Ter­rell’s Tune-Up

Steve Ter­rell goes all out for the doc­u­men­tar y Re­venge of the Mekons

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Sweet Re­venge

Ed Roche, for­mer la­bel manager of Touch and Go Records, summed up the ap­peal of the long­est-sur­viv­ing punk band in the world: “The joke around the la­bel is that ev­ery critic loves the Mekons. Un­for­tu­nately, they get free records.” Roche’s re­marks can be heard in the doc­u­men­tary

Re­venge of the Mekons , which opens this week at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts. The un­der­ly­ing truth of his joke can be seen at the Me­ta­critic page for the movie. There are 10 re­views by crit­ics (and only one bad one) — and no “user re­views” by non­pro­fes­sional crit­ics.

De­vout Mekons fans prob­a­bly will be­come de­vout fans of this movie, di­rected by Joe An­gio, whose pre­vi­ous film, How to Eat Your Wa­ter­melon in White Com­pany (and En­joy It ) is a doc­u­men­tary about ac­tordi­rec­tor Melvin Van Pee­bles.

Re­venge tells the story of how the Mekons came to­gether as stu­dents in Leeds in 1977, and how they’ve kept go­ing through the years — with an amazingly sta­ble ros­ter for the last 20 or 25 years — re­main­ing true to their vi­sion and con­sis­tently pro­duc­ing inspiring work. “We were a bunch of art stu­dents when we formed, and it was an art project ba­si­cally,” singer­gui­tarist Jon Lang­ford says on-cam­era. “We weren’t mu­si­cians. We were just see­ing how far we could take it.”

As faith­ful read­ers of this col­umn know, I’m one of those crit­ics who loves the damned Mekons. I’ve seen them live twice (both dur­ing South by South­west fes­ti­vals in Austin), and I think I’ve re­viewed ev­ery al­bum the band has re­leased in the past 20 years, plus many of the off­shoot projects like the Waco Broth­ers and var­i­ous Lang­ford and Sally Timms solo records.

It never fails to frus­trate me that no mat­ter how I’ve tried to spread the word about this won­der­ful mu­si­cal col­lec­tive of vi­sion­ar­ies, rebels, and od­dballs — and how writ­ers far more tal­ented and in­flu­en­tial than I am have tried to do the same —the Mekons’ au­di­ence never seems to rise be­yond the level of a small-bu­tra­bid cult.

In an in­ter­view at a Min­nesota ra­dio sta­tion shown in the film, the host notes the longevity of the group and asks, “What’s the key to your suc­cess?” Mem­bers look around at one an­other, grin­ning, pos­si­bly sup­press­ing laugh­ter. Singer Timms, a Mekon since the mid-1980s, an­swers: “Suc­cess is the thing that usu­ally kills bands in the end. So we haven’t had any suc­cess. We’ve had none of the at­ten­dant prob­lems. It’s eas­ier than fight­ing over huge sums of money. We fight over 10 or 15 dol­lars.”

So what’s the key to the band’s lack of suc­cess? Prob­a­bly the group’s un­com­pro­mis­ing na­ture — and its pre­car­i­ous re­la­tion­ship with the mu­sic in­dus­try. Kevin Lycett, a found­ing mem­ber of the Mekons who was with them un­til 1989, sums it up in the movie while talk­ing about their brief as­so­ci­a­tion with Vir­gin Records, which re­leased their first al­bum: “We wanted to­tal con­trol. They couldn’t say what was re­leased; they couldn’t put any­thing out with­out our say-so. Couldn’t do posters with­out our say-so. Couldn’t pack­age it with­out our say-so. We re­moved ev­ery pos­si­ble in­cen­tive for Vir­gin to be in­ter­ested in us. It was a master­piece of flush­ing our­selves down the loo.”

Long­time Mekons drum­mer Steve Gould­ing says, “I don’t think it’s anti-cap­i­tal­ist so much as just hav­ing an ideal that you want to stay with ... It’s not re­ally a po­lit­i­cal stance. It’s an artis­tic stance.”

Fans will ap­pre­ci­ate th­ese in­ter­views with var­i­ous mem­bers past and present. Lis­ten­ing to Lang­ford and the equally witty Timms talk is al­ways a plea­sure. But I came away with new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Susie Honey­man, the band’s fid­dler for more than 30 years, whose day job is run­ning a Lon­don art gallery with her hus­band. Honey­man talks about how she was ter­ri­fied of Timms at first: “She was ex­tremely rude and vi­cious. She’s toned down the vi­cious­ness.”

While other Mekons laugh off their bad luck in the mu­sic biz, Honey­man tells a story of at­tend­ing a party thrown by A&M Records, the band’s la­bel for a cou­ple of al­bums in the late ’80s. The new man­age­ment was an­nounc­ing all the artists signed with the la­bel but didn’t men­tion the Mekons. The group knew their time with A&M was over, and you can see the heart­break in Honey­man’s eyes.

Also ex­cel­lent is the live footage of the Mekons on­stage through the decades, in­clud­ing some ex­tremely rare clips of early shows. You’ll see Timms for­get­ting the lyrics to “Ghosts of Amer­i­can As­tro­nauts” and Lang­ford do­ing a hi­lar­i­ously ob­nox­ious rock-star dance as the rest of the band sits in an “un­plugged” set.

So go see Re­venge of the Mekons . And bring a friend or two to try to ex­pand the cult fol­low­ing just a lit­tle. There is a sneak pre­view at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts at 6:30 p.m. on Thurs­day, April 16, fol­lowed by a Skype Q& A with Lang­ford. Regular show­ings begin April 17.

▼ Canut­ofest. Friends and fam­ily of the late Kenny “Canuto” Del­gado are or­ga­niz­ing a trib­ute to the man many have de­scribed as Santa Fe’s num­ber-one mu­sic fan. Del­gado died last Thanks­giv­ing af­ter strug­gling many years with car­diac prob­lems.

Del­gado was a long­time mem­ber of the Santa Fe Band­stand com­mit­tee, which is re­spon­si­ble for the free-mu­sic pro­gram on the Plaza ev­ery sum­mer. And he was a regular pres­ence at con­certs rang­ing from rock ’n’ roll to mari­achi.

Canut­ofest takes place on April 18 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at El Museo Cul­tural de Santa Fe (555 Camino de la Fa­milia). Ac­cord­ing to a pre­lim­i­nary list, mu­si­cal acts par­tic­i­pat­ing in­clude Sean Healen, Ra­mon Ber­mudez Jr., the Mikey Baker Trio, the Chris Abeyta Quar­tet, Strings At­tached, and Sweet Sis­ter Gospel Band with Terry Diers.

There is no charge, but those at­tend­ing are asked to bring sup­plies for the Santa Fe An­i­mal Shel­ter — high­end dog and cat food, non-clump­ing kitty lit­ter, etc.

The Mekons

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