“Kiss Off” - Violent Femmes
(Words/music: Gordon Gano, available on Violent Femmes, Slash / Rhino 1983)
When I was in college, “Kiss Off” became one of my favorite sign-off songs on my college radio show. The seeds for this idea probably go back to two sources – the first being a solid live version on MTV’s 120 Minutes Live compilation that I played to death in high school, and the second being Ethan Hawke’s cover of the Femmes’ “Add It Up” in Reality Bites. I only offer that Reality Bites suggestion because I once erroneously swapped out “Add It Up” for “Kiss Off.” “Add It Up,” particularly through Hawke’s character, wielded a more focused anger. On a more general level, I identified more with the scattershot frustration in “Kiss Off” – the anger without a clear target. This plus a near flawless bridge – the part where Gano counts up to ten, letting his anger build with each step – made it one of my favorites.
It always felt right as an ending to a set of songs – not just because of the idea of a “kiss off,” but because it felt like a strange sort of relic from my past. Maybe I’m inclined to immediately tie it to the past because it literally came out at the beginning of my life, but I suspect an easier explanation. This song represents a feeling I could only recognize after the fact, one that “Hollywood” Steve Huey of the Allmusic guide captures in his track review:
The starry-eyed longing for popularity that’s nearly universal in teen flicks then and now is nowhere to be found here; there’s tremendous pain in rejection, of course, but the adversarial relationship between “in” and “out” is by no means one-sided. There’s sort of a justified paranoia here, in that the singer expects to be treated with undisguised contempt, and often is. Yet in the midst of all this pain and confusion, he draws a curious strength from his acceptance of (or, perhaps, resignation to) the torment. There’s a real certainty to his place in the social structure, and it provides a clear identity that can be defiantly accepted (if not quite embraced).
Looking back, that certainly captures a period of time in high school, and everything about the narrator – the raw tone, lucid articulation foiled with clumsy slips of the tongue, and the spinning of spurning as a badge of honor – brought me back to those periods of time where it was easier to demonize everyone else rather than try to fit in. Thankfully, “Kiss Off” is more than just raw emotion – Gano had a knack for melody and composition, making it possible to enjoy this from a comfortable distance without having to get back into my fourteen year-old mindset.