Violent Femmes
May 10, 2016
Amoeba Music
San Francisco, CA


The Balm of Violence

I glanced at the diabolique of my treacherous foe: the clock. Er, maybe I meant work. Either way, the two were a team of weights bearing down on my chances of seeing a show. Allow me to elaborate. The Violent Femmes were staging a two-night visit at The Fillmore, beginning tonight, but my negligence forbade me from getting tickets before they were sold out. So that was it, I lamented to Candice, here they were, a band that had been the glimmering navigation which lead me amongst the pitfalls of adolescence and My First Heartbreak, playing here in San Francisco, and I had waited too long for a ticket. And it was Candice who clued me in to the fact that all was not lost: Violent Femmes were playing at Amoeba Records the evening before their first show. For free.

My directive followed a gleaming set of crosshairs in the distance of the 5 o’clock world and as soon as the whistle blew, I rushed out of the warehouse and made a McQueen voyage through the hills, leaping and speeding and cursing until I slid into the first spot I found, at Stanyan and Waller, not bad. No time to see if any homies were skating, it was already 5:30! The show would start at 6 and the platform of my dreams rested on a miracle. I figured there would be a line down the street. Amoeba told folks not to start lining up until 3 for fucks sake. Now it was 5:30? Grim. It all looked grim. The awkward grungy kid deep within my psyche was growing more pale, more decrepit. But on I trudged.


I rounded the corner onto Haight Street and the cavalcade nearly took my breath away. There was a squad of meanderers that I would be crazy to try and traverse. But even crazier not to. I trudged on, dodging elbows, looking for some semblance of order, a line, a path, any sort of herd with which to acquaint myself. (I’ll always be looking, such is life.) But I swam through the doors, the thief-detectors, the denim, the angst, and suddenly I was there, standing in the Electronica aisle amongst a tattered sea of enthusiasts and Daft Punk albums. I stood there, resting my arm on the CD rack and thinking how in a matter of breaths, The Violent Femmes would be standing a mere Folk and Contemporary Blues aisle away, plucking the anthems of my youth. And without warning, it suddenly happened.

By then the anthill had multiplied in density and I was sweating, my heart was hammering, the band took the stage.


It was like seeing a long forgotten dream develop three dimensions while you stand, there they were, an older version of the gents I’d admired for ages, springing from the booklets of my lost and worn cassette tapes. They said hello and started playing a song from the new album. I’ll be the first to admit that my love for The Violent Femmes’ catalog is hardly airtight. There are plenty of directions I feel they could have done better to avoid. But the song they opened with, “Memory” from the new album, sounded like an old favorite that I just hadn’t heard yet. The lyrics, the melody, the overall ambience was a balm to my heart, weary of reminiscence.


They played a couple more songs, and I was thrilled that they decided to forsake Blister In the Sun. A song that I guess I’m just sick of after hearing it crooned by posers for 20 years straight. Either way, they played their short set, then set up to sign their new album for any who bore such a thing. Myself included. It was happening, it was real. I powered through the stream of migration, to the counter where I bought the record, “We Can Do Anything”. Yes, I thought as I looked at it. Just remember. I began the labyrinthine excursion back from whence I came, looking for where the band sat, where the band signed. Finally I saw it, over by the stage. I hurried to get in line and before long I was placing my record down in front of Brian Ritchie. I complimented him on the set and gave him sincere thanks for playing for us here, for doing this; I felt like it might as well have been for me alone, I was just so fucking happy. Suddenly I was standing in front of Gordon Gano while he scribbled his name on the cover of my record. There he was, he who gave my youth a voice, smiling up at me.

“I’m really happy to be here,” I flubbered at him. “I’ve been listening to you guys since…I was an idiot little kid and I’ve always wanted to see you but…” You know, the kind of thing he’s probably never heard before. He looked up at me and I could see it in his eyes, they practically said it themselves: So, you love us dearly, but not enough to buy a goddamn ticket to the show tonight? I felt like I was balancing on a branch, the line of fans was closing in. I had to redeem myself.

“I tried to get a ticket but, I’ve been out of town cause my dad just died and we’ve been dealing with a lot of legal crud.” Which was technically true, but that happened seven years ago.

Gordon looked up at me, a sparkle in his eye, and I could see he was about to tell me that he could feel my pain, he understood. And he would put my wife and I on the list for tonight with backstage passes. Fuck it, he’d invite us to tour with them and I could write a book about the rumbles of road life.

But no, he looked at me, smiled, nodded. I could see he was thinking about how they needed to kick rocks soon and get over to The Fillmore and start whatever it is amazing bands do before playing a show. I severed his responsibility to respond and stepped away. Walking down Haight Street I looked at my record, there it was, the names of youth scrawled across the cover. They’d leaped from my sub-conscious and into Amoeba. I felt the release of my Nirvana-haired youth, which is fitting because I’m bald.



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