Sonic Cinema: Success Ain’t Always The Best Revenge

August March
4 min read
Success AinÕt Always the Best Revenge
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In the British comic book Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future, the titular Earthling hero fights a host of ugly aliens on a regular basis, including the former ruler of Venus, a dude known as The Mekon. In 1976 lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote about both for his friend Elton John’s album Rock of the Westies, proclaiming “Dan Dare doesn’t do it … but I like The Mekon.” In 1977 some art students from Leeds took a similar stance, naming their punk band after the crafty, totally anarchic Venusian. And so The Mekons were born.

A first-generation punk rock ensemble with connections to Gang of Four and The Clash, The Mekons traveled the highway to semi-stardom with aplomb, stopping to take in the riotous scene along the way. After a brief hiatus in the early ’80s, the band returned mid-decade, reinvigorated by new members and a brand-new sound derived from The Flying Burrito Brothers, English folk, classic American country and communist politics. The collective of artists and musicians sincerely embraces punk’s DIY, leftist and nonconformist root, and they’ve been joyfully tearing it up with abandon ever since.

Theirs is a fascinating rocanrol history. If you wanna know more, check out Joe Angio’s documentary
Revenge of the Mekons. Filmed in 2011, it’s finally being released into US art house cinemas this year. CCA Santa Fe (1050 Old Pecos Trail) shows the doc starting Thursday, April 16. Here in Burque, the legendary Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE) screens the work on May 20 and 21.

Revenge of the Mekons chronicles the life and work of founders Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh, Mark White and Kevin Lycett, and numerous collaborators and comrades who’ve been involved with the group over the years. Though constantly at odds with the major record labels in their path, The Mekons kept churning out compelling music—both in the studio and on tour—throughout the last part of the 20th century and well into the post-postmodern age.

The film takes note of this tenacity and commitment through standard rockumentary devices like interviews, old press photos and concert footage, but it does so with a finesse and exuberance that’s rare in the genre. The documentary lens lingers on the English countryside. The band acts as their own roadie while touring from pub to pub with the same excitement one might expect from a group half their age. The interviews captured on celluloid reveal a conglomeration of humans who are deeply bonded by music, politics and their perpetual status as working class rockers who eschew fame and fortune for the music’s sake.

Chronologically organized, Angio’s film provides tremendous historical insight into the nascent Brit-punk scene. In contrast to The Clash, The Mekons’ tune “Never Been in a Riot” humorously exposed the hypocrisy of some punks in the early British scene. The addition of game-changing players like vocalist Sally Timms, accordionist Rico Bell and violinist Susie Honeyman provides insight into how a punk band with very little technical finesse morphed into an ensemble that some rock critics claim invented alt-country.

It becomes clear that The Mekons achieved this greater goal—though many of its members still have day jobs—by playing out with a frequency that defies both time and economics. Included concert footage is compelling because The Mekons seem so natural, relaxed and happy at their gigs, producing music that’s both rocking and compassionate.

Revenge of the Mekons could easily have been a standard rock-doc outing, but it consistently rises above that mark, just as the band has consistently risen above the standards, beliefs and practices of the genre.

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