In 1985 I stood at a crossroads. My musical taste was veering off the radio charts already, but in what direction would I further go? I had friends who were metalheads, my best friend was hard into Pink Floyd, but I was just dumb normal me who listened to Depeche Mode and such. And then I met Katie and Charlyn, who introduced me to the Violent Femmes.
And that, my friends, is how I became a punk rocker.
Ha ha, I kid! I was never a punk rocker. But I loved the Violent Femmes album and I loved the way it made me feel. My musical awakening hadn’t occurred too long before, but already this album was an affront to everything I held dear. No keyboards, sloppy lyrics, harsh vocals, it was so different from the other stuff I was listening to, and so exciting. This was the sound of me leaving my old world behind.
I was unaware at the time that this was a suburban staple, even as I bought a matching Repo Man soundtrack. Like the copy of Legend that white people are issued at a certain point to make them able to claim they like reggae, the self-titled Violent Femmes album was an acceptable “punk” album that was sure to wow all your other friends who also didn’t know any better.
But it wasn’t just cultural cachet; I liked the album. A lot. One of the songs (granted, probably the most mainstream of them) is one of my all-time favorites. To this day I consider it a perfect album without a single misstep (except for the misstep of releasing it on CD with two tracks that don’t fit it slapped on after the perfect ending). Unlike many of the other things I was into at the time, its jagged, sloppy sound has made it almost evergreen.
My “punk” phase, had it even actually begun, didn’t go very far, but that was largely because no one else I knew went too far in that arena. I didn’t know anyone who could steer me towards other things I might like, and the seas were a little too rough for me to go sailing into them on my own. Even other Violent Femmes albums didn’t do much for me. I like to imagine that there’s a me on an alternate Earth who got one or two more albums, got a little more confidence, and really did become a big ol’ punk rocker.