By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 03, 2024 at 9:02 AM

Last April 13, the Violent Femmes’ self-titled debut album turned 40 years old.

Who could’ve guessed in spring 1983 that this record – whose release by a major label was just one of the unlikely pit stops on a unique journey – would remain not only beloved nearly a half-century later, but relevant to every generation along the way?

In addition to a tour and a hometown performance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last year, the anniversary is being marked by a 40th anniversary super deluxe edition of the record, released by Craft Recordings digitally and on CD on Dec. 1. A vinyl version in a beautiful set housed in a die-cut box is due out on Feb. 9.

The vinyl edition is limited to 5,000.

Relistening to the record now, with 20/20 hindsight, it’s clear that the Femmes’ first album – with songs like “Add It Up,” “Kiss Off,” “Blister in the Sun” and “Please Do Not Go” – possesses a timelessness that few records can boast.

Hearing it for the first time, you might be hard-pressed to correctly guess the decade in which it was written and recorded. The sounds are organic, the folky rock retains its edge and the themes of teenage angst, young love, vulnerability and bubbling hormones have proved as potent to the kids of their post-punk parents as it did to mom and dad.

Femmes on The Streets of Old Milwaukee. (PHOTO: George Lange)

“Never in a million years did we ever expect that this record would become a ‘rite of passage’ for budding adolescences the world over,” says drummer Victor DeLorenzo. “We were just happy that my father lent us the money so we could record the album!

“I think that people continue to discover and cherish this record because it speaks the truth about questions concerning growing up and through the teenage years."

Bassist Brian Ritchie says that the band was fueled by youthful confidence at the time the album was recorded at a studio in Lake Geneva in the summer of 1982, thanks to that $10,000 loan, co-signed by DeLorenzo’s dad.

“We thought we were making a masterpiece and we thought it would be a classic,” says Ritchie. “But we had no way of knowing it would reach into the broader culture so far into the future. We hear ourselves when we go to sporting events!

“In fact we couldn’t predict rock music itself would last this long, because it hadn’t been around for 40 years when we made the album. So, a combination of confidence in the music and surprise at the degree of success.”

Again, hindsight has provided some clues to the enduring love for “Violent Femmes,” Ritchie notes.

“First the immediacy, honesty and relatability of the songs themselves,” he says. “Gordon (Gano) put himself out there in a way that people seldom did in rock music, which is usually about groins. We have that but he covered many other themes as well and had an unusual vulnerability.

“The music and sound was intentionally crafted to be heard as something from the 1950s: The Future. We avoided a time stamp. Now that we are in The Future, it still sounds universal.”

Keeping the music alive via seemingly near-constant touring for decades hasn’t hurt either, says Ritchie.

“And of course we have a dedicated audience who pass it on to the next, and next, and next generation ad infinitum,” he adds.

In addition to a booklet loaded with great vintage photos of the band in Milwaukee (and beyond), along with a really good essay by music journalist David Fricke.

In addition to the original album, the box set includes an LP of demos and a disc of live recordings made at The Jazz Gallery and Beneath-It-All Cafe in Milwaukee in 1981, and at Folk City in New York in early 1983.

There’s also a replica 7” single of “Ugly” and “Gimme The Car,” released soon after the LP, in its original picture sleeve.

Although all of this has been heard before, compiling it into one set offers a comprehensive look at this incredible record and how it came to be.

Just as the Femmes’ fans introduced the album to their kids, Victor DeLorenzo has brought his son Malachi in, too. The younger DeLorenz0 – also a drummer – was involved in the creation of this set, having made the digital transfers of the early music.

“I'm always happy when I get a chance to work with my son Malachi on any artistic endeavor,” DeLorenzo says. “Mal is a superb musician, writer, engineer and producer, and I love to interact with his artistic side no matter what we're working on together.

“Mal has also assisted me with a possible new Femmes collection that may be released in the near future.”

In the meantime, while Ritchie’s copy of the box has arrived but remains unopened – “I’ll take your word that it’s a nice package,” he tells me – DeLorenzo has stripped the shrink wrap from his CD version.

“I think that the new CD set looks and sounds wonderful, but I'm waiting to see and hear the the very handsome vinyl box set,” he says.

“The new liner notes by David Fricke really do the Femmes justice and his insights into the band are incredible. The majority of the extra audio selections are from my personal archive here in Wisconsin and many of the photos were taken by famed photographer George Lange who documented the band in the very early part of our career.

“I'm very proud of the record and the place it holds in Wisconsin music history!”

It's a sentinel that echoes what Gano told me a few years back.

"I feel the first one, and I think it's a real honor," he said. "It's miraculous and it's something that I'm pleased and proud and thankful about.

"The overall sound of it has an energy, you know? Just how it hits and comes across in a certain zone and stays there from start to finish. It's got a lot of excitement to it and it doesn't sound like other things.

"It's a great honor to think that young people embrace it as their own and it definitely has now gone to a different generation and that's a very rare thing, and that's great."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.