MEAT, a set-up that specializes in hand-printed textiles, and has designed gig posters and album art for bands around Chicago. Since you axed, her guitar heroes are Fred Frith, Frank Zappa and John Fahey.

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Feature Thu Oct 11 2007

God Help Me, I'm in Love with The Mekons

There's a series of books out there called 33 1/3 which dedicates each volume to a particular seminal album. Though the series is mostly authored by writers and music critics (names you might recognize from alt-weeklies and Pitchfork bylines), some notable music makers have also turned 25,000+ words on an album, including singer-songwriter Joe Pernice, who sold The Smith's Meat is Murder, and head Decemberist Colin Meloy, who took on the Replacements' Let It Be. Anyway, one of my music writer friends was writing an article about the 33 1/3 series last year (he's also on deck to publish his own 33 1/3 entry on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk in 2008), when he asked others what album we'd throw down 25,000 words. The answer for me is an easy one: It's Mekons Rock 'n' Roll.


[Image from Mekons.de]

The first time I heard the Mekons — the Chicago-by-way-of-Leeds band that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year — I was 15, going on 16, and the band was already more than halfway through its storied career. At the time, pop-punk was de rigueur on Q101, with bands like Green Day and The Offspring well on their way to earning platinum records, but it reintroduced "punk-rock" to the largest audience it has probably ever had. While The Ramones and The Clash were common, if not nostalgic, radio knowledge by then as well, I was still falling in love with them for the first time, along with The Talking Heads and The Replacements. I heard a lot of new things that year, but then I was introduced to the Mekons by a high-school friend — the older-brother-with-the-cool-music-collection I never had — one afternoon after we had cut class to get tickets for a Metro show.

The CD my friend Todd handed to me in the record store that day we cut class was I Love Mekons, the band's own love letter to many different lovers. I didn't fall in love immediately, but after hearing the album's first song, "Millionaire" — a sardonic ode to the high life coolly sung by Sally Timms — I was infatuated.

My heart was won over a few months later when I heard Mekons Rock 'n' Roll, after desperately collecting the band's entire catalog (chalk one up to teenage obsession). It's really hard to explain why your favorite album is your favorite album, but there's an urgency about Mekons Rock 'n' Roll, one that rallies the listener to "DESTORY YOUR SAFE AND HAPPY LIVES" in its opening battle cry, that has captivated me for all these years. You're seduced by the characters that appear in "Club Mekon," while repulsed by those who show up in "Cocaine Lil." And when Mekon captain Jon Langford yells "I was born inside the belly of rock-and-roll!" in the album's first song, "Memphis, Egypt," you can't help but feel you're hearing one of rock's greatest moments. You believe it cos there's also a certain fantasy involved in the Mekons' mythos — like the cult comic book character the band takes its name, each player seems larger than this universe. They are anti-heroes; bloodied but unbowed after all these years.

Truth is, I don't know if I could properly do justice to Mekons Rock 'n' Roll in 25,000 words, or any words at all (I'm even slightly embarrassed writing this). There are plenty of more famous people who have canonized the band, and better love letters have been written to them, but nonetheless, here is a brief, aural introduction to the only band that matters — if only because they've outlived all the rest.

A Pocket Guide to the Mekons:

"Memphis, Egypt" from Mekons Rock 'n' Roll (1989)

"Chivalry" from Fear and Whiskey (1985)

"Empire of the Senseless" from Mekons Rock 'n' Roll (1989)

"Millionaire" from I Love Mekons (1993)

"His Bad Dream" from Retreat from Memphis (1994)
Immortalized in this Mekons song is the Days Inn on Diversey - "It's a very nice place to stay / when you're in Chicago / with nothing to do all day."

The Mekons conclude its 30th anniversary tour tomorrow night. A Mekons sing-a-long starts at The Hideout, 1354 Wabansia Ave., at 7pm. The band will then hop on a CTA bus(!) with Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten acting as tour guide and pointing out Mekons-related sites along the way. The bus disembarks at The Mutiny, 2428 Western Ave, to continue the celebration. Advanced tickets are sold out, but limited day of show tix will be available.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Jon!

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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