Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Kiss Off by the Violent Femmes

Kiss Off

Performed by the Violent Femmes. Written by Gordon Gano. You can listen to the original recording here and a live version here. Buy the song on iTunes. The song first appeared on the self-titled album Violent Femmes as well as the live album Viva Wisconsin.

At their best – and that includes “Kiss Off” – the Violent Femmes distilled a raging stream of consciousness that gave voice to horniness, confusion, anger, fear, rebellion and a general what-the-fuck attitude. We’re not talking about the idea of teenage angst or anyone else’s idea of angst; we’re talking the thing itself. Their songs arose from the usual themes of sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, or more precisely, a longing for sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and they avoided clichés, wallowing and novel staring in favor of primal scream. “You can just kiss off/yeah, yeah, yeah” the bellow.

The Violent Femmes were three guys banging three unamplified instruments – upright bass, simple snare drum and acoustic guitar – for all their worth. In songs like “Kiss Off,” Gordon Gano sings with an urgency that captures the collision of what’s racing around his mind and coming from his crotch.

I need someone
A person to talk to
Someone who’d care to love
Could it be you

The music insistent, the voice equal parts plaintive, demanding and sarcastic. No story song, “Kiss Off” unfolds with different voices and brief shards of images. We hear adult voices that criticize and castigate – “kid, you’re sick” and worry about the future – “this will go down on your permanent record.” The answer comes back like a kick in the teeth. “Oh yeah, well don’t get so distressed,” as if to say, “Future, we don’t need no stinking future.”

Is there any better list of reasons to rage, drop out, get high or just scream than the mad rant in the middle of “Kiss Off”?

I take one one one cause you left me and
Two two two for my family and
Three three three for my heartache and
Four four four for my headaches and
Five five five for my lonely and
Six six six for my sorrow and
Seven seven for no tomorrow and
Eight eight I forget what eight was for and
Nine nine nine for the lost gods
Ten ten ten ten for everything everything everything

As Gano sings, the music ratchets up, the pace revs up till it sounds like the place is gonna blow. How many kids, people when asked how they’re doing by the guidance counselor or the psychologist or the cubicle mate starts chanting, “I take one one one…”

“Kiss Off” makes no attempt at solutions; it’s enough to sing, thump the base, bang the drum and let loose.

*****

I’ve long had a special place inside me for the Violent Femmes and not only because of the times when I put all the windows down and tried to drive as fast as the music or songs like “Kiss Off” and “Add it Up” and “Blister in the Sun” so perfectly matched my own rage. It comes from a kind of first love, when you stumble on a band before others and you get to watch them blossom, when you experience a feeling of pride and protection. Back in 1982, I stood in line outside the old Folk City on Third Street in the Village waiting to check out this new band, the Violent Femmes, making their first New York appearance. A record company guy – not the highest ranking since he waited in line next to me – told tales of how they were buskers in Milwaukee until Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders heard them and let them open a concert, which led to a signing with Slash records. He claimed that the name derived from a locker room insult turned on its head. (“I’m not a femme, I’m a violent femme.”) It all sounded very cool and very Hollywood.

Inside, we stared at three microphone stands and the red patterned wallpaper that would seem garish in a whorehouse. Eventually, the three band members appeared, each carrying a single instrument: Brian Ritchie hauled his big bass, Victor DeLorenzo came with snare drum under his arm and Gordon Gano had his acoustic guitar strapped around his neck. Gano made some small talk, then they paused, took a deep breath and Ritchie made a call by plucking his base. DeLorenzo answered by smacking his drum and in that instant, the Femmes hurled themselves into “Blister in the Sun; it was if they had set themselves on fire.

For the next year or so, every time they played a show in New York, I scrounged up the nickels and dragged friends to go hear them, dragging friends because part of the joy of discovery comes in sharing it with others, even if some shake their heads at how worked up you can get over a mere band.

I was beyond college by then, but imagined that if you walked down a hallway, you’d hear the Femmes banging away in every other room. They managed a few records in their first incarnation and some almost hits. They never became big sellers in part because they didn’t quite fit: punk folk? Cowpunk? Speed acoustic?  Alt-country before there was an alt-country? I’m listening to “Kiss Off” and the experience is more than merely sentimental. Stripped down to essentials, it’s as raw and necessary as when I first heard it played in Folk City.

You can find out more about the Violent Femmes at their website. The Wikipedia article on the Violent Femmes includes a section on a bizarre argument that wound up in court between Ritchie and Gano over licensing “Blister in the Sun” to Wendy’s. You can hear more of their music on the web:

Enjoy.

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