Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Grim news in the world today. Has there ever been a shortage of grimness? Doubtful.

The good luck of occasional happiness. The baby has been sick lately but he was pulling out of it today. Clingy and whiney in the morning, but after his afternoon nap he was chipper and we went to the park. Met a cat on the way, a friendly cat who rubbed herself all over the baby and me. The baby loves little critters. We communed with the cat for 3 or 4 minutes, sitting on the sidewalk. A privilege.

(Typing this, it occurs to me he's maybe not a baby any more! He definitely toddles -- he's a toddler! Starting to talk, too.)

When we got to the park, the toddling boy played on the slide, while a long-haired white man wearing shorts and sandals played guitar nicely and sang classic '60s & '70s rock in a nice tenor. "As Tears Go By" by the Stones; "It's Only Love" and "You Can't Do That" by the Beatles; a '70s Eagles-esque tune of which I don't remember the name or the singer. Then he did an extended, soulful version of the Louis Armstrong hit, "What a Wonderful World," in 6/8 time. Never really liked that song until I heard Joey Ramone's very moving, very rocking deathbed version.

It's easy to wring cheap irony out of the song, but not when a dying man is singing it straight. The singer in the park was loving the song, sitting on the bench, eyes closed and head thrown back in a classic rock stance and belting with what sounded like all his heart. (Between songs he nipped from an illegal bottle of beer.)

Few people know that Armstrong re-recorded the song a few years after his initial version. By then it was the late '60s and he was pushing 70 and didn't have many years left. His last version had a spoken introduction:

"People say to me, 'Pops, how come you say it's a wonderful world?  Wars all over the world - what's wonderful about that?  And all this poverty and pollution - that ain't so wonderful either.'  But what I say to them is, it's not the world that's messed up, but what we're doing to it.  It seems to me that if we would just let the world be, it really would be wonderful. Love, baby, that's the secret.  If more people loved, then this world could be a gasser!"


My friend John Logie sent me an e-mail yesterday with the word "MEKOMMENTS" on the subject line. A week and a half ago on two nights I wrote about seeing the Mekons at a neighborhood rock club. I didn't like the show, but I tried to understand why someone else might have -- and most people in the club seemed to be enjoying it very much. Logie writes in gracious disagreement with my assessment:

I'm sorry the Mekons disappointed, but context might, MIGHT, have helped. (Full disclosure, I have been wholly Mekonned by this point. Lester Bangs jokingly described them as "better than the Beatles." I believe this to be true, and NOT because I'm so jaded that I've decided to dislike the Beatles on any significant level . . . solo careers notwithstanding). This was by no means a standard-issue Mekons tour. This is the "Punk Rock" tour, which is a sort of experiment.

The band has had a core of Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh forever, with the other members circulating around them. For their previous tour they did three-night stands, each devoted to roughly eight years of their musical oeuvre. What they discovered is that their first phase, the "punk rock" phase, was transformed by performance with a band who largely post-dated the original recordings. So they went back and re-recorded the arguable best of their earlier tunes with the current band, a sort of "knowing what we know now . . . this is what punk rock is to us" gesture.

Thus, as opposed to a typical Mekons show which would have offered both the range and virtuosity you found lacking, you saw the band working within the admittedly narrowed confines of their founding genre and identity.

For me the telling and heartbreaking element of your report is that you left before the encores, when the band undoubtedly shifted gears into its standard repertoire, elements of which are for me transformative and transcendent (most times). I'm not saying they've NEVER sucked, indeed two of the 10 worst  rock shows I've ever seen were Mekons (or Mekons-branded) efforts. But three or four of the best were too.

To encapsulate my point: I'm stuck in Minneapolis with two beautiful baby girls and can't see the Mekons this tour and you could, so I'm jealous, and wish some trace of the mojo I experience when they play had settled upon you.

Or, to put it another way, give 'em another chance.

John (Turtletop) replies: With such a recommendation, I will be happy to.

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