In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and colour-sorted M&Ms has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano.
1: JK Rowling once reviewed the Violent Femmes’ eponymous 1983 debut album. What score did she give it?
“Somebody showed it to me. I know it was favourable. She liked it, but I don’t recall an exact scoring system.”
WRONG. She rated it 8.5 out of 10, commenting that on first listen she has “an immediate, visceral response of ‘no, scratch everything, I hate this” to your voice, comparing it to a “bee in a plastic cup”. On second listen, your voice sounds “raw, catchy and soulful” to her.
What score would you award Harry Potter?
“I haven’t read any of the books or seen any of the films! But I think it’s something you can’t live your whole life having not read, so at some point I’m sure I’ll have my own view on it. (Laughs) I’ll let you know if it’s better or worse than our album!”
She also compares you to your friend Lou Reed. What’s your favourite Lou Reed memory?
“Oh, there’s a lot! One time he phoned and asked if I liked NFL American Football and said there was going to be a championship game with the New York Giants, and asked if I would be his guest. So I was Lou Reed’s plus one at a football game. (Laughs) Most people’s first association wouldn’t be: ‘Oh Lou Reed! Of course – sports!’”
2: Which former basketball player once poured a pint of beer over your head?
“(Laughs) Oh! Well, Dennis Rodman! What’s strange is that’s very low on the scale of what I remember from that night. It wasn’t a concern of mine at the time! We played a New Year’s Eve show in Chicago that he was presenting. At one point, I turned round and saw he’d come up onstage and started playing the drums. Here’s the really fun thing – he was really good! He was the biggest combination of being very large and very drunk that I’ve ever been around, so I just wanted to get through it without getting hurt. So having some beer on me was, like, nothing!”
CORRECT. By the end of the performance, he had fallen over, pushed people in wheelchairs around onstage while screaming ‘Who says I don’t have a heart?!’ and was on the verge of exposing himself to the audience before he was removed by his own bodyguards – a scene which would have improved SpaceJam no end.
3: Violent Femmes play themselves in a 1997 episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. According to the show, how do the band spent their time in hotel rooms?
“Huh?! Well, I don’t remember that. It was strange because we were told to just be ourselves and yet everything in the script was things we’d never say or do. So I don’t recall the pseudo-biographical aspect of it. (Laughs) I have no idea. What did they say we did?”
WRONG. You watch Ren & Stimpy cartoons and drink milk.
“There’s no relationship to reality there! Something nobody knows is we were a last-minute replacement. It was originally going to be another band, and they cancelled so the producers needed somebody that was quickly available to keep with their schedule. We were on tour and got the offer. I was never told who the other band were. Some of our best opportunities have happened because people have turned it down, such as years ago we opened for the Grateful Dead. Though I’m not necessarily sure I’d count Sabrina the Teenage Witch among them! (Laughs)”
4: Which 2003 novel features a scene set at a Violent Femmes concert?
“I’m guessing that’s gotta be The Time Traveler’s Wife?”
“Which I did read and was impressed by. I really liked the book. Another added thing is we thought we were going to be in the movie, especially because we’re a major scene in the book. We spent two days shooting for the movie – and then ended up edited out of the film.”
5: How many protesters are pictured on the in-sole of your Violent Femmes Nike sneakers?
“Right, you want me to count the protesters and anti-protesters?! I’d just be guessing. Six?”
WRONG. It’s nine on each sole.
“So I wasn’t very close!”
They’re designed by pro-skateboarder Stefan Janoski, who lends his vocals to a new version of ‘I’m Nothing’ on your upcoming new album ‘Hotel Last Resort’.
“That was amazing. When I first met him, it was set up through having the possibility of some mutual business, but I quickly struck me he seemed like somebody who could be a friend of mine. The way he thinks, his energy, is so positive. Being in the studio was extra fun for us because of how excited he was to be doing this with us.”
6: You played the first ever Big Day Out festival in Australia in 1992. Who did you go on after?
“I never met Kurt Cobain, because he was sequestered in his dressing room – there are probably reasons for it, I’m sure. The other guys in the band came and socialised in our dressing room and that was really fun. Later, I saw them on the cover of the Village Voice in New York and my first thought was ‘I know those guys! I think I went to high school with one of them?’, before realising: ‘Oh no! That’s right. We just played with them and now they’re the biggest rock band in the world!’”
7: You covered ‘Impossible Love’ for ‘The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered’. Name two other artists/bands on the 2004 compilation.
“I don’t know.”
WRONG. Among many, many others, you could have had Teenage Fanclub, Death Cab For Cutie, Beck, TV On The Radio and Mercury Rev.
“I listened to a bunch of songs and really liked ‘Impossible Love’, but it’s one of those things that was quickly done and it’s not something I’m living closely with on a daily basis! (Laughs) If I was to hear it right now, I’m guessing I’d be happy with it because I enjoyed it and it was fun. I didn’t know Daniel Johnston – everybody I know knew him and couldn’t believe I didn’t. I still get ‘Walking The Cow’ stuck in my head sometimes.”
8: Which popular 2019 Gillian Anderson-starring Netflix series did ‘Blister In The Sun’ play in – as everyone in the school receives a nude pic?
“Did it take place in Boston? Maybe you should just tell me.”
WRONG. It’s Sex Education.
“When I’m asked if someone can use my music, I almost always say yes. I used to say ‘Let me know when it’s out’, but nobody ever follows through on that.”
In the show, Gillian Anderson plays a weed-smoking mom. Apparently your own mother got upset when an article suggested she smoked pot with you.
“It was strange when someone wrote that, but it’s also funny I’d be surprised because I guess that’s what the song ‘Add It Up’ is saying. But I wasn’t thinking about it like my mother. She’s always claimed she likes everything I did – but she didn’t like that one take on it. That happened early on when I was still living at home, but she’s never had anything to do with any drugs or drink so it didn’t make sense in our reality. Thankfully, it isn’t something that’s ever been picked up on – well, until you did! (Laughs)”
Ever had your music soundtrack anything more unusual than schoolkids receiving vagina pics?
“Hmmmn – to tie in when I mentioned about Lou Reed, it’s now normal that ‘Blister In The Sun’ is played at all major sporting events – baseball stadiums, football, basketball, hockey. The idea in the 1980s when we were playing all these little punk rock clubs and colleges and on the street that we’d go from busking to being a sporting institution would have been unreal.”
9: What is the name of the little girl pictured on the cover of the Violent Femmes self-titled debut album?
“People might think that’s an easy question – but no! (Laughs) I wouldn’t recall her name. We met her a couple of times since she’s grown up, but the last time we saw her would have been maybe 20 years ago. And she’s not a relative of ours.”
WRONG. It’s Billie Jo Campbell, who was approached, aged three, walking down a Los Angeles street with her mother.
“Well, it was nice to see her after all those years. But we weren’t there for the initial photoshoot. We had some conversations with the record label about finding a photo of a little boy looking around a door. I thought it was wonderfully done by the photographer – and of course the model!”
10: You covered Culture Club’s ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ for Violent Femmes’ 1991 album ‘Why Do Birds Sing?’, and change a lyric to ‘What’s your favourite colour of your favourite car?’. What’s the original lyric?
“(Laughs) Oh yeah! No, you got me there! I’m not going to remember the original lyrics because I didn’t understand them! They make no sense. I kept the chorus and then had a lot of fun changing some of the other words. Of course, that requires permission and it was totally approved – which I thought showed Boy George was someone who’s playful and fun and not too precious about everything. What’s the original line?”
WRONG. It’s ‘Choose my colour, find a star’.
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. (Laughs) What does that mean?!”
The verdict: 3/5
“(Laughs) That’s really funny! I’d have predicted I’d have gotten two. But I got three – so I’m feeling pretty good about that!”
Violent Femmes’ new album ‘Hotel Last Resort’ is released July 26 via [Pias] Recordings