Brian Ritchie of Violent Women Tells the Story of “American Music” and Other Milwaukee Tales
Brian Ritchie is a founding member of Violent Femmes. On April 30, 1991, Violent Femmes released their fifth album, “Why Do Birds Sing”. It featured “American Music” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” which became some of the band’s most beloved songs. This month, a 30th anniversary reissue of the album was released, complete with a live performance and bonus tracks. When asked why he dated the live show, Ritchie replied, in his straightforward delivery, “Well, we didn’t want to include it. It was the idea of the record company. I guess because they owned it.
Ritchie is a dream interview. He’s funny in a dry and deliberate way. He’s a great storyteller. He has an incredible memory and fills his stories with little details and funny asides. And above all, he is honest.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
Reminder of the time spent at 1812 Overture Records & Tapes:
Once I walked into the store with a top hat and a trench coat on. I think I was also wearing cashmere pants. I was dressed quite oddly. It was when I was 16 or 17. And they said, “Oh my God, you came here. Now we have a winner. I said: “winner of what? They said, “We are having a costume contest. The winner receives the entire Beatles catalog. No one has entered yet. You’re the first one that’s been in here dressed in a costume. “I said,” It’s not a costume. This is how I dress. But I guess they wanted a winner and so I won and they gave me the whole Beatles catalog. This is how I got the Beatles catalog.
Seeing Elvis Costello on his first tour in Milwaukee:
It was at the Electric Ballroom, which eventually became Palms. Tickets cost 93 cents because 93QFM sponsored it. There were a hundred people there. Fifty of them knew who Elvis Costello was. And 50 thought he was an Elvis Presley impersonator.
He told the club to remove the gels from the lights, so they just had a white light covering them on the stage. Suddenly, it was very hot on stage and they were sweating like pigs. Elvis, looking a lot like a stockbroker or something, with a suit and his tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses and sweating profusely. He was very hostile to the audience because the audience didn’t really understand what he was doing.
I told Elvis Costello about this show because I took him to Tasmania for a festival I had and he remembered it the same way.
On the song “American Music“:
Gordon brought it to us. At first it was very similar to “Kiss Off” or “Add It Up”. Direct Ramones. Basically what we did was try to sound like the Ramones but acoustically. But Victor thought Ramones’ approach was inappropriate for the song and said, “Why don’t we do it like a shuffle?” He started playing it and of course that’s what you hear now.
There are a lot of arrangements on this song. We put a lot, a lot of pop and rock music references into the melody of this song. How it ends was important. It continues to accelerate and accelerate and accelerate. It’s a reference to “Heroin” from Velvet Underground. There are specific references to the Beach Boys and references to Phil Spector with the timpani and bells. So it’s basically a direct Gordon Gano song to which we added all these little touches, and it became more than just a song, it’s kind of a tribute to a whole era of American music. .
|Supporting our community makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your donation, regardless of the amount, makes you a member of Radio Milwaukee and helps fund the next story for you to enjoy! Join Radio Milwaukee today.|