There are important scales that show the value of pop culture currency. These scales provide us with a map to everything that is important, but not really important. Every new book, band, movie, or television show is immediately placed on these scales, and just like real currency, they can move up and down based their relative position and time. (ok, not like real currency… cause this is some fancy empirical study of foreign-holdings model of currency valuation… my formula is just bullshit I am making up as I write this blog post)
Musical currency ranges from:
-87 (this is you and your “band” from high school… weren’t you guys called Angri Katz?)
1000 (this is Elvis… MJ and Beatles are fighting for 999 as I write this)
Coolness currency ranges from:
-112 (me in the 6th grade, when, upon school picture day, I wore a shirt that distinctly shows an elephant in a basketball uniform going for a lay up)
893 (James Dean… ambiguous dead bi guys get all the chicks!)
Everything goes on these types of scales, and some entries are harder to value than others. I am presently struggling with placing the Violent Femmes on the musical currency scale.
In my totally inaccurate mental reconstruction of my youth, I am certain that the Violent Femmes were constantly on the radio, everyone owned a Member’s Only jacket, and I could solve the Rubik’s Cube. None of these things are true in a factual sense. The Violent Femmes were not constantly on the radio because if they were Eddie Grant’s “Electric Avenue” would never had been heard. (real fact: Eddie Grant got more air time in the 80s with “Electric Avenue” and “Romancing the Stone” than anything the Violent Femmes could have imagined in their wet dreams) Not everyone owned a Member’s Only jacket because then there wouldn’t have been a market for Men’s Club jackets. Finally, the only way I “solved” a Rubik’s Cube is because I peeled the stickers off. However, it did seem like the Violent Femmes were on the radio all the damn time… until I remember how much sex was in the Femmes’ songs.
Thinking about it now, the Femmes were probably a bunch of chronic masturbators… which explains why I liked them so much. I really was “Turning Japanese” in the 80s. When you sing about sex as much as the Femmes did… you are obviously not getting any.
I may have actually gotten to third base in a split level house in Fayetteville, Tennessee in the 1980s when a Violent Femmes song was playing. (definitely not naming names here… my partner in crime may actually read this blog) “Add It Up,” “Kiss Off,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” and “Blister in the Sun” will always be the soundtrack to my sad teenage love life. All of them get cranked up to a Spinal Tap 11 when they come on the radio. All of them make me act like a terribly drunk karaoke singer.
But other than those four teen couch aerobic songs, were there any real hits by the Femmes? Was their popularity, and my mythical reconstruction of the Reagan Era, based on real talent and availability? Or… are the Femmes so prominent in Gen X’s memory because of their dry humping genre break-through abilities? Everybody had a Femmes tape… again, this may not be completely factual but it sure-as-shit seems like the correct 1980s memory. My 1972 MG Midget (yellow) was built for my Femmes tape… Audiovox tape players, I believe, were specifically engineered to make Femmes songs sound louder and dirtier.
This is no Hot Tube Time Machine reminiscing… my 80s memories are not neon pastel colors. There is more of a muted acid-washed Bugle Boy jean color to these thoughts. Present day pop culture rememberings of the 80s is all about Big Country, when in reality it is more Steve Winwood… that brother had a lot of air time in the 80s and he really sucked. One-hit wonders are how we remember the 80s, yet it is the things with staying power that truly evoke the 80s. Like Reagan tax cuts… we harken back to them now as a model, but in reality he raised taxes a lot more than cutting them.
So the Femmes float out in the free fall waiting to land on the musical currency scale. Husker Du should probably rank higher… but that was more pop college than pop culture. The Gun Club was catchier… but nobody remembers, or knew, the Gun Club.
The Femmes are not as good as they are in my mind. I never noticed the bass player’s mullet until today. In the 1980s, the mullet wasn’t funny… it was style. The Femmes are cool, but one has to be careful because for a while we thought the Geo Storm was cool. Wow, now I am wondering if the Femmes were the Geo Storm car of the 1980s… but the Geo Storm wasn’t introduced until 1990… so nah, not the Geo Storm. Oh… I got it… the Femmes were the Ford Mustang LX. It was cool because it was a Mustang, but not cool enough to be driven by a dude. (except Michael Bamman… by the way, let me apologize dude… one night, in 1989, me and Doug Payne took your Stang for a “drive” while you were “asleep” on my couch… however, that is what you get for using Jim Beam as a sleep aid, and as it was said in Animal House… you fucked up, you trusted us)
I feel better now because I have now matched the Femmes, and their place on the musical currency scale, with the Mustang LX’s place on the car currency scale… that would be a 24. (I have no fucking idea what that really means… but 24 obviously equates to a soft spot in my inaccurate memories of my youth)