THE bad news was broadcast on a New Zealand radio station not long ago, Did they sound sad about it at all? "I hope so," crackles the very-much-alive lead singer of the Violent Femmes. "I mean, there wasn't a celebration or anything..."
AS you would expect from his singing, Gano has a voice like autumn leaves crackling under your feet on a cold morning. Or maybe broken glass, only warmer. I'm not even meant to be talking to him. Bassist Brian Ritchie is overtime on another interview, so Gordon picked up the phone just to see who was calling. "You've got me instead of Brian, I'm afraid. I hope you can live with that." I think we'll cope.
THE Violent Femmes story has been printed so many times in so many interviews, that if you don't know it by now, then you're getting hip to this band far too late into the picture. So lets not go into any of the old "Really, you were discovered busking outside a Pretenders gig by Chris Hynde?" type stories. While I had this guy's ear, I wanted all the stuff on his religion, his parents, his adolescence. What does Gordon Gano do in his spare time? Prayer meetings and infanticide, perhaps? Over the new hour we got some answers.
GORDON Gano's father is an American Baptist minister and his mother is involved in a Christian group called Unity. This explains a few things--like, the pure devotion of Jesus Walking on the Water and the sheer sexual frustration of Add It Up, Perhaps, surprisingly, Gano didn't rebel against his upbringing, and is in fact a keen church-goer.
"I DON'T just stick to one church," he explains. "There are certain ones I develop different fondnesses for and have a special feeling for. The church I go to in Connecticut is Apostolic and very 'Jesus only,' Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues. I can feel very at home in different worship situations--the ones which are quiet and meditative and the ones where it's absolute chaos."
HE likes the fact that some people have been introduced to the music of the Violent Femmes through congregations his father has spoken to. Some of these folk--whether they're 13 or 60--have never seen a rock concert before in their lives, but come backstage after the show beaming.
GANO'S parents have both been involved in music, theater and even movies for most of their lives. In fact, his mother has had bit-parts in Hollywood musicals and even worked as Joanne Woodward's stand-in for a while. As a result, neither of them really hindered their son's aspirations to sing and write songs.
"BUT then there's personal choices," he adds. "My mother would love pretty much everything we've done in Violent Femmes, but with my father there are certain things he really loves and others he doesn't care for. I know they both wish certain words weren't used at certain times, even if they don't mind the sentiment that's being expressed."
I REMEMBER writing a review of the first Violent Femmes gig I ever saw six years ago. I marvelled at the fact that Gano could howl "Why can't I get just one fuck?" in one breath and croon "Jesus loves me, this I know" in the next. And it wasn't done for kitsch value, either. He meant them both with equal conviction, He just felt spiritual and horny with the same intensity, that's all.
SO it surprises me when he says that this church he's currently attending has strict teachings about the separation of the things of the world and the things of the spirit. Isn't that exactly the opposite of what he does as a song writer?
"YEAH, I can't deny that," he admits, thinking for a moment. "I find that pretty intriguing. And it's a very spontaneous expression. I don't sit down and figure 'Well, I've got to have two-thirds that's of the world and one third that's not of the world. This part flesh and this part spirit.' But when I write a song and I'm surprised by what's coming out, that's when I think 'Okay, this is what it's supposed to be."
SOME of Gano's friends are fanatical softball players but they never watch baseball on TV. He says he's the same with rock music these days. He loves playing the stuff, but he doesn't listen to much at all any more, preferring classical and jazz instead. And then there are his extra-curricular musical activities. Slash may guest on a Lenny Kravitz album, but Gordon Gano prefers playing guitar in church, something which he finds inspiring. On top of that there's the violin...
"I PLAY in the New York Chamber Music Association, which has been meeting for 31 years now. It's an amateur group that gets together Wednesday nights at a YMCA. That's a very different end of the musical rainbow, but it's great."
IT'S a bizarre image. Do they know Gordon's other life?
"YEAH, actually they do. It started circulating at the start of my third year there. It's funny, one of the ladies who'd be in her 60s I suppose, said to one of the others 'Did you know that we have as one of our members a very famous rock musician--Gordon Gano!' That was kinda cute."
ONE of Gano's other great passions is--no, not throwing televisions out of hotel windows--the writing of Thomas Mann.
"I KNOW I want to eventually work my way through everything he's written. That's a lifetime project in itself. But you knowThe Magic Mountain, which is a long, long book. He mentions in the foreword that to him, only the truly exhaustive can be interesting, so he sets out to prove it. But here's the thing--I have this idea that some day I'm going to get to the point to be able to read it in the original German. I've been working on German for about 3 or 4 years now."
I WAS going to ask what he might do when the Violent Femmes finally decide to call it a day--but it sounds like he'll be more than busy conjugating verbs.
"WELL, maybe I'll end up being like the artist Duchamps," he chuckles. "He dropped doing art entirely and just played chess for twenty years. Brian Ritchie tells me that he was quoted as saying that he never even played to win. He just wanted to make the most unusual moves and make it interesting."
VIOLENT Femmes--still making unusual moves and making it interesting.