How do you have a career as an amateur band?
The Mekons are not just a band. “They’re a family, but maybe family is the wrong word. It’s the only word I can think of,” said critic Greil Marcus, who introduced the documentary film Revenge of the Mekons at the Film Forum on November 4th in New York City. It is the wrong word, but only if you ignore the fact that the Mekons did marry each other in a pagan wedding in a field in a circle of rocks. What they are really, though, is an artist collective. They are a gang of art students who all went to the same school in Leeds, not unlike the Footlights. They were a social group well before they were a band, and even when they were a band, none of them really knew how to play their instruments. The happy accident came when someone gave them a record deal. Twenty-six records later, the Mekons are still the Mekons.
Whether the Mekons are doing collaborative paintings in an art gallery or live performance art theatre, the thing that makes them an art collective is that they set aside their egos–individuals vanish and the group as a whole comes forth. It’s a common misconception that Jon is the leader of the band. There cannot be a leader of the Mekons. They constantly swap out members and are not protective about who they let play with them, whether it’s a member of the Stones, Sally’s comedian husband, or their biggest fan. They do not feel they are too good to perform in choirs or at the zoo.
Even if the Mekons weren’t involved in art galleries and theatres, their music eludes rock band conventions. They’ve done punk, folk, country, all sorts of genres that keeps fans guessing. Lu travels all over eastern Asia, and while he’s helping musicians, he gets ideas for new sounds. They are very inspired but never get it right. That’s why if you listen to one of their country albums, it sounds like someone who’s been told what country music is and writes country music without ever actually listening to or studying it, but therein lies original sound.
The Mekons haven’t always had the best luck, though. Their art gallery exhibit crashed when the people in charge got fired. Their Curse of the Mekons record wasn’t published because the whole recording team got fired, despite the fact that a wizard had written a protective curse on the jacket (I wish I could say I’m making that up). Eventually, the punk scene got too violent to play in in England. Here’s where the revenge element of Revenge of the Mekons comes in. No matter the hurdles, the Mekons never dies. When they couldn’t play England anymore, they moved here to America! I saw them perform as a whole band in 2011 in Brooklyn (a show that features in the film).