Violent Femmes and Biographical Musical Milestones

One of these days, I’m going to reorganize my records.

Autobiographical.
No fucking way.

And for all my buzz-band, new-music fervor, sometimes the most meaningful live performances are the ones that help reorganize our memories.

In the present: it’s 2014, and the overworked Fillmore security staff is squeezing through bodies all over the main floor with tiny flashlights. No video, no photography. Put your camera away, please. Not sure if this was by the band’s request, or just a new Fillmore policy. Either way, it was refreshing. I saw Gordon Gano et al soar through their entire debut LP, start to finish, without having to look through the shiny picture screens of everyone standing in front of me.

In the past: music venue patdowns excluded photographic equipment of any kind. Minor victories were gained by smuggling SW’s little Sony into Bottom of the Hill for some quick, no-flash snapshots. When every phone started doubling as everyone’s camera, the security measures became futile.

And now, as said phones get bigger and bigger, and more and more obtrusive, it seems like it’s impossible to attend any live music performance without being surrounded by amateur videographers and professional Instagrammers. I typically like to get one half-decent pic. Nobody reads a blog without at least one image, right? But this past Friday night, so as to not look like the one guy insisting on sneaking a photo, I barely managed a pic at all. To hell with half-decency.

In the distant past: thirty-one years since The Violent Femmes released that seminal, eponymous debut album. Not-so-distant past: I was seventeen, ready to graduate from high school, when a childhood friend sent me off into the great unknown with a gift of five or six cassette tapes. I remember a U2 album, something by Tracy Chapman, Surfer Rosa by the Pixies, and that Femmes record.

Understand that, in high school, my musical interests were primarily driven by whichever girl seemed interested in me at the time. I endured a lot of hair metal, and a lot of much more metal metal in those days. A Vio-lence concert at the I-Beam remains one of my most terrifying and exhilarating music experiences ever. And a lot of early-90’s R&B. It didn’t take.

There was one exception. When I discovered The Clash, that was all me. Nobody made me listen to them. Nobody else I knew was onboard. I grew up with that silly “Rock the Casbah” video, and saved up my allowance and part-time job earnings to buy the double-cassette Story of the Clash and, later, my first every CD boxset, Clash on Broadway.

Twenty-two years, four months ago, I was in a UC Davis dormitory for freshman orientation, talking music with my weekend roommate. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember being acutely aware of how embarrassing it would have been to discuss Def Leppard or Testament. When I steered the topic toward Joe, Mick, Paul, and Topper; something clicked. We shared favorite songs, tried to interpret lyrics, and mutually admitted to enjoying A Farewell to Arms more than we maybe should have because of “Spanish Bombs.”

Then he asked me what I thought about dozens of other bands and artists. There were two that stick out. Oingo Boingo, no reason. The Violent Femmes, I remembered that cassette tape. I hadn’t listened to it. In fact, I hadn’t listened to any of those tapes yet. But it’s the first thing I did when I got home that summer.

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