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Gordon Gano: Ground Down.

4 November 2002 | 1:00 am | Mike Gee
Originally Appeared In

Femmes Fatale.

Hitting The Ground is in stores now.

My dear old Dad used to say I could talk the back end off a donkey. I only mention that because Gordon Gano must be responsible for herds of crippled donkeys. He can talk. I hardly get a word in, edgewise or not.

Gordon, naturally enough, is rather up about his new album, Hitting The Ground, a soundtrack that has a greater life than merely being daubed OST - it's so cruel! And how could it not have. On Hitting the Ground, the founder of the legendary raw punk/folk/rock/acoustica – there description - Violent Femmes has composed songs for other artists. A few of his closest ... such as PJ Harvey, Lou Reed, John Cale, Frank Black, They Might Be Giants, Mary Lou Lord and Linda Perry.

So how did this cult idol - the Violent Femmes surely had/have one of the biggest cult followings of all-time and dominated US high school and campus radio like no other band - get to be buddies with the elusive Lou? Sense of humour, perhaps. Consider that the world's introduction to Gordon Gano was him demanding "Why can't I get just one fuck?" on Add It Up, the celebrated anthem from their 1982 self-titled landmark debut. Incidentally, the answer was "Guess it's got something to do with luck." That album also contained the classic Blister In The Sun, Gano's ode to masturbation. The original Femmes - Gano, Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo - recently celebrated their 21st Anniversary with a series of reunion shows. "We sounded like we did 20 years ago," Gano quips. Sorry, we divert. Tell us about rubbing shoulders with Reed, Gordon.

"Ha, that's a good story," he says. "I got a phone call from him one day asking me to accompany him to a major sporting event. And I'm like 'Sure, I'll be you plus one'. Then I asked him how come he chose me. He replied, 'Well, I was thinking of all my friends who would be a sports nut and I thought you would be'. And I went 'I am, I am’.”

"So we went to the game and it was like red carpet all the way. I'm a nobody and nobody recognised me so I was just polite and said 'Hello' when I thought I should and lapped it all up. It was great. Lou gets far better treatment than the Femmes ever got."

As for PJ Harvey, well, he spent weeks chasing her all over the place, trying to be in the same town at the same time. Eventually they clicked and she already had the song - he'd sent it to her in advance – down pat. "She is phenomenal," he oozes. "Her guitar playing is amazing. She is just so intense, so strong." PJ rages all over the title track like a
cat on heat. God, she's good.”

But so are a couple of the lesser lights. Mary Lou Lord's breathless alt country pop take on Oh Wonder is absolutely divine while former 4 Non-Blondes lead singer, Linda Perry, now writing with both Pink and Courtney Love, delivers a stunning, torched take on So It Goes.

"I'm just so happy for Linda," Gano says. "After 4 Non-Blondes she kept working away, did a couple of solo albums, didn't get much reaction, and everybody was saying, 'She's had her one shot at fame. And you only get one'. They were wrong. Linda proved them wrong.”

"She's a lovely person and now she has a whole new career as a writer. She just took this song and made it her own. I think it's beautiful.”

"Mary Lou is something else again. She has an amazing voice. When she was recording she played her guitar and sang so softly that I was almost leaning in to her to listen. I was worried whether it would come up but the microphones picked her up perfectly and it sounds fabulous. She may be almost whispering but it's still a big voice."

It's just a few weeks after the 9/11 remembrance day and we get talking about it and the impact it had on Gordon.

"From the night before, all through the next day I had a feeling of great sadness," he says. "I was talking to a friend about it and he felt the same way. I can say that 9/11 changed my life forever. A woman who died was the wife of a friend. I think that knowing somebody like that changes everything.”

"We are constantly presented with figures, huge numbers of deaths from disasters, attacks, civil wars, and you look at them and go, 'that's terrible'. Knowing somebody who died changes that completely.”

"September 11 changed the nature of New Yorkers. Immediately afterwards there was friendship between - a reaching out of - people who normally wouldn't or couldn't talk to each other. Everybody now says New Yorkers are far friendlier than they used to be and I agree. The city has changed and it will now grow in a new way."

And so this once excellent, if idiosyncratic, student who insisted on wearing a bathrobe to school every Monday as a passive protest, continues to hit the ground, running.