The Revenge of the Mekons

The Revenge of the Mekons

The Revenge of the Mekons

directed by Joe Angio

Jon Langford, Fred Armisen, Will Oldham, Jonathan Franzen, Sally Timms

Music Box Films

“How do you have an amateur band as a career?” is a question asked by filmmaker Mary Harron early in the new documentary Revenge of the Mekons. We all know what the traditional measure of a successful band is; sell lots of records, make lots of money, sell out stadiums and have your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone. It’s nice if you can get it, but most people putting together a band are never going to reach those great heights. This retelling of the Mekons story offer an alternative model of success where sustained creativity is it’s own reward.

The Mekons began as a bunch of art students at Leeds University in 1977 caught up in the ferment of punk rock. From their first single, “Never Been in a Riot,” (their response to the Clash’s single, “White Riot,”) the band has taken a contrarian stance where telling the truth and being true to themselves has been their guiding principal.

Revenge of the Mekons looks at the group’s evolution over the past 38 years. The film highlights pivot points in the band’s life. It’s fascinating to see how the inspirations came from unlikely places. How an original member of the Rolling Stones (Dick Taylor) joined the band. How an ethnomusicologist studio owner got them thinking about their music as part of the folk tradition. How a Chicago DJ got them interested in old time honky-tonk music, which led to a sort of apprenticeship with an all but forgotten country band called the Sundowner.

Like a musical version of Doctor Who, the Mekons periodically regenerate. Their country influenced phase was followed by a concerted effort to be a commercial rock and roll band with ill fated tenures at A&M records and Warner Brothers. The Mekons finally found a home with Touch and Go records who saw them through the end of their career as a hard touring rock band and through their phase as an arts collective and experimental theater group doing collaborative theater pieces with novelist Kathy Acker (Pussy, King of the Pirates) and director Vito Acconci.

The greatest revelations are the sidebars about the members projects outside of the Mekons. Jon Langford’s extra Mekons projects are relatively well known. He leads his own bands, is in the Waco Brothers and is a successful painter. Rico Bell is also a successful painter. Suzie Honeyman owns an art gallery with her husband Jock McFadyen called Grey Gallery. Sally Timms had a stint as Cowboy Sally on a kids TV show and helped her then husband, Fred Armisen, to shift his focus from music to comedy. I am somewhat in awe of Lu Edmunds extra Mekons activities. Beyond playing with other bands such as PiL, he travels throughout central Asia working with local musician. Lu shows musicians in places like Kazakstan and Tazikastan how to use a laptop computer and some inexpensive microphones to record their own music.

The great thing about the Mekons, is they show us that it’s ok to follow your muse. It’s ok to try something and fail, try something else and see how that works. Money and fame are all good, but the Mekons give a solid example of how to keep going and creating. As author Jonathan Frazen says in the film, “It’s not that they teach you how to win, they teach you how to be gracious and amusing losers.”

Author’s Note: When the Mekons United show was in Lakeland, Florida, I covered the event for the Lakeland Ledger. They also graced my late night show on community radio station, WMNF as collective guest host. I basically turned my show, Moe’s Garage, over to the band. It was a chaotic blend of country, classic rock, dub reggae, punk and other diverse influences. It was one of the most interesting shows I ever did.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Kivanç Sezer
    Kivanç Sezer

    Turkish director Kivanç Sezer’s powerful debut feature, My Father’s Wings, puts the spotlight on the workplace safety crisis that is currently taking place in his homeland. Lily and Generoso Fierro spoke with Sezer at SEEFest 2017 about his film and his need to draw attention to this issue.

  • Temples

    Supporting their just-released sophomore record, UK synth-pop poster boys, Temples, attracted an SRO crowd to one of Orlando’s premier nightspots.

  • Rat Film
    Rat Film

    Baltimore. Rats. A match made in Maryland.

  • Bishop Briggs
    Bishop Briggs

    Bishop Briggs brings a stacked bill of up and comers to Orlando for a sold-out party at The Social. Jen Cray joins in the fun.

  • Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
    Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World

    There’s more than black music influencing the evolution of Rock and Roll. Native American rhymes and ideas are every bit as significant, once you know to look for them.

  • Keith Morris
    Keith Morris

    Ink 19 slings a few questions to the punk rock pioneer Keith Morris on Trump, Calexit and looking back.

  • Soul Understated
    Soul Understated

    Soul Understated was a swizzle stick of jazz, funk, pop with a dash of Radiohead in the delightful DC cocktail.

  • Anca Miruna Lǎzǎrescu
    Anca Miruna Lǎzǎrescu

    That Trip We Took With Dad is the debut feature by acclaimed Romanian short film director Anca Miruna Lǎzǎrescu. Generoso Fierro sat down with Lǎzǎrescu during SEEFest to discuss the comedy and drama within the adaptation of her deeply personal family story for the screen.

  • Aware

    The Book Of Wind (Glacial Movements). Review by Carl F Gauze.

  • BANG: The Bert Berns Story
    BANG: The Bert Berns Story

    The music biz collides with the mob in this documentary chronicling the fast and dangerous life of legendary ’60s songwriter, producer, record mogul, Bert Berns.

From the Archives