The Violent Femmes were my local band. I saw them at least five times in high school. My friends and I thought of them as friends who just weren’t with us right now. We joked about Gano’s odd weight fluctuation in 1995 and his flat-out geekiness. We made fun of Brian Ritchie for being so angry and for playing instruments with a little too much competence and intensity – too much like a Wisconsin jock. We made fun of Victor Delorenzo for being too ridiculously entertaining – if you make a joke at an inopportune time, my friends will say you’ve pulled an “Uncle Victor.”
We are all from what might be called a difficult section of Wisconsin; the industrial corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee along Lake Michigan known for its pollution and juvenile crime.
Of course, that was ten years ago. I now tell people I’m from Brooklyn, not the armpit of Southeastern Wisconsin. And I’m interviewing Gordon Gano in Reykjavík, a town that, from the statistics about literacy, crime and clean air, is something like the opposite of our home towns.
Gano is smoking a cigar, sipping an espresso and, it seems to me, facing me down.
“How do you feel Wisconsin affected your music,” I say, and he grimaces.
“I don’t really see how Wisconsin played a role in the music,” he says. “Brian and Victor feel differently, but, well, except for having time and nothing else to do… I never even fit in there. People always asked me where I was from.”
That pretty much shoots the interview. I have eight more minutes to talk to the man I thought wrote poignant, fantastically candid and amusing lyrics dedicated to the Wisconsin experience. He doesn’t agree.
I ask if he can think of anything else about our home state. This is the lead singer of the band that released an album called “Viva, Wisconsin.”
“I always say I did ten to twenty in Wisconsin.”
Change of subject.
I can’t bring myself to ask the joke question ‘What do you think of Iceland?’ so I nod toward the Penninn bag on his dressing room table and tell him that Icelanders had told me he bought a lot of expensive poetry.
He can’t believe I could know about this, that Reykjavík could be such a small town. He pulls out Action Poetique and shrugs at it. In a rush he bought a translation from Icelandic to French.
I ask if he speaks French.
“I can get the meaning, but not much else,” he says.
I realize that I’m not getting along with my idol.
It gets worse. “You know who I’ve found here? Jón Leifs or Liefs. Great classical composer of the early 20th Century. Mixed the traditions of Iceland with German training. From what I can tell, he really succeeded.”
Gordon Gano, the man who wrote the catchiest masturbation jingle in the history of modern music, may have just uttered the most boring sentences I’ve heard in Iceland.
Victor Delorenzo comes in and saves the day. “You´re from Racine? My god, I can’t believe that. Such a small world,” he says when Gano introduces me.
We leave Gano to his dressing room, Brian Ritchie is wandering between the backstage area and the show to hear the opening band and stopping occasionally to explain to everyone how he missed the tour of Reykjavík. “I thought you said we were going at three o’clock. So I woke up late and thought everyone had gone and I went out by myself. But you left at three.” He repeats this to each person who will listen, three times total.
Delorenzo is ecstatic in general, and he is talking about the pleasures of traveling, his new solo album, a musical interpretation of Marcel Duchamp, his son in Brooklyn, and the neighborhoods and atmospheres of our home town. “You know what it is about Racine, it was so desolate. It created that railroad folk sound,” Delorenzo says and nods at me so that I write it down. He seems impossibly happy about being from a desolate, railroad folk town.
The band has to go on in five minutes, and Victor Delorenzo is still talking with me, though he takes breaks to talk with the security guards and anybody else who seems at all uncomfortable. Finally he apologizes and says he should go to the dressing room, “Because I should at least go over things before we go on.”
Minutes later, the Violent Femmes play for a sold out audience – at about $40 a ticket. They play better than I’ve ever seen them play, and I think about telling the show’s producers, three unusually affable Icelanders, about the time Gano played nothing but feedback for twenty minutes, mumbling his own name into the microphone to a crowd of 15,000 Wisconsin fans waiting for “Blister in the Sun.” The producers are mostly talking about Victor Delorenzo, though, who they claim is one of the nicest people they’ve ever met. Toward the end of the Reykjavík show, Gano introduces himself. “I´m from New York,” he says.