Add it up with JK Rowling
September 22, 2016 6:17 AM   Subscribe

It wasn’t Gordon Gano who was the problem: it was me. I was listening with a ghostly eighteen year old ex-boyfriend at my shoulder, and behind him, a chorus of snarling early eighties NME journalists, all ready to jeer, because even if I like the Violent Femmes, I’ll like them in the wrong way. JK Rowling takes up ramalbumclub's challenge of listening to a well known album for the the first time and then writing about it: Violent Femmes from 1983. posted by rongorongo (46 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm surprised I've not heard of this Ruth and Martin's Album Club challenge. Will definitely be listening to this later this evening and exploring the archive. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Fizz at 6:27 AM on September 22, 2016


Aww, yeah. I love a good, unmediated, honest listen of an overly reified cultural artifact.
posted by whuppy at 6:32 AM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


An intriguing premise, thoughtful and well-written throughout. And, boy does J.K. Rowling capture well the dangers of nostalgia with a scornful side-eyed glance. A bit of the best of the web to start my Thursday. Thank you!
posted by meinvt at 6:38 AM on September 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


That was lovely. It really is a remarkable album, I was listening to it the other day. New layers exposing themselves, from the age of 16 to the age of 46. How on earth was it written by a teenager? I mean, yeah a lot of it is about sexual frustration, but it's written in a way that resonates with sexual frustration at every age, not just the teen who's not getting any. Is Blister in the Sun really about heroin? What is the metaphor about his mother buying him a gun?

In retrospect, 46 year old me feels that the most sophisticated song on the album (which I likely hated when I was 16) is the closer, Good Feeling. So, so bittersweet. It takes a special talent to write so directly about complex emotions without context or resorting to allegory.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:40 AM on September 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


And now I want someone to make a MeTa where we can share our own first listens and reactions to influential/great albums. Hmmm....
posted by Fizz at 6:52 AM on September 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


As I rapidly approach 40 (what's up, November?), it has been eye-opening revisiting some of the media I defined myself by as a teenager/early 20s. So this sort of project is right up my alley.

(Not music, but a friend and I coincidentally both re-read The Crow in the past few months and boy, was that something to look at with older eyes. My conclusion: "oh fuck, this reads as bad as one of my high school diaries.")
posted by Kitteh at 6:59 AM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


After I’ve listened to the whole album once, I look down at the place where I was supposed to be making notes and all I’ve written is: ‘his upper register sounds like a bee in a plastic cup,’ which the professional writer in me recognizes as ‘not 500 words’.

J.K. Rowling is a treasure.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 6:59 AM on September 22, 2016 [27 favorites]


And now I want someone to make a MeTa where we can share our own first listens and reactions to influential/great albums.

And first concerts. That's always a great icebreaker at parties.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:03 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


(Here are The Violent Femmes live at London Lyceum in 1984 - video features shitty interpretive interludes, a contemporary British advert break led by an appropriate shill for spot cream, songs from the first 2 albums including rocking bagpipes and a band interview. Wish I'd been there.)
posted by rongorongo at 7:09 AM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


the closer, Good Feeling. So, so bittersweet.

My favorite line in there has always been "vague sketch of a fantasy / laughing at the Sun like we'd been up all night ..." It's almost Imagiste in it's evocation of the giddy dislocative feeling of staying up all night and watching the sun come up as you get ready to go to bed.

There was a time I had Violent Femmes and The Blind Leading The Naked completely memorized. I went on a trip with a friend once and we just sang both albums a capella while driving.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:13 AM on September 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Very cool idea, thanks for posting!
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:27 AM on September 22, 2016


I LOVE this project! It's really worth digging into the archives, too. The targeted listeners are all over the place, but the scene-setting essay is always brilliant.
posted by maudlin at 7:36 AM on September 22, 2016


I was listening the the Cracked Podcast (don't judge its actually better then youd think) and they were talking about how when you are 14, the albums that come out that year have a profoundly huge effect on you. While I just missed that album by 4 years (and prob wouldnt have even been on my radar) Im sure it has for those lucky people.

FYI-1988 saw the release of Green by REM, It Takes a Nation Of Millions..by Public Enemy, and The Traveling Wilburys, so that explains me I guess ;)
posted by ShawnString at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


whuppy: "overly reified cultural artifact"

I guess it's something to do with luck
posted by chavenet at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I've been avoiding this blog because now I have to read all of them. I'd love to see this with really obscure records too and more Americans and more non-Rock-Canon records and and and and and
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:52 AM on September 22, 2016


I went on a trip with a friend once and we just sang both albums a capella while driving.

a capella renditions of Violent Femmes on long car trips was almost obligatory for those of us of a certain age. This tradition holds up surprisingly well with time, my kids are quite willing to sing along with Blister in the Sun when it comes up on road trips.
posted by N-stoff at 7:54 AM on September 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


On second thought, strike the "overly". Violent Femmes deserves every dollop of its reification.
posted by whuppy at 7:57 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm going to a festival tomorrow with the Femmes! But I don't think we'll be there in time to see them :/
posted by infinitewindow at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2016


I'm not familiar with ramalbumclub, but it reminds me of the media gaffe made by Susan Boyle's publicist when he hash-tagged "susanalbumparty".

Not only is Su holding an anal bum party, there's a bum club in Ramal, wherever that is. Perhaps I need psychological help. Maybe I can find some at www.therapist.com.

In all seriousness, is this misinterpretation a problem only in the UK? Is "bum" not so prevalent in the US?
posted by trif at 8:23 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, we say butt here. And fanny means butt here.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Is "bum" not so prevalent in the US?

Not in the way y'all use it. "Bum" is a word that used to be used to describe homeless people but it's not very nice and shouldn't be used at all anymore. If we're talking about derrieres, it's butts or behinds or bottoms. Or derrieres. Or asses.

Can't speak for the whole country, obvs. I'm Midwestern born and raised.
posted by cooker girl at 8:28 AM on September 22, 2016


Bum in the US is only someone who is lazy and homeless or nearly so; with a side helping of deserving judgement.
posted by meinvt at 8:29 AM on September 22, 2016


"Bum" in the US is almost always a derogative term for a homeless person, or, used as a verb it can mean asking someone for a cigarette. If it's said with a British accent and prefaced with "me", like "me bum", most folks will get the intended British meaning though.
posted by LionIndex at 8:30 AM on September 22, 2016


If it's said with a British accent and prefaced with "me", like "me bum", most folks will get the intended British meaning though.

Like so.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:37 AM on September 22, 2016


I live in Canada, where it can mean both!
posted by Kitteh at 8:37 AM on September 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


She became a massive fan of The Violent Femmes.

She framed the album cover and put it on her wall.

She used the fact that SHE was the girl on the cover to help boost her confidence and meet boys.

And in 2008, she married one of them.


At first I thought this meant she married one of the Violent Femmes. The wedding toasts would have been interesting.
posted by Blue Meanie at 8:51 AM on September 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


An intriguing premise, thoughtful and well-written throughout. And, boy does J.K. Rowling capture well the dangers of nostalgia with a scornful side-eyed glance. A bit of the best of the web to start my Thursday. Thank you!

Dangers yes. I read the article, liked it, read the thread and thought I haven't listened to this album in years. Used to all the time. It was part of the soundtrack of a particular time.

I could only make it through half of the first song. It brought up too many 'things' and a whole bunch of stuff that I'm just not in a place to think about right now. No time and no energy but yeah I will at some point because I know I will still like it a lot. I'll just need to bring it forward to the me that is now.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened when listening to things I haven't heard in years.
posted by Jalliah at 9:16 AM on September 22, 2016


I did this recently with Bonnie Raitt's Streetlights, which I'd never sat down and listened to, despite being very familiar with her version of "Angel from Montgomery". I was really struck by how gorgeously the whole album was produced and arranged- I mean, "Angel" has those incredible string and horn builds on the second and third choruses, but the full album is just as immaculate in its production. I was also surprised by what seemed like a real influence from Court and Spark on the album even though they came out at the same time...*checks* oh, wait- Joni Mitchell wrote the first track. On the whole, I'd say it was probably one of the best produced albums of the '70s, and Bonnie, of course, sounds amazing. I think it is also absolutely of a time when you could have a solid rootsy country album, but one that has these incredibly lush, soul-influenced orchestral arrangements on it at the same time.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of those albums that feels frozen in time as though in amber (from the weird cover art to the band photographs on the back to the sui generis music), yet also oddly very resonant with our times, as the OP makes clear.

My freshman college roommate and I disagreed on almost everything but he introduced me to their first album and I was hooked. Not on the slow songs, but on the propulsive songs that everyone knows that sound like Gano is spitting out pieces of his spleen.

I had fantasies of being Gano's boyfriend, even though he was a proudly public fundie and I was a closeted gay guy. Those fantasies were about as rational as any other thoughts I had at that stage in my life.
posted by blucevalo at 9:50 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


This blog is awesome and a time suck and thanks for introducing me to it. I'm now listening to a bunch of stuff on spotify. I think the reviewers may be influencing me a bit, though...
posted by Diablevert at 10:04 AM on September 22, 2016


the thing everybody seems to keep missing about the Violent Femmes first album is that their second is bigger, better, weirder, darker, stronger, more dangerous.
posted by philip-random at 10:09 AM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


This album makes me think of High School Speech tournaments (oh god I was so terrible), and my stupid briefcase and my yellow Walkman and a tape copy of this that I wore out in 1988.
posted by bibliogrrl at 10:51 AM on September 22, 2016


This was wonderful and this album was/is wonderful and I got to be 16 again just now and that's wonderful too. Sorry this isn't a more insightful or funny comment but I got to be 16 again so fuck you
posted by Mchelly at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


(god I love(d) that band)
posted by Mchelly at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2016


The xylophone on "Gone Daddy Gone" is so amazing every time I hear it it makes me kind of mad no one else has gone all-in on rock xylophone but then again, could any other song ever do it as well? Probably not.
posted by GuyZero at 11:02 AM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Great idea, I'm going to have to read all these. Sort of like the "which famous books haven't you read" discussion. Like that subject, my knowledge is wide, scattered and shallow. I haven't heard a lot of albums on this list, and even some of the things I love I'm not sure I've listened to the whole album.
posted by bongo_x at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2016


This was really good, I loved both Martin's commentary/history and then Rowling's musings and review.

Gano was born in '63, I was born in '64, and Rowling was born in '65. We were probably all three in very different cultural spaces at that time -- by 1983, I had stopped listening to pop music entirely and had switched to jazz (though in '84 I loved Welcome to the Pleasuredome and have probably listened that album almost monthly for the subsequent 32 years).

It was likely in the summer of 1987, when I was 22, that I was at an extended family gathering and (most) all of my cousins, all adolescents or younger (excepting me) were in the backyard playing badminton. The oldest of my cousins there, Leslie, was about to be a senior in high school and she had good, independent musical taste. (Yeah, by that point I was like those anti-pop NME snobs Rowling was on about.) Leslie put on a mix tape and Add it Up came on. I was a little worried that one of our uncles was going to hear it and have a fit -- but mostly I was just arrested in my tracks. I mean, seriously, I just stopped what I was doing and listened. I loved everything about the sound. I was young enough that the adolescent angst still appealed to me, but what really got me was the sound and musicianship, how spare and yet full it was and unlike anything else I'd heard. I didn't, however, go buy the album. That took a couple of years until I met the woman I would shortly marry, who just blew the doors open for me into indie/alternative music, which pretty much changed everything for me. And also made me very pissed off about what I missed during the mid-eighties (and I fucking hated the eighties).

"the thing everybody seems to keep missing about the Violent Femmes first album is that their second is bigger, better, weirder, darker, stronger, more dangerous."

Yes! It was Hallowed Ground that I really fell in love with. Easily my favorite album of theirs and I listened to it incessantly. What I loved more than anything, which blew me away, was Black Girls. I'm listening to it is as I type this.

I find that I mostly stopped listening to any of the Violent Femmes music sometime in the late nineties. Most of it doesn't quite hold up for me, although I can still hear everything that makes it great. It's for the reasons that several people have mentioned -- for me, it's so much of a particular place and time, it's kind of trapped in that for me. It doesn't escape/transcend the zeitgeist of its time the way that some of the other music from the 80s-90s does for me. Which is okay, but it makes it less interesting to listen to now.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:36 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


their second is bigger, better, weirder, darker, stronger, more dangerous.

This is true! And it slipped my mind, I don't know why. Anticipating alt-country and artists like Wovenhand, it's a brilliant evocation/re-imagining of the old, weird, America. John Zorn plays on that record. And saxophonist Peter Balestrieri is presently Curator of Science Fiction and Popular Culture at U of I.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:44 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is an album I am not allowed to play in the car. Who knew a badly beaten 93 Toyota could do 80 on the freeway (TIME TIME TIME TIME!)? It is awesome for doing laundry. Or dishes.
posted by jeribus at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Bum" in the US is almost always a derogative term for a homeless person, or, used as a verb it can mean asking someone for a cigarette. If it's said with a British accent and prefaced with "me", like "me bum", most folks will get the intended British meaning though.

One can, occasionally, be "bummed out" (maybe not as popular as it used to be?)

A person who isn't actually homeless can "bum around."
posted by atoxyl at 12:24 PM on September 22, 2016


If from nowhere else, all Americans know the British meaning of "bum" from Mike Myers.
posted by polecat at 1:31 PM on September 22, 2016


Violent Femmes are awesome. Brian Ritchie from the band lives in Australia now, where he plays odd orchestra projects and helps curate MONA FOMA, Tasmania's amazing arts festival.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:30 PM on September 22, 2016


Aw, this is great.

The Femmes were my third concert They were opening for the Fleshtones (10000 Maniacs opened for the Femmes!). I danced so much I was sick in the bathroom. I was 15?
posted by frumiousb at 5:18 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I first heard the Violent Femmes when I was a senior in high school in 1983/84. I remember them played from a cassette at a picnic on a boom box by these new wave girls who also played "Never Say Never" by Romeo Void. Listening to the Violent Femmes was the first time I heard the F Word in a song.

A couple years later I saw the Violent Femmes at First Avenue and on the horn numbers they had guest horn players Dan Kaniess and Jay McHale from Minneapolis jazz punk band 2i. Some of Dan's music-related visual art is on the website of original Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo.
posted by larrybob at 6:27 PM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Update: I saw the Violent Femmes live tonight and they were awesome.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:01 PM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


(on the off chance this wasn't previously posted).

The record entered my teen cohort's rotation on release, along with the first Butthole Surfers record. That tiny "Slash" logo carried weight still. It did not become *crucial* until the second BH lp, when for reasons unknown the albums entered a required play order, "Psychic, Powerless," etc first, followed by this record, all accompanied by bellowed lyrics and furniture burning or the equivalent.
posted by mwhybark at 12:09 AM on September 24, 2016


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