Surveying Jon Langford's long and complexly varied career, OnMilwaukee.com's editorial staff found their eyes crossing, as Tanzilo argued that the Mekons' "Where Were You" was the masterpiece of the punk era and his colleagues rolled their eyes and Lawrence reminded us of those Delta 5 sides. Meanwhile Snyder declared Langford and the Mekons the godfathers of alt.country and Tarnoff averred that Langford's production brought the Redskins' intensity to wax. With such conflict and confusion reigning, said staffers instead asked Sir Jon to recount for us his own life story...
When I was a born the goats ran from their pens and sputnik bleeped ominously in the pink twilight sky above the old Roman garrison town of Caerleon, South Wales. My father, a ship's Captain and lead guitarist in the Welsh Republican Navy, wrenched my bloody screaming wriggling self from out of my mother's trembling grip and bore me off into the dark dockland netherworld of Pill, where at the tenderized age of only three hours and 17 minutes I choked down my first tart tumbler of grog and twitched helplessly as a monstrous Calypso sound system pumped out The Mighty Sparrow's latest lewd crossover smash "It's only Castro eating a banana!" to the amusement of nine or 10 placid Bulgarian merchant seamen.
At closing time one-eyed Rosie Cuthbert, the comely tattooed Hog's Leg ale wench, took us man and boy to the glory-hole and sometime later after the fact Daddy presented me with a shiny red Stratocaster. It was the last time I would see him for almost 40 years. "Oh thank you Daddy" I gushed, "This has been the best day of my life, f'sure and a half". But I never touched that bloody guitar. Never! I wasn't going to end up like him...
Within weeks of my 13th birthday Punk Rock had happened and art student football hooligans from all stratas of society came together behind rain-filled dumpsters spitting and hopping up and down to the hateful new sounds of Eddie And The Hot Rods and the Ram Jam Band, but it wasn't for me at all.
Left alone for weeks on end in a caravan by the canal I took to painting still-life and taking long bus trips across the Yorkshire moors, camping out at night with Romany horse traders, philosophy students and beatnik jugglers, reciting metaphysical love poetry in my Dalek voice.
One moist afternoon while reading some crass weekly music paper that was wrapped around a piece of poached whiting I'd found down the back of the sofa I learned that my father had joined a band called The Clash and was out gigging. I caught up with him a few decades later at the Granite Room in Ullapool towards the end of a tour. He looked ghastly; red-faced and puffy, prematurely deaf and nursing a nasty shiner on the side of his bonce. We sipped lukewarm cuppa soup in the hotel lobby and he told me his story.
The Punk Rockin' paid well but it was a hard life with long hours and frequent alienating dislocations from domesticity. The last few years he'd been playing with a sorry bunch of losers from Leeds called the Mekons and the strain and humiliation of it all had brought him here to death's door. In a low rasping Celtic drawl he confessed he'd only been doing it to set aside a tidy financial nest-egg for me and my younger brother Dusty so we wouldn't have to go and work down the mines."
But Daddy, you needn't have worried, I'm a critically acclaimed conceptual artist with a lovely wife, a red setter named Pillock and several hearty children while young Dusty is near-royalty on the Miami drag-queen circuit!"
His eyes and ears misted up and he reached into the pocket of his loose leather pants and handed me a crumbled scrap of napkin that he'd scrawled on with a fat red sharpie. Before I could figure out what it said he lurched sideways, hit the carpet face first and expired. With difficulty I studied the note.
"Get thee to Milwaukee lad, hire a crack band, record a pithy, incisive yet satisfyingly melodic CD and do a great big jolly show, 'tis what you were born for aye aye and the rewards will be unimaginably sweet for they know their poonk there in Milwaukee god knows they do, the very best on earth they be up there oh yes..." Without another thought I stepped over his lifeless form and strode out into the morning sunlight wondering where I'd put that guitar...
Jon Langford, whose one-man arts and music whirlwind blew through Alverno College and Milwaukee Art Museum last year, returns to Brew City to perform at The Mad Planet, Saturday, April 22.