Violent Femmes co-founders Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie with John Sparrow and Blaise Garza. Photo by Zack Whitford.

The Violent Femmes are Far From Gone Daddy Gone 

Lead singer Gordon Gano takes a walk down memory lane on the Violent Femmes 41st anniversary tour

Gordon Gano wrote the lyrics to the song that would change his life, “Blister in the Sun,” when he was 15. High school didn’t interest him and neither did his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Instead, Gano spent his adolescence clawing his way back to the place he was born — New York City — while hopelessly trapped in the halls of Rufus King High School, dreaming of being near his favorite bands like Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers and Jonathan Richman. 

His only escape: lamenting his turmoil through songwriting.

“I didn’t have a good time in school, but if I could write a song that I thought was great over the weekend, then I could actually feel good about something I did,” Gano says.

By the time Gano was 18 he had written every song for what would become the Violent Femmes’ debut album, Violent Femmes, released in 1983. Between Gano’s despairing lyrics, Bryan Ritchie’s unconventional acoustic bass and Victor DeLorenzo’s snare drums, the Violent Femmes demanded to be listened to. 

And now 41 years later, Gano’s effortlessly desperate pleas for “Someone who cares/Could it be you?” still resonate as the Violent Femmes embark on their 41st anniversary of Violent Femmes and 40th anniversary of their second album, Hallowed Ground. This Friday, May 2, they’re playing the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Eugene for their second stop on tour.

Gano went on to tell Eugene Weekly that after their first album’s 40th-anniversary tour went so well, the band was ready to reunite again and play in venues they couldn’t get to last year, like the Cuthbert Amphitheater.

“It’s just so much fun touring these songs,” Gano says. “People enjoy it, we enjoy it, and so then the idea was to tour our second album, Hallowed Ground, and focus on some of the top songs on that album that we haven’t played in a while.”

Hallowed Ground is often overshadowed by the numerous hits off of Violent Femmes, but it features some of Gano’s most impressive songwriting. The opening track, “Country Death Song,” comes to mind; a deeply disturbing song about a man pushing his daughter into a well, leading her to die. Gano says he was inspired to write a country song in this style after being exposed to old country music growing up.

“I really wanted to try and write something in that style,” Gano says. “Each class throughout the day I’d write a verse and then I’d put them all together and order them to tell the story ‘Country Death Song’ tells.”

Gano says he believed in his songwriting from the get-go, but getting the music industry on board with his style was difficult. 

“Everybody you could think of rejected it,” Gano says about trying to get someone to sign the Femmes’ first album. “In fact, even Slash rejected it at first.”

Slash, formerly one of the top punk rock record labels, was the label that eventually signed the Violent Femmes, but only after some convincing by other employees. 

“They turned it down, and then later the president of Slash said, ‘OK, I’m gonna do it,’ and he said the reason was because he got sick and tired of coming into work and hearing everyone play the band that he just rejected,” Gano says.

The Violent Femmes may not have been chart-topping in the ’80s, but they managed to garner attention from cult fans they made while playing on the street and college radio listeners searching for something different than the classic rock and disco pop on the radio.

“It sounds like it doesn’t belong to that period of music, so it was never really in style,” Gano says of the Violent Femmes’ debut album. “But I feel like because it was never in style, it was never out of style. There’s just a real rawness to it that people continue to respond to.”

He says that those first couple of albums are the most fun to play because audiences still resonate with their electric teenage angst.

“People always ask me if I’m tired playing these songs like ‘Blister in the Sun,’ but I’m not,” Gano says. “Because the energy and joy from the audience singing the song and just being so locked in makes it a pleasure.” 

The Violent Femmes play the Cuthbert Amphitheater 7:30 pm Friday, May 2. Tickets start at $39 for a general admission lawn ticket. To buy tickets go to or call 541-762-8099.