I had a bit of a meta experience at the screening of Revenge of the Mekons the other night. Early in the film, the band jokes about the lack of attendance at their shows, and someone explains that you know you are at a Mekons show because it’s just you and some friends. At Wednesday night’s O Cinema Miami screening of this delicious documentary, there were only three other people besides my wife and I, and as it turns out, two of them were longtime friends I know from the local music scene. Afterward we all learned that we heard about this screening from the same mutual friend’s Facebook posting about the screening, two days earlier. One of my friends, a fellow who basically defined the Miami noise-punk scene who goes by the name Rat Bastard, said, “Even if you gave a month’s notice about this screening, I bet you the same fuckin’ people would have showed because nobody gives a fuck about the Mekons.”
Well, their loss. We sure enjoyed the movie. Revenge of the Mekons is much more than a band profile. It’s the history of the UK punk rock scene told from an intimate perspective. It wraps social milieu, the art scene, the local music scene of Leeds, England and the lameness of the music industry around these unforgettable creative personalities. Up until seeing this film, this writer knew of the Mekons on the periphery, in the shadows of much more famous and accomplished bands. But Joe Angio’s film revealed a mythic quality of this band, a sort of well-kept secret of the U.K. punk scene of the late ’70s, and I feel enriched for it.
Unlike many of their counterparts in that scene, the Mekons are still performing together and even still record new music. Despite one four-year break, they have consistently released new albums over the years, some of them on major labels. The film reveals there have never been any laurels to rest on, as notoriety has always eluded the group, despite respect from critics of both the art and music world. Still, there is humility to spare among the band members, many of whom have “real jobs” to pay the bills. Still, you feel like these people have a sense of magic around them. There’s a genuine quality to why they create music, despite it often having a ramshackle, amateurish quality. Yet there is a traceable evolution over the years in ways no one could ever imagine punk rock to evolve (there was a period where Hank Williams had a huge influence).
Though it feels like the film jumps around rather haphazardly, there’s a well-balanced offering of vintage footage, talking head interviews featuring members of the group and fans like music critic Greil Marcus and musician Will Oldham. There are also brief musical performances (no entire songs) meant to illuminate the band’s lyrics and the band members’ unbridled energy and humor (they still drink on stage, apparently). This approach also perfectly represents the Mekons’ path to “success.” I use the word in quotes because even the band laugh about the idea of success. As singer Sally Timms notes during a group radio interview, they only measure success with their longevity. Names like Gang of Four and even U2 are dropped with a sort of bitter-sweet irony. However, even Hugo Burnham of Gang of Four appears to sing the group’s praises (Bono probably forgot about them, even though U2 apparently played warm-up act for a show the Mekons once headlined, a memory Mekons’ singer/guitarist/drummer Jon Langford recalls with great judgement of Bono’s stage presence and a bit of sly irony).
This all culminates in a wonderful portrait of what genuine, unbridled creative process is like for some incredible musicians, which also includes the amazing talents of Lu Edmonds (Live review: PiL at Grand Central, Miami, Oct. 5, 2012), credited as the band’s only true musician by the other members of the group. You sense that these artists are content with their place in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history because they are still making rock ‘n’ roll history. Few bands have been able to reinvent themselves and get away with it over such a long career. There is a sense that there is no prior album to measure success against. But even sweeter, there’s an infectious, purist spirit that these are people who have all found their bliss. Revenge of the Mekons is a marvelous portrait of humanity benefiting from the spirit of creativity.
Revenge of the Mekons runs 95 minutes and is not rated (I can’t say there’s anything offense about it because this is as genuine a portrait of musicians you will ever). It played for one night only in Miami, but others across the U.S. will have a chance to see it, as it tours the nation. Screening dates can be found here (that’s a hot link, just scroll down a bit). You can also request this film by visiting this link. The film’s PR rep invited me to the one-night only screening for the purpose of this review.