• Title: On my radar: Gordon Gano’s Cultural highlights
  • Author: Jennifer Guay
  • Publication: The Guardian
  • Date: Sunday 21 February 2016 05.00 EST

In 1983, Violent Femmes reached chart-topping heights with their single Blister in the Sun from their self-titled debut. The album went platinum and the Milwaukee trio went on to release seven further LPs, making them one of the most successful alternative rock outfits of the 1980s. Irreconcilable differences arose between the band members and they went their separate ways in 2009 – with a brief reunion at Coachella 2013 – until this year, when lead singer Gordon Gano announced that Violent Femmes had reunited. They release their first album in 16 years, We Can Do Anything, on 4 March.

1 | Film
He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

This is the story of someone who is robbed of everything in his life, then reinvents himself as a clown whose name is He Who Gets Slapped. It’s about taking the ultimate pain and humiliation and destruction of somebody’s life and turning it into what makes him famous: he’s a clown who everybody hits, and everybody laughs at him. The film questions what it is in society that takes pleasure in another human’s degradation and pain. I was struck by some of the techniques that were used in the cinematography, which were surreal and amazing. It has quite an exciting ending.

2 | Book
The Robber by Robert Walser (1925)

This would be more of an all-time favorite because I found it a little while ago, but I do read Robert Walser with some frequency. He wrote lots of short pieces for newspapers and magazines: observational things, little vignettes of two or three pages. He does have longer novels, of which The Robber is the last one. It was found after he died on little scraps of paper, written in an old German script that someone deciphered. Now it’s this strange, amazing piece. He was somewhat popular at his time – it’s often referred to that Kafka admired him – but I had never heard of him before. He spent his last several decades locked up in an asylum, and I think that kept him from being well known.
Classical music group Playground Ensemble rehearsing at a home in Denver.

3 | Concert
The Playground Ensemble performing George Crumb’s Black Angels

This was something I have just recently seen, and I was really excited about it before, during and after. The Playground Ensemble is a group based in Denver whose focus is 20th- and 21st-century music. Besides the traditional string quartet being electrified, there are numerous percussive instruments, and other things that the musicians are asked to do in the score that create all these different kinds of sounds. I think it’s beautifully written with all this air and space. It’s not an onslaught of dense madness; there’s a real intelligence to all these different sounds that are happening. It’s abstract and I think thoroughly interesting, enjoyable music.

4 | Artwork
Walking to the Next Bar by Fritz Scholder (1974, oil on canvas)

One of the pieces I enjoyed very much at a Fritz Scholder show I saw recently is called Walking to the Next Bar. The things that I like about it are the things that probably translate into a lot of his works, but I love his use of color in this one: the yellow and red and various combinations. Even though it’s an oil on canvas, it could easily be a lithograph or a woodcut. I love completely abstract work, but in this, absolutely everything is recognizable. I also like the flow of it all, the shapes and the energy. It seems dynamic. This is one that I particularly like, but there’s really so much of his work that I love.

5 | Album
Lou Reed & John Cale: Songs for Drella

Drella was a nickname for Andy Warhol, and the idea is that these are all songs about him or songs written to him after he’s died. There’s an overall concept to it all, and yet each song is great separated out of that context. It’s the writing, it’s Lou Reed’s lyrics, it’s the arrangement – it’s the simplicity of just the two of them. I love the songs individually, but I also love how they all work together. I was fortunate enough to be in New York at a live concert when they first did it for the public. I revisited it after not listening to the whole thing in years.

6 | Restaurant
El Taco de Mexico, Denver, Colorado

I like Mexican food very much, and this is my all-time favorite Mexican restaurant. One thing that’s very popular in Denver and the southwest of the United States is green chili, and theirs is just a beautiful balance of the flavors. It goes on whatever you’re ordering. I’m vegetarian, so it limits what I get, but theirs is the best cheese enchilada I’ve ever had. There’s a simplicity to it, and I think the flavors they use just work. The place itself is very much like a diner: there’s a counter you can sit at, it’s very old school, and it’s an open kitchen so all the cooking is done right in front of you.