“Can I… Can I put on something like: This is American music. Take one. One, two, three, four…”
Whenever I hear or think about the band Violent Femmes, I think of my friend Jeff from high school, even though I haven’t seen him in a couple of decades (not counting the odd word on Facebook). This is because I lent him my recorded copy of Violent Femmes’ debut self-titled album on cassette at the beginning of our final year (OAC, for those in the know) and no word of a lie, I didn’t get it back until the end of that school year. I started out asking for it daily and he would always make excuses and promise it back the next day. I stopped asking so often after a while and had almost given up hope, only keeping up the charade as an ongoing joke, but then, on the final day of classes, he returned it to me.
Of course, “American music” does not appear on the debut. It’s from the band’s fifth album, “Why do birds sing?”. Really, the only other album besides the debut that I know. Its release came shortly after the band reformed from a brief split and coincided with a tour, whose Toronto stop a bunch of my friends went to see but which I sadly missed. “American music” was another favourite of my friend Jeff’s. He’d often break into a sad impression of frontman Gordon Gano’s nasally vocals when we were hanging out during afternoon spare period and sing: “Do you like American music? I like American music. Don’t you like American music baby!”
Save for the trio’s aforementioned debut, the Femmes have always operated on the periphery of the music industry, sitting precariously on the edge of alternative and mainstream culture. They have a number of songs, though, thanks to usage in films and appearances in TV commercials, that have become part of our collective consciousness. I’d say “American music” is one of these. Though only achieving modest success and moderate airplay, it has become a favourite at the shows the band still performs today.
It is a typically upbeat and off-kilter number for the group, hinting at a love for the red, white, and blue and the Norman Rockwell lifestyle. Gano whines and yelps, Ritchie’s bass lines boom, and Victor DeLorenzo gets us all up dancing at the prom with his get up and go drum beats, whether we have a date to dance with or not.
Yeah. I like American music too… baby.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.