POSTED ON 4/10/2012
In Part 1 of this double-feature about Joe Angio’s upcoming film Revenge of the Mekons (of which CIMMfest is showing a brief sneak preview), Andy Markowitz of MusicFilmWeb talked to Mekons founder Jon Langford. Here in part 2, CIMMfriend Shane Swank interviewed director Joe Angio. Both Shane and Joe and incredibly talented former residents of Chicago who love the Mekons, so it’s a perfect match. Shane asked Joe four questions, and Joe answered them. (Shane notes that he asked a fifth about a casting couch, which Joe “tastefully ignored.”)
Shane Swank’s first question: Why the Mekons?
There’s a short, medium and long version. I’ll give you the medium version. Aside from being a fan of their music the thing that makes the Mekons so interesting to me is not so much that they’ve persevered for 35 years but that they’ve done so without ever “making it.” They’ve endured and overcome obstacles that would have (and have) made most bands pack it in long ago. What drives a band to keep going when all but the loyal stalwarts have tuned out? Why do they bother? I think it has something to do with staying true to the “punk ethos” (at least as it was understood in 1977). They took this quite seriously and, while they’re less dogmatic about it than they were in 1977, they’ve more or less adopted it as a code to live by, which sounds grandiose but when you see how they scrape to get by while crafting their personal lives around keeping the band together, you see they really put their money where their mouths are, without calling any attention to it. It’s really admirable.
Plus, they’re the only band from that first blast of punk rock that has endured with what amounts to its core members. There’s this myth about how there have been something like 100 members of the Mekons, but that’s a misconception because the band’s members started using pseudonyms early on (to avoid being thrown off the dole), a practice which continues to this day. And while they’ve had a number of musicians guest on their records, seven of the eight members of the band most fans know as the Mekons have been together for 28 of its 35 years (and the most “recent” entry celebrated her 20th anniversary this year). So it’s not like the Fall, which is basically Mark E. Smith and whoever he recruits to back him. This has been an active, intact band for more than three decades!
Shane Swank’s second question: What was the best/worst part of putting this film together as opposed to your other films?
The worst part is the same old song: the constant hunt to find money. This time I was fortunate enough to find an investor who put up some money early on, which allowed me to continue shooting. And then Kickstarter came along just when I was preparing to edit, so we had ran what turned out to be a remarkably successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, which paid for the edit. But now we’re looking for funds to pay for the licensing of archival footage and the color correct and sound mix. So it’s a constant struggle. When I set out on this film I was seriously thinking this was a year-long project; it’s now four years and counting. But I’m confident we’ll have it finished in time for the fall film festivals. On the bright side, this one has taken me half the time of my last film, the Melvin Van Peebles doc, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It). So it’s a good trend line — the next one should take only two years!
The best part was that it took me to some interesting places, in particular the time I spent with saz/oud player Lu Edmonds in Tajikistan, where he spends a lot of time working with local musicians. I shot him when he was there in 2009, helping to build a recording studio in this small musical-instruments museum in Dushanbe.
Shane Swank’s third question: If you had kids, what story about making this film would you keep from telling your children?
Probably the crystal meth bender with the Mekons and the model-train enthusiasts in Wales. They’ll never hear that one.
Shane Swank’s fourth and final question: I always felt like some music seemed to be a personal soundtrack to my own life and I don’t think I am alone in this thought. If you picked one Mekons tune that was/is a soundtrack to a time and a place in your life, what song would that be?
I’m actually a relative latecomer to the Mekons—a colleague at work turned me on to them shortly after I moved to NYC. He gave me a tape of “The Curse of the Mekons” and “I ♥ Mekons,” so whenever I hear “The Curse” or “All I Want” it takes me immediately back to that time when I was discovering a new city. And much younger.
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Come check out a tantalizing taste of Angio’s upcoming film Revenge of the Mekons, screening on Saturday the 14th at 3pm as part of the shorts program “Roots-Rock Gods,” along with films about Wilco’s Nels Cline and My Morning Jacket.