Wednesday, October 03, 2007

And we spill some blood on the ashes / Of the bones of the Jones and the Cashes

My current best thing ever is the Internet Archive page for Jon Langford of The Mekons. I’d heard Langford do a (much shortened) version of this performance at the Magnet Theatre at a Little Gray Book Lecture a few years ago, and was blown away by it.

It’s a history of the Mekons and Langford and 1970s art schools in Leeds and early punk and the death of country music and letters from the (non-fictional??) Anne Bourbon-Levinsky to her (fictional???) mother Sophie Bourbon expressing disdain at the whole thing: “Your ship is sinking, mother, because there is a hole in it; and that hole is Jesus-shaped.”

This is a crappy recording, but it captures some of the ability-to-hold-your-attention-ness of the (totally Dashiell Hammett-looking) Langford’s reading, the most striking moment of which, I will transcribe below, thereby likely ruining it.

The Mekons have fallen in with The Sundowners, a trio of minimalist country (while it still had its vestigial tail “& western”) musicians who were the house band at the Bar R-R Ranch in Chicago for 30 years. Langford holds them in reverence:

The Sundowners said they’d play our wedding, sort of, but we never knew if they were coming till they came. As the dark clouds gathered in the June sky, they rolled up the driveway in a big gleaming station wagon, all decked out in their matching silk bomber jackets with the Sundowners logo on the back. They played a set and my friends and family from Wales and London and New York danced around and yelled until the temperature dropped and the band retreated into the house to stuff their weathered faces and schmooze with people their own age. They were very popular with the Welsh ladies.

Hours later, I prized them back outside for a short set, and of course, they didn’t want paying, so I gave them three matching bolo ties I’d picked up at Alcalas Western Wear and they went away, and one by one over the years they got older, and sick, and The Ranch closed down. The mayor, Mayor Daley, made December the fourth Sundowners Day, and we celebrated it with a couple of big parties. Then Don had a stroke and lost the use of his picking hand. And Curt died. Bob Boyd came and sang on the Pine Valley Cosmonauts tribute to Bob Wills. We recorded at King Size, a punk rock studio in hipster Wicker Park. He walked right in, took off his Stetson,
spiked up what little hair he had left, and stuck a metal ring in his nose, saying, “Just thought I’d try and fit in.”

But he was already sick, and he died the following year. We went to his wake and we sat with the families, and looked at pictures, and drank and smoked by the Coke machine in the back of the grim, suburban funeral parlor.
And told old stories, and somehow felt at home; my three-year old staring, unafraid, at the open casket, asking:
“Daddy, who is that cowboy?”

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