Gordon Gano is best known as the lead singer of the Violent Femmes, a band whose name
is as oxymoronic as Gano himself ("femme" being a Milwaukee slang term for a wimp).
This religious rebel is one of the rare musicians who genuinely defies standard genre labels.
Nothing is out of bounds for the artist who turned teenage angst into a raw but precise (and
always tuneful) art form.
Gordon James Gano was born into a devoutly Baptist family on June 7, 1963, in New York
City. The son of a minister, Gano's family included eight children, most of whom were
artistically inclined. Gordon started playing guitar when he was in the sixth grade, had begun
composing his own music and lyrics by the following year. Early influences included a varity of
country artists such as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, as well as Broadway hits and church hymns.
It was around this time that the Ganos packed up and left New York in favour of Milwaukee,
By high school, Gordon's music career had progressed to appearances at local clubs and coffee
houses. As a member of the National Honor Society, Gano was a good student with a thriving extra
curricular life. He was also immensely popular among his peers due to his oddball reputation (he
apparently wore his bathrobe every Monday as if to indicate to the school administration that he
would much rather be in bed than at school). Antics such as these in fact won Gano the Prom
King's crown in his senior year. Gano clearly had creative energy to spare, some which was
channeled into acting. In an interesting sidenote, a teenaged Gano actually
auditioned for the role in the film Ordinary People that went on to win Timothy Hutton an
Following one of Gano's performances in his senior year, he was introduced to a punk musician a
few years older than himself by the name of Brian Ritchie. The first performance for the duo,
whose collabortive efforts would span three decades, was to be a ballad sung at Gordon's National
Honor Society induction. While it was expected that Gano and Ritchie would perform a song in
keeping with the solemnity of the moment, the two had other plans. Halfway through a their act,
they launched into Gimme the Car, a raucous ode to a drunken sexual encounter. While the
students loved the song, the administration was hardly pleased, and Gordon was suspended from
school and stripped of his NHS membership.
Following the recruitment of Victor DeLorenzo on drums, Gano and Ritchie formed the Violent
Femmes about a month after the NHS incident. Gordon spent his days working as an encyclopedia
salesman, and later in a sandwich shop, while trying to hit the big time with his band
at night. Fortunately for him, their big break came while the band was "busking" outside of a
Milwaukee theatre when James Honeyman Scott (the guitarist for the Pretenders) happened by, heard
the band, and asked them to open at that night's Pretenders show.
1983 saw the Femmes record their first (eponymous) album
, which was a modest success at the time.
Today, their debut
album holds the puzzling distinction of being the first album to ever reach
status without ever cracking the Billboard 200
. Today, the album is in fact approaching
triple platinum status due to the longevity of songs like Add It Up
, Kiss Off
, and of course,
Blister in the Sun
The band released their second (1984's Hallowed Ground) and third (1986's The Blind Leading the
Naked) albums before breaking up in 1986 due to personality differences. Brian began working on solo
projects while Victor tried his hand at producing. Gordon joined up with vocalist Zena von
Heppinstall, Patrice Moran (bass/vocals), and Fernando Menendez (drums) to form a gospel group,
The Mercy Seat, who released a self-titled album in 1987. By 1988, the band reunited and their
fourth album 3 was released, which produced a hit pop single with the song Nightmares.
11 Violent Femmes albums (including one which only received an online release on emusic.com and
another only released in Australia), three record labels, and over two decades, Gano is still
going strong. His first solo album, Higher Ground was released in 2002, featuring
collaborations with the likes of Lou Reed, PJ Harvey, and John Cale.