The Story Behind the Joke Name Violent Femmes

The Violent Femmes’ song “Blister in the Sun” is one of the songs of the 1980s. It’s both a cult classic and a pop hit with the acoustic opening, that piercing cartoonish voice, and those stream-of-consciousness lyrics. If a song can be of a time, this one surely is.

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It’s also a song that has several interpretations throughout history. From drug use to, um, personal time. For more on that, check, here. But where did that song come from? What is the origin of the band who wrote it and, more specifically, their iconic band name?

The Name

The band, which released its debut self-titled album in 1983 (an LP that included “Blister in the Sun”), was founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by its rhythm section, bassist Brian Ritchie and drummer Victor DeLorenzo, two years prior. Lead singer Gordon Gano joined shortly thereafter. Gano had originally written the band’s hit for another songwriter, a woman who was starting a band that she said she wanted to be like The Plasmatics. But the meet-up never occurred and he never saw her again. So, he kept the song for himself. She had apparently joined a cult.

The band’s bassist, Ritchie, says he came up with the band’s eventual name—one that evokes such rock and roll imagery. However, it was at first a fake or joke name. Using the then-Milwaukee slang word for wimp (“femme”) and adopting it for the band. But it ended up sticking, as these things sometimes do. Ritchie and DeLorenzo used it for their rhythm duo, the small group they played in before Gano joined the band officially as its singer and frontman.

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With their name intact, the band was later discovered by James Honeyman-Scott of the rock group the Pretenders. He saw the Violent Femmes busking on the street in the summer of 1981. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders invited the trio to play an acoustic set before her band’s show that night at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee.

Since the Early Days

Two years after that opportunity with that well-known band, the Pretenders, the Violent Femmes’ debut LP dropped with one of the most memorable songs of the decade. It’s since gone platinum.

To date, the group has released ten studio albums. They’ve also written and released other hits in their career, including the lively track, “Gone Daddy Gone,” which was later covered by the experimental duo, Gnarls Barkley. Few songs have achieved the memorable status as the band’s first hit.

Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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