Hardly Strictly Mekons

So there I was… bringing two young boys through the hazy, smoky air of a crowd in Golden Gate Park when I spotted Robin M. and Friends halfway across the crowd. Yet I couldn’t see where to cross from the walkway into the people and begin the odyssey of stepping gingerly between toes and hands, on blankets, and around lawn chairs, to get to our own family’s blanket at the during the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Then, bless her heart, Robin popped up at our sides. She’s a foot shorter than I am, and wasn’t carrying an adult backpack, a child’s backpack, and a cooler, and so she was able to navigate the crowd better. Plus she was coming from the inside out, which is just easier.

Anyway, she said I was free to go see the Mekons, bless her heart yet again. So I went.

If you don’t know about them, the Mekons started in the “do-it-yourself” phase of punk rock, immediately post-Sex Pistols, in Leeds, England. They’ve continued playing in various forms off and on since, with a hard-edged honky-tonk rock and roll style being the best way I can describe them. Hank Williams meets the (early) Clash. But better songwriters than the Clash.

Anyway, I arrived and they were singing a song about Quakers and Ranters and Muggletonians!! How appropriate is that?!?

Turns out it was "Thee olde trip to Jerusalem," which I'd never heard before:
"With the Ranters and the Quakers and the Fabians
"William Blake, William Morris, Tony Benn
"The Levellers and the Diggers and the Muggletonians"

They were all sitting down, which led to some geriatrics jokes. The drummer was simply thumping a case. Tom Greenhalgh was playing an electric bazouki (unless it was an oud, but I don't think so) -- at one point with a slide! Not every band plays slide electric bazouki, now, do they??

Another song was about going for rambles in the hills of the U.K. The song had something to do with the end of the world, rhyming “ramble” with “scramble” of fighter jets in a final cataclysm of warfare. This was also appropriate, because the Blue Angels were also in San Francisco this week and flew over the festival periodically, completely drowning out the musicians. Jon Langford, guitarist and front man, shook his fist at the sky as he sang the lines. He also pranced and danced back and forth like Mick Jagger, did a bit of Slavic folk dancing, then did a turn as an Irish dancer in whatever that popular show was from a few years ago.

(On Saturday, during the Flatlanders’ set – also really good – when the planes flew over, there were many shaken fists and a fair number of one-fingered salutes from the crowd. Only in San Francisco! Today they flew over during Doc Watson’s set, and people cheered a lot more. They seemed happy about it. Oh, well.)

They also dug back over 15 years to “Death of American Astronauts,” a newer one called “Hole in the Ground” (I think), and “Perfect Mirror” from their newest album, The Natural.

My favorite, though, was “Oblivion,” sung by Sally Timms, from their 1986 album, The Edge of the World. Wow!

The chorus always speaks deeply to me:
“You’ve always known and always remember
“Then you forget you’ve always known”

Isn’t this a bit like the journey through life with God? When I remember to check back in with the Source, the Way, the Truth, I realize I’ve always known we could be that connected. And then I forget I’ve always known. And so it goes. The cycle of remembering and forgetting. May I remember more than I forget.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Chris. ThankS for your report on Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. I'm really sorry I didn't get there this year, so many fabulous musicians were there. I'm delighted you saw the Flatlanders because Jimmy Dale Gilmore is absolutely my favorite. And it's wonderful that the Flatlanders crowd repudiated the Blue Angels - but I was surprised when you said, "Only in San Francisco" when something like 70% of the American people oppose the war - but maybe I'm unduly optimistic. Clearly for many of them it's only the Iraq war they're against. They don't yet see that their objections to the Iraq war apply to all wars. Tomorrow for the sixth anniversary of our vigil at the S.F. federal building, one of the new signs reads: STAND WITH US AGAINST ALL WAR.

Chris M. said...

Markley: I think your analysis is correct, you are unduly -- though appropriately!! -- optimistic.

Thank you for the note about the sixth anniversary of the vigil. I will create a separate post about it.

-- Chris M.