Listening to the MekonsEXISTENTIALISM this morning, I spoke parts of the following to my husband…jet-lagged, and not as precise as I’d like to think is my usual, here’s an attempt to capture my words/thoughts, after a little more caffeine:
I can’t believe I never knew of the Mekons until I met [you] my husband. Not because I knew so many bands, but because the music of the Mekons goes straight into the body, to reach the tender bit that is humanity, or something else I can’t articulate. Anyway, their music feeds that part. As I listened this morning, I thought, why doesn’t everyone see this? Maybe it’s just an inescapable fact of independent art-making, the small batches that come from not being a Big Famous Commercial Commodity. Microbrew of sound. An acquired taste? We should all acquire it. If the world were just, their sounds would spill out to all humanity. We’d hear the Mekons piped through the air in sports bars and over sidewalks. (Wouldn’t that be a different world?) If that happened, we’d have to wake from complacency and consumption; I wonder if we’d ever get anything “done.” If the trains could possibly still run on time, if making and selling widgets would still be relevant, or if our inner parts would thrive better, if we’d get off our rumps beyond widget-making, and make art.
…help me answer these and other raggedy questions by purchasing EXISTENTIALISM from Bloodshot Records here. (And add the most excellent ANCIENT AND MODERN for just $8.95 more!)
Friends, you are in luck, but you better act soon: There are only a few more days to see and purchase Jon Langford’s art at Emporium. Get your hides over there to bask in the light where art, music, and the human spirit collide.
The show runs through April 30, and there are still some pieces for sale. Tell your friends! Don’t miss it!
Here’s a sweet video of Jon Langford and Jean Cook doing the song “Are You An Entertainer?” If you have 4 minutes and 54 seconds to watch it, please do (you’ll thank me!).
And if you’re near Yellow Springs, take note: Tickets for the Antioch School Gala are still available. YOU CAN SEE THESE TWO AMAZING HUMANS PERFORM LIVE, ON MARCH 4, IN YELLOW SPRINGS, OHIO!
Life may seem nasty, brutish, and short, but we need to find the bright spots where we can.
This event is a vital fundraiser for the country’s oldest democratic school. The ticket price includes food, an open wine bar, and performance by Jon Langford and Jean Cook. Where are you going to get a deal like that anywhere else? For more information, check out the School’s website here.
Read the Dayton City Paper piece about Jon Langford and the Antioch School Gala here! (However: Please note that the Gala is happening ONE NIGHT ONLY! Saturday, March 4, at 6pm. For more information, or to buy tickets, you can call the school at 937.767.7642 or go here
This convergence makes me giddy. The Antioch School is important to me: I attended the school when I was a kid, and now my daughter is in fourth grade there. It’s the oldest democratic school in the country. (I’ve blogged about the school here.) The annual auction gala is how the school raises the majority of funds to provide scholarships. It’s a really fun evening, with wine, goodies, a silent auction and live auction with the most entertaining auctioneer I’ve ever seen.
The Antioch School’s 2017 Auction Gala will feature an intimate concert with internationally-celebrated songwriter and painter Jon Langford on Saturday, March 4, 6pm, at the Foundry Theater, Antioch College campus, 920 Corry St., Yellow Springs. Langford will be performing with long-time collaborator, violinist Jean Cook.
The Antioch School Auction Gala is the school’s largest fundraiser, with proceeds supporting the scholarship fund.
The gala will include both silent and live auctions, gourmet hors d’oeuvres from Current Cuisine, open wine bar, and dessert. Live auction items in the past have included a one-week stay at St. Croix, US Virgin Islands; a “Day in the Life” documentary featuring the winner’s family, created by an Emmy Award-winning Yellow Springs-based filmmaker; and a private wine tasting with the area’s leading sommelier. The silent auction features over a hundred items, such as B&B overnight getaways, fine dining at area restaurants, tickets to theatrical and cultural events, fine art and jewelry from local artisans, and health and wellness sessions.
The Welsh-born Langford has been a resident of Chicago, Illinois since the mid 1990s. He was a founding member of art-collective the Mekons, one of the longest-running and most prolific bands from the first wave of British punk. The band started while Langford and other members were in art school at Leeds University, Leeds, England. The Mekons have released 20 albums since 1979, and the band is featured in a 2014 documentary, Revenge of the Mekons, directed by Joe Angio. The Mekons’ most recent album is a book-and-CD package called Existentialism.
But one band is not enough. Langford records and performs as Jon Langford and Skull Orchard, and is a member of the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts (in Chicago) and Jon Langford’s Men of Gwent and The Three Johns (England and Wales). His most recent project is Bad Luck Jonathan.
With the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, a loose confederation of Chicago musicians, Langford organized a tribute album of music by Texas Swing master Bob Wills; backed Australian Aboriginal country singer Roger Knox; and released three various-artists volumes of murder ballads called The Executioner’s Last Songs, to benefit the Illinois anti-death penalty movement.
Charismatic and entertaining, Langford’s work is imbued with themes of social justice and humor. “He also never lets a firm stance or a strong opinion get in the way of a hearty laugh or a ripping good yarn, preferably told in the company of friends with a frothy pint glass within reach,” says Bloodshot Records.
Besides music, Langford is a respected visual artist known for his striking icon-portraits of legendary country music stars and other musicians, including Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash. He also creates song-paintings, which intertwine with and accompany his music. Langford’s punk rock instincts and unparalleled draftsmanship come together in a painting style that is distinctive, engaging, and challenging.
An exhibit of Langford’s paintings is scheduled to coincide with his performance at the Gala. The exhibit will be at Emporium Wines/Underdog Café, 233 Xenia Avenue, Yellow Springs. There will be an opening on March 4 from 3pm to 6pm, including a talk about his art and a short teaser-performance of songs.
Tickets for the Antioch School’s auction gala concert are $55 and can be purchased by using the link on the school’s website, www.antiochschool.org, or by calling the school at (937) 767-7642.
Before I saw Jon Langford a couple weeks ago at the Southgate House Revival, I had read that Daniel Knox was going to open the evening. I went to Knox’s website to orient myself, but as often happens, I was interrupted before I could listen to anything. The night of the show, I wasn’t paying attention when an unassuming guy walked onstage and sat at the keyboard. I didn’t even notice until he began to sing. His gorgeous, haunting voice rippled among the waves of his musical score, working the tension between fancy croon and despair. Daniel Knox has alarming range in his voice. I don’t know what type of person I would expect to have brought those musical bones to the stage, but the contrast between the guy I saw and the revelation of his music added to the wonder. It was one of those moments of discovery when I learn there’s another entire world that has just casually walked into the room.
His set in Newport included the keyboard, supported by four overturned milk crates, and himself. After he played, I stumbled over some compliment to Mr. Knox at the merchandize table and bought his CD Evryman For Himself. On the ride home, I read the CD liner notes: Ralph Carney and others play with Knox. (“Ralph Carney?” I said to my husband. I know Carney from his work with Tom Waits, icon.)
The sound of Daniel Knox is theatrical, so I was not surprised to see he has collaborated on stage productions. Some of his songs make me think of Kurt Weill, some of Fiona Apple (Extraordinary Machine is her album I’m most familiar with, but Knox and Apple also seem to share a certain strain of hopeful bitterness), and there’s certainly some Waitsian sounds involved, too. Knox is another of these fabulous interdisciplinary aestheticians, whom, if I were hiring, I would invite to join the IA dream department. After finishing each song, he would toss the pages of music (which I suspect might have been props) to the floor behind him, a floor salad of inspiration.
Maybe because I had no idea what to expect, the milk crates supporting the keyboard added a layer of secrecy to the moment. It was a little like sitting in a basement in college, listening while a friend reads from her journal, finding perfectly-formed gems of humanity inside each line. Knox’s songs are like little sad 70s movies, minimal but complete stories with haunting soundtracks. His work is raw and fragile, but also strong like a metal building, an eternally-surviving frame surrounding a tiny, exquisite flower of pain. I scribbled some of these notes in the semi-dark as I listened, and one thing I wrote (my memory between the moment of going to his website weeks before and being interrupted and that evening at the church was so blurry), was, “and I don’t even know his name—I sat through the whole set not knowing his name!”
There was once a humble Vietnamese restaurant nearby our town. I used to like to get the noodle bowls there. On the menu, with the listing of choices, there was a note: For 50 cents extra, you could order “more interesting vegetables.” I always ordered more interesting vegetables, and although I can’t now recall which specific vegetables came for that half-dollar splurge, the term became shorthand in my house for more interesting anything, usually to do with books or movies or art or people.
Daniel Knox is one of those who deals in more interesting vegetables.
On April 9, I had the pleasure of seeing Jon Langford and Skull Orchard rock the stained glass out of Newport, Kentucky’s Southgate House Revival. (Okay, I’m exaggerating. The windows are still there, or they were when I left the church/club, as evidenced by this photo.)
While waiting for the bill at a pizza place nearby, I worried that by the time we got to the club, it would be packed. When my husband and I got to the church (on time, after all), Langford was in the bar, and we had a moment to say hello and chat. I’ve met him before, and it’s always a treat. Langford is irreverent, generous, and funny, full of the best of what humanity can be.
As an artist, Langford knows about layers. His paintings echo memories of musical icons, ragged images full of heart. Ragged like most adult humans, beneath the veneer. Langford knows there is a crack in everything, and he knows that’s how the light gets in. Doing a Waco Brothers song that night, they were “walking on hell’s roof, looking at the flowers” in a former church, adding layer upon layer. I blogged about Jon Langford and his work another time over here. That night’s was a “small perfectly formed” audience, Langford said. I guess for a weeknight, it wasn’t shocking that the place wasn’t full to the choir loft, but I wish the world were different and I wish that a guy who makes stuff like Langford makes would be valued over, say, (—insert manufactured popular music icon of your choice here—).
It might have been my ears which have been recently more attuned to how we cheat and don’t cheat death, but Langford tapped into something that keeps haunting me lately: We don’t have much time. Do something now. Do something you care about, something you can live with. Drain all the juice, stop equivocating (okay, he didn’t say all that, but he showed it), go. No point saving the good china for good. (I might be imposing ideas from other sources I’m colliding with right now. Like how you see a specific number everywhere, once you start to notice its importance.)
But it does seem that Jon Langford’s songs are about how to be alive. How we decide to be, while we’re living. They are all about waking us up.
The Newport lineup included Bill Anderson, who I know from The Horsies, which was cool because, well, you can go watch The Horsies here. The cumulative power of the musicians in Newport (Langford, Anderson, Jean Cook, Joe Camarillo, and Ryan Hembrey) created something complicated and rich and decadent and shhh, secretly fragile, because it’s so rare. Whatever you want to call it, it was perfect, the air between those stained glass windows. And we of the small, perfectly formed audience were treated to a kick-ass set, uncensored stories, and other hijinks, perhaps because it was the final show on this part of the tour. The band were like ridiculously talented children, up on stage, playing for sheer fun.
That night felt like the best kind of party, celebrating sound, story, and full-on-why-go-halfwayism, and it’s just the kind of party that spring needs, and that I need, to blow out the cobwebs of winter and remind me that
p.s. Daniel Knox opened for Langford & Skull Orchard. The experience of seeing Daniel Knox is another story, which I will write about soon as I can.
Last night, I watched “The Future is Unwritten,” a documentary about the life of Joe Strummer. I didn’t know much about Strummer beyond his music, and it was quite illuminating. One thing that sticks with me was when he said:
“I don’t have any message except: Don’t forget you’re alive.”
(And all day, the words from Jon Langford’s “Oh No, Hank!” –from Nashville Radio–have been also going through my head: “He’s somewhere out there, happy and alive.” It adds texture that the corn is actually as high as an elephant’s eye at the moment in my Ohio.)
From both legendary musical sources: Good message. It strikes me that Strummer (and maybe punk rock, and Langford too, while we’re at it, who’s still somewhere out there, possibly happy and actually alive) is/was about nothing less than, essentially, reclaiming humanity.