Archive for Mekons

The Mekons’ Miracle in the Desert

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Thought exercise: try imagining the Rolling Stones, 42 years after their founding, releasing the strongest record of their career — a record that at once harkens to their 1964 debut but also their strongest work from their Golden Age. By this math, the record would have to come out in… 2004. Lord, forgive us as we write on the very day that Mick Jagger has announced he’s to have heart surgery, but is it in the realm of possibility that the Stones’ could, in 2004, have put out a record on a par with Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street?

We think you know the answer. Yet on Deserted, by our count the Mekons’ 20th album since their formation in 1977, this dearest of bands haven’t just touched upon their former glory. They have produced the greatest album of a long, cursed and hilarious career.

There is a technical term for this: a fucking miracle.

Thirty years ago, the Mekons released Rock and Roll, which always seemed likely to be their high-water mark, artistically. I (Heart) the Mekons (from ’91) may have had as many great songs, but the production was so harsh that to this day, we put gauze and vaseline on our earbuds before playing it. The run of albums that stretched from Me (’98) to Journey to the End of the Night (’00) to OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) (2002) had between them the greatest batch of Mekons’ songs and recorded performances, but boil all three recs down to what’s essential and you have a single Long Player.

From wild start to beautiful finish, though, Deserted has not a single weak moment. It is the apogee of the recorded output of this grizzled, sprawling spawn of the punk-era. It fill us with hope and gratitude. It is adding years to our life. It revives our faith in the art form.

Singers Jon Langford and Sally Timms don’t fully commit to their vocal chores the way the warble-voiced Tom Greenhalgh does, but make no mistake, this is the Mekons in the finest of fettles, fit as an old bass fiddle. Sequestered in Joshua Tree to produce an album, they chose to write songs with desert imagery, the usual nod to the lost “glory” of the British Empire, a recognizable dissonant squall, and some of the prettiest songs ev-er. From the start, it’s been hard to get the Meeks to take things seriously — I remember interviewing them on New Year’s Eve 1980 and could barely get a useable quote — even though, underneath it all, you don’t keep a venture like this going for 40+ years without a decided commitment. On Deserted, the Mekons mask their ambition inside the usual antics, but this greatest of punk-era bashers have produced an artful delight we plan on listening to for just as long as our batteries last.

Tulip Frenzy’s Berlin Field Trip

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2012 by johnbuckley100

Leica M9, 50mm Summilux

The shadow of the past is everywhere in the new Berlin.  Right here, across the Spree from the reborn Reichstag, people died trying to swim to freedom.  While remembrance, admirably, is to be found throughout the city, perhaps the most interesting thing about Berlin in the 21st Century is how much it takes its sad and awful 20th history in stride, how much it has moved on.

The entire gang from Tulip Frenzy World Headquarters has long wished to return to the city of “Heroes,” of Achtung Baby, of Iggy singing “Nightclubbing/We’re nightclubbing/We’re what’s happening.”  We were here twice in the ’80s, passing through Checkpoint Charley from the vibrant West Berlin to the soot-stained, depressed East.  We’ve dearly wanted to stage a field trip here ever since.

Berlin and rock’n’roll are connected in ways that virtually no other non-English speaking cities ever have been.  For how marvelous it was that, the same year the Mekons released “Memphis, Egypt,” (“East Berlin/Can’t buy a thing/there’s nothing they can sell me/Walked through the wall/no pain at all/I’m born inside the belly of rock’n’roll”), that wall came down, and we could be heroes for more than one day.

What once was the center of the city, and then was locked away behind The Wall, is once again the center of the city.  The Brandenburg Gate is open enough for half-marathoners to pass through where once The Wall stood, before the admonishment to tear it down was, if not heeded, then simply overtaken by events.

Leica M9, 50mm Summilux

We tried to remember if that 1987 speech by President Reagan was on the same trip when he visited, because Helmut Kohl asked him to, the SS burial ground in Bitburg, giving rise to one of the Ramones’ best and least appreciated songs, “Bonzo Goes To Bitburg.”  This all was such a long time ago.

Different from when last we were here was the way the German government now directly addresses its past.  This photograph of disposessed Jews, expelled from the German Volk, is embedded in concrete on the sidewalk outside the building in which Goring once held forth:

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

And in the Bebelplatz, where the books were burned, even in the shadow of one of the world’s great universities, there now is a thick pain of glass that allows light to emanate from an emptied library below.  Look carefully.  Click on the photograph to see the ghostly details.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

At the Topography of Terrors, a modern museum that tells the story honestly about the horrors of Hitler’s machinery of murder, and on the very spot where Himmler and the other psychopathic gangsters planned their crimes, history is laid open. No punch is pulled.  Whether or not Germans visit it could not be told; most of the conversations we overheard were in English.  But it has been open for some years now…  Though our sense was that at the stunning Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe, the visitors were as much German school children as tourists.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

But on a sunny day — we actually had one — it’s a gorgeous city, and it exists in living color, not the black and white of news reels.  One walks around a city that has shrugged off most notions of division, and has punctuated what survived the war — and what survived the communists — with the post modernism and precise design sense of a rich and sophisticated city that weirdly has little in the way of contemporary airs.  It’s somewhat stunning to learn that Angela Merkel lives in a modest town house just across the street from the Museum Island, protected by a single policeman. But in the context of what Berlin — and Germany — is now, it makes perfect sense.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

At night, on the east side of the Brandenburg Gate, where once guards stood with machine guns lest anyone try bolting for the West, there now is freedom to demonstrate, and in behalf of causes — the environment — that only rich countries pay attention to.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

The Germans now take transparency almost to the level of fetish, but can you blame them?  After having been ruled by a criminal gang that brought destruction down on everyone, the most vulnerable in particular, until finally the rubble came down on the German people themselves — after 45 years of imprisonment behind a Curtain and 27 years behind a Wall — walking in the clear light of a normal country is an achievement, and one to admire.

Leica M9, 50mm Summilux

For more images of the new Berlin, go here.

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