Research tells us that the music a person likes when they are 17 to 21 years old is the music they will most likely listen to the most for the rest of their life. Though in my case, I believe the music of my late teen/early adult years formed more of a basis for music I would listen to for the rest of my life rather than a strict framework, and the music I listened to those teenage years ago certainly did set me on the musical path I would follow for these next thirty some odd years.
I had a pretty diverse teenage musical palate, as I believe I do now. I didn’t care so much where a song came from (folk music, heavy metal, Top 40), if a song was good, I listened to it. I still clearly remember listening to the Violent Femmes when I was 17 years old in 1983. I was dating a girl from out of state at the time (no really, I was!), and she introduced me to this small band I had never heard of from Milwaukee, WI.
Wait, did I hear correctly? The Violent Femmes?!?! Huh?
Though I suppose The Violent Femmes were technically a punk band, they eschewed the normal, uniform 4 piece electric guitar approach and instead employed a simple snare drum kit, an acoustic guitar and an acoustic bass. Lead by lead vocalist and songwriter Gordon Gano, Violent Femmes lyrics were full of angst, confusion and unhappiness, and I felt very cool listening to them. The cover of the album reminded me of Led Zeppelin, and though they printed the lyrics of the songs on the album sleeve, they were printed in one long, virtually unreadable block of handwritten text.
I once read that listening to Bob Dylan sing was like having an ice cream headache. Similarly, I once read that nothing could clear a room out quicker than listening to Gordon Gano sing. I always thought he sounded like a goose who just broke up with his girlfriend, but I loved it.
Though there were bigger hits on the album (“Blister in the Sun”), I always particularly loved “Please Do Not Go,” and in some very prescient ways, this song became a blue print for the music I would listen to long after my teen/early adult years were over.
Gano sounds like a pouting, petulant loser who is in love with a girl who probably does not even know he is alive, singing along to a syncopated guitar strum. The earthy bass comes in playing a lovely melody with a lone snare drum. We smile. Then we hear Gano sing.
“Tell you man I’m stuck on this lovely girl
Of course to me you’ know she mean all the world
But then she like another guy
I fall down dead she never see the tears I cry”
His voice rises to a squeaky whine and back down to an annoying honk, and through it all, the four string acoustic bass drives the melodic story. The verses are connected by the bass. It’s all about the bass. The bass, and Gano’s voice. He sings the verse almost as if it is a children’s call and response. We feel like we are listening to young children tease and taunt one another.
“Please, please, please do not go
How long can the days go on
When my love is so strong
And I know I cannot tell a lie
I want to see him go by
Bye bye bye bye bye bye”
Then, as if Gano’s speaking voice could be more annoying than his singing voice, he pleads his case in spoken word, all while the bass is playing the beautiful melody behind him. The chorus is sung again, then the guitar and drum dropout, leaving only the bass, playing eight measures of pure acoustic bliss. The drums return. Gano’s voice whines in our ear, like a piece of sandpaper wrapped in aluminum foil. I loved it. I’ve always loved it.
I still listen to acoustic music. And rock music. And some punk music. Sometimes, I like music to provide comfort, and sometimes I like to be challenged, amused and shocked. I think this may have all begun with the Violent Femmes.
“Please Do Not Go”
Written by Gordon Gano
Performed by the Violent Femmes
Released April 13, 1983