Melvin Van Peebles
chronicler Joe Angio produces a Kickstarter-funded Mekons documentary. Pictured
above: Sally Timms, w/liquid friend.
BY RANDY HARWARD
Filmmaker Joe Angio can’t fathom how the only band from the
Class of ’77 British punk explosion stayed largely intact over 33 years while
never “making it.” That’s why he champions artists like the Mekons, who he
documents in Revenge of the Mekons,
targeting film festivals this Fall.
“The fact that they continue to do this,” he says, “especially
since they’ve had to overcome hurdles that would’ve caused so many other bands
to toss in the towel-miserable luck with record companies, living on two continents
separated by thousands of miles, the fact that they all continue to do day jobs
of varying degrees to pay the bills-makes them a really worthy documentary
Don’t forget the music. Angio can speak at length of the Mekons’
stylistic diversity, or “genre tourism,” that continues to find the octet
high-stepping through punk, country, electronic, ethnic and World musics. They
defy categorization, even by their own friends, fans and members. Angio discovered
to what extent this is true when he tried to elicit depictions from everyone he
interviewed. “Invariably, they gave some rambling, convoluted reply, with
numerous digressions, qualifiers and asides-they’re just impossible to
Revenge of the Mekons also concerns the Mekons as an art collective. They’re not simply sound
sculptors; they’re artists, period.
It’s well-known that front-and-center Mekon Jon Langford does folk art
paintings. Angio points out that the entire band collaborated with
performance/video artist Vito Acconci in the mid-‘90s as well as “transgressive
proto-feminist novelist Kathy Acker,” and that the band has held collective art
exhibitions such as the multimedia show OOOH!
(Out of Our Heads!).
Also, the Mekons are probably the only band that earns a comparison
to a notorious blaxploitation filmmaker. Angio directed the award-winning How
to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), a documentary about
Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song), and answers a snarky
question laughingly but in all seriousness. Why didn’t he call this Mekons
joint Sweet Sweetband’s Baadasssss Songs?
“Ha! Funny you mention that,” says Angio, recalling a Mekons
entry he read in the Trouser Press Record
Guide. He quotes author Greg Kot from memory: “[The Mekons] ‘continue to
put out records of bewildering variety, erratic musical quality and enormous
heart that function almost without exception as critiques of power and the
abuse of power, whether in government, the record industry and, less
frequently, the bedroom.'” It was early in production when Angio encountered
the passage, and it struck him as profoundly appropriate.
“Without even searching for it, I’d found an interesting
symbiotic relationship between Melvin… and the Mekons. I even started referring
to the Mekons (only half-facetiously) as the white, British, eight-person
version of Melvin Van Peebles!”
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