise. The corpse was twitching and jerking. During this entire scene drummer Guy Hoffman remained engrossed in his reading material about 3 meters away. The paramedics covered the corpse with a blanket, and since the old man was in the jetway all passengers including Hoffman had to walk around the stiff to get onboard. Later, when the band and crew talked about 
how strange it was to watch a dude croak, Hoffman said, "What are you talking about? Who died?"

* Jonathan Richman was asked in an interview what he thought of the Femmes. He said, "They'll never get anywhere with that kind of music." Three years later he woke Gano in the middle of the night, saying this weighed on his conscience, and apologized for the statement.

* Brian Ritchie was sunbathing on a beach next to Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin for 3 hours. Ritchie didn't talk to Plant or introduce himself because he hates Led Zep. Later he read an interview where Plant said the Femmes were one of his favorite bands. Ritchie felt like an asshole.

* Brian Ritchie was taking a leak while mountain biking in a secluded park in Milwaukee when he was assaulted by two cops leaping out of the nearby bushes. The cops arrested Ritchie, who asked them what they were doing hiding in the bushes watching him pee. One of the cops, who had a Hitler mustache, said, "We are on a sting operation against fags." Ritchie said, "You were the guys in the bushes." The oinkers took Ritchie to their car and held a gun to his head after 
finding that a Brian F. Ritchie with the same birthday, hair color, weight, and eyes, was wanted for murder. It took several hours for Ritchie to convince them that he was not Brian F. Ritchie, but rather Brian E. Ritchie. The entire incident ended up in the USA Today newspaper.

* The Femmes did a gig with Bob Dylan. Dylan did not listen to the  band, despite the fact that he is obviously heavily influenced by Gordon Gano's singing and songwriting.

*Brian and Victor ran into Yes/King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford on the plane. They introduced themselves and Bruford said, "I have never heard of you." However he did put them on the guest list for that evenings show.

* Victor and Brian bumped into Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake in the hotel lobby. They introduced themselves and Kerslake said, "I have never heard of you." Then he asked, "What kind of crowd do you have, are there any girls?" DeLorenzo said, "About 50/50 boys and girls." Kerslake said, "You are lucky, we only have boys."

* Horns of Dilemma saxophonist Steve Mackay is also a member of the Stooges. He told Iggy Pop that he was going on tour with the Femmes. Iggy said, "I have never heard them."

* Pink Floyd saxophonist Dick Parry is also a member of the Horns of Dilemma. He mentioned to David Gilmour that he was going out on the road with the Femmes. Gilmour said, "Who?"

* Ritchie was staying at the Randolph in Oxford, England. David Bowie was also a guest in the hotel. They did not talk to each other or have any drinks together.

* Kinks guitarist Dave Davies came to see the Femmes. They asked him to sit in on "Add It Up" telling him there were only two chords. Davies declined, saying, "That's one chord too many!"

* The Femmes showed up at a gig in L.A. and were surprised to find American game show host Pat Sajak in the dressing room. When they asked him why he was there he replied, "I am a big fan of yours."

* Another time VF went into their dressing room and crooner Tony Bennett was there. The Femmes asked if he knew their music and Bennett said, "No." VF were puzzled what he was doing there.

* Teen actress Mayim Bialik of the show "Blossom" told Gano, "Don't get married until I reach the age of consent." Gano did not comply with this request.

* The Femmes were eating at Spanish restaurant Mallorca in Ohio. When the desserts came Gano was appalled to discover that his flan was a lighter shade of brown than the flan of manager Darren Brown. Gano summoned the waitress who told him there was nothing she could do, it was the last flan. Brown made things OK by trading flans with Gano.

* The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland had a display of famous drummers sticks. DeLorenzo was represented by the only pair of brushes.

* The Femmes asked Tom Waits to produce one of their albums. Waits 
said, "No."

* The Femmes asked Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to produce one of their albums. He said, "OK", then never returned the Femmes calls.

* The Femmes asked brilliant guitarist Tom Verlaine to open up a tour for them in Australia. Verlaine said, "No."

* The Ramones were supposed to play before the Femmes at Lollapalooza in Canada. Bassist CJ Ramone was "detained at the border" so the Femmes ended up playing first. Another time the Ramones were supposed to open for the Femmes in New Jersey. The Ramones cancelled the gig rather than open for the Femmes. Later on drummer Marky Ramone said in an interview that the Femmes were one of the only bands who kept punk alive in the dark days of the 80's and 90's.

* Rolling Stone magazine said Gano's voice "can clear a room faster than a methane explosion."

* NME magazine in England said of Ritchie, "Technically the most advanced bassist of his generation, the pretentious conch blowing dork."

* Show biz bible Variety called DeLorenzo "the worst drummer in any professional band".

* Allman Brothers guitarist Dickie Betts was cruising in his limo when he saw a commotion at a record store in Milwaukee. He asked the driver to pull over and checked out the Femmes doing an in-store performance. Betts said, "This is the best band I have seen in ten years."

* Gano and Ritchie were having a drink at a bar. Ritchie was approached by a fan asking for an autograph. Ritchie signed the kids paper and said, "Here's Gordon, would you like his autograph as well?" The fan looked at Gano and said, "No."

* Another time Ritchie and Gano were smoking cigars at Mercury Lounge in New York. The bouncers threw Gano out but left Ritchie alone. The next day Gano said, "They don't pick on him because he is big."

* The Femmes were eating dinner at Doyle's Seafood in Sydney. Ritchie ate a live lobster served sashimi style. When Gano saw the arms of the lobster waving around while Ritchie munched the raw flesh he called a taxi and went back to the hotel. The next day Gano announced he was becoming a vegetarian and has never eaten meat since then.

* The Femmes were playing in Germany but when they showed up at the gig there was no PA system. It looked like the gig would be cancelled so Ritchie drank a bottle of Pernod and got drunk. Miraculously the PA showed up and was set up in record time. The show went on but Ritchie was so inebriated he kept calling out songs they had played earlier in the show. Finally Victor got angry and said, "Brian, we already played "Prove My Love"!

* Femmes manager Darren Brown was originally hired as lighting director. After his first gig with the Femmes he was sleeping and heard a commotion. He looked around the room and saw Horns of Dilemma keyboardist Sigmund Snopek III having sex with a tattooed punk with a mohawk wearing nothing but combat boots. The next day Snopek announced to the band, "I gave the new guy a good initiation."

* Since the band started they have played in over 500 different cities, but the members can't remember all of them.

* Mark Van Hecke who "produced" the Femmes first two records,once boasted,"I will go down in music history as one of the great record producers alongside George Martin and Phil Spector!" Instead he is currently making music for video games."


* Femmes singer Gordon Gano's brother Glenn recorded his own CD. Brian Ritchie played it for Femmes recording engineer David Vartanian and Horns of Dilemma member Sigmund Snopek III, saying it was a demo of Gordon's new songs. Although Dave and Sig had both been working with the Femmes for over a decade they couldn't tell that it was not Gordon.

* Gordon wrote "Country Death Song" in the tenth grade studyhall.

* When Nirvana opened for the Femmes in Australia singer Kurt Cobain refused to go onstage unless someone got him some drugs. Femmes tour manager Willie MacInnes gave him two Tylenol, but told Kurt they were powerful narcotics. A few minutes later Kurt hit the stage, saying,"I feel much better."

* The Femmes played at the North Pole with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Chili Peppers celebrated this rare opportunity by arguing and splitting up the band.

* Former President Jimmy Carter once opened up the show for the Femmes. When he met Brian Ritchie he shook his hand and said,"Pleased to meet you."

* When former Talking Head Jerry Harrison produced the Femmes, Gordon was shocked to find him drinking from a little bottle clearly marked,"For External Use Only."

* When the Femmes worked with producer Michael Beinhorn (Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Soul Asylum, etc.) he threw a temper tantrum because the recording studio refused to provide him with a playpen for his dog who had been pissing all over the sound board.

* Gordon Gano is one of the closest living relations to eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.

* Gordon and Brian played their first show together at Gordon's National Honor Society Program. Gordon told them he would play an innocuous song, but instead the duo performed "Gimme the Car." When a riot erupted Gordon was expelled from the honor society.

* When the Femmes did an acoustic show at Warner Bros. Records to celebrate the release of "Why Do Birds Sing?" WB President Lenny Waronker called Brian Ritchie aside and told him,"That was excellent, Gordon."

* Horns of Dilemma musicians Sigmund Snopek III and Peter Balestrieri played with the Femmes at Carnegie Hall. A few days later they had a gig at a bowling alley in Wisconsin. They told the audience, "We just played at Carnegie Hall." no one believed them and one audience member shouted out, "Yeah, sure!"

* Gordon Gano's mother worked in the movies as a double for Paul Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward.

* Slash Records President Bob Biggs did not like "Country Death Song". He complained,"It's OK until that piano comes in and ruins it." The band was puzzled since there is no piano on the song. Obviously Biggs could not tell the difference between a piano and a banjo.

* Biggs later took the master tape of "Do You Really Want To HurtMe?" and overdubbed samples of James Brown and the Beach Boys. in the process he erased some of Victor's drum parts.

* In an interview with the L.A. Weekly Biggs admitted that he couldn't remember much of the eighties because he was on drugs all the time.

* Warner Bros. Vice President Karin Berg once told the puzzled Femmes, "Biggs' strengths are his weaknesses."

* The Femmes played with Dennis Rodman at the Field Museum in Chicago for New Years Eve '97. The audience was climbing on the elephants and the museum was strewn with used condoms.

* For the same show Rodman jammed with the femmes and showed the audience his butt and pee-pee.

* Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo and family was there to witness the debauchery. The Femmes hired Victor's son's band to open the show, because the opening band from England never showed up.

* Rodman poured a beer over Gordon's head, but Gordon didn't retaliate because Gordon is small and Rodman is very big. * Brian put his bass neck into Rodman's ass.

* One of the Femmes earliest gigs was opening up for Guy Hoffman's band the Oil Tasters. The Femmes were paid nothing for that gig.

* Jazz great Ornette Coleman listened to all of the Femmes albums in one sitting. He said, "The music's great, but the words get in the way."

* Another Jazz great, Don Cherry, called Brian and asked if he could sit in with the horns of dilemma.

* Jazz great Sun Ra liked Brian's song, "Sun Ra-Man from Outer Space".He listened to it over and over on his tour bus. Ra told Femmes promoter Peter Jest, "I love it when the teenagers sing about me."

* Yet another Jazz great, Bassist Percy Heath of the Modern Jazz Quartet came to an early Femmes show and came backstage to try Brian's trademark acoustic bass guitar. Said Heath, "This is the bass guitar. That shit the other cats play is just a toy."

* Smiths singer Morrisey attended a Femmes show in London. Informed of his presence the Femmes came out for the encore and sang the Smiths song,"I would go out tonight, but I haven't got a stitch to wear" clad only in their underwear.

* Another British popstar, The Jazz Butcher, was very excited to open up for his heroes, the Femmes. Unfortunately he liked the Femmes too much, because upon hearing them he fired his entire band and fled the venue in tears.

* Pop songstress Jewel came into the Femmes dressing room and posed the question,"Would you rather be a fish or a star?" Gordon said,"Neither." Brian said,"A fish because you can eat other fishes." Jewel's response to this was,"That's disgusting!"

* In a German interview the Femmes were asked, "Ja, vat do you sink about the reunification of Chermany?" To the chagrin of the assembled journalists they responded,"We don't think the question is whether there should be one or two Germanies, but rather if there should be any Germany."

* The Femmes were going through Canadian customs when they were approached by bald TV excercise and diet guru Susan Powter. She said,"You look like rock musicians. So, what do you think, should Joni Mitchell be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?" The entire band and crew replied with a scornful,"No!!!" "Why not?" asked Powter. Guy Hoffman replied,"Because she doesn't play rock and roll. If they let her in then they'll have to let Barbara Streisand in too." Brian Ritchie said,"The closest Joni Mitchell came to rock and roll was having sex with Crosby, Stills, and Nash."

* The Femmes were staying in a fancy hotel in Memphis, Tenn. They had to check out early to go to the next gig, and Horns of Dilemma musician Sigmund Snopek III fell asleep on a chair in the lobby while the rest were checking out. He was woken by a kick in the shin and a fruity voice yelling,"Come on, look lively, it's too early in the morning to be taking a nap!!!" Snopek opened his eyes to gaze upon TV excercise and diet guru Richard Simmons. Snopek then uttered the phrase,"Fuck off."

* Femmes were playing "Confessions" at a club in D.C. when they noticed that all of the young girls in the front several rows began grimacing and covering their eyes. When they looked behind them they realized why. Sigmund Snopek III was blowing a hunting horn completely nude.

* Horns of Dilemma sax man Peter Balestrieri had seen Brian jump into the audience and get passed around by the crowd and wanted to try it for himself. However, when Peter jumped the Australian audience parted and Pete landed on his butt, breaking his tailbone. He was not able to sit for the rest of the tour. When the band flew the other passengers were nervous when they saw someone with strong mediterranean features pacing up and down the aisle wearing sunglasses and drinking whiskey during takeoff.

* Brian Ritchie was having a beer with Fishbone singer Angelo. Angelo asked, "Brian, do you ever see angels?" Ritchie said, "No." Angelo responded, "I frequently see them flying around the room, But i can never tell if they are real or if I'm imagining them."

* The Femmes were playing at a rock festival with Lou Reed and Bonnie Raitt. Brian gave Lou a large cigar, and they were approached by Bonnie. Raitt asked, "Brian, do you have anything about that size i can put in my mouth?"

* A girl was lost in the Amazon for three days. When she was rescued the journalists asked her how she kept up her spirits during the ordeal.She replied,"By singing songs from the Violent Femmes album, "Hallowed Ground".

* When the Femmes were on their first tour they had a gig at a foul club in Dallas. The club had giant statues of frogs playing musical instruments on the roof. The clubowner told the band,"This is not good music. I will pay you not to play." The band refused and performed anyway. They were shocked when they looked in the crowd and saw singing legend Tony Bennett.

* Years later the band was travelling in Texas, and they saw the musical frogs for sale in the parking lot of a gas station.

* The Femmes went to a sushi bar in L.A. Former Partridge Family bassist/actor Danny Bonaduce was the maitre'd. When he found out it was the Femmes he invited them to go to the parking lot and smoke drugs.

* Another time Ritchie went to the same sushi bar, but when he sat down they started playing the Femmes on the stereo. Brian summoned the waitress and requested to hear something else. She said,"What's wrong, don't you like the Femmes?" Ritchie told the confused waitress,"No, i love the Femmes, in fact I've been to every one of their shows!"

* Brian Ritchie went to Femmes booking agent Frank Riley's office. Upon leaving he entered the elevator where he was joined by actor Sly Stallone. The elevator door did not close immediately, which visibly agitated Stallone. Rather than pressing the 'Door Close' button Stallone issued the following instruction,"Fuckin' door, CLOSE!"