by Holly Day
Anyone coming to the Walker Friday or Saturday night expecting to participate in a soul-affirming, conservative Christian rally is going to be sorely disappointed. Sorry, folks—the Jon Langford performing this week is not Jon Langford the folk singer, a favorite at Birmingham, Alabama’s annual VisionLand Christian Music Festival, father of quadruplets (two boys, two girls), leader of the Jon Langford Ministries and head of the Church of Cahaba Ridge in the fine city of Pinson, Alabama.
No, the Jon Langford performing at the Walker this week is a Langford of a darker
sort, and, I’m willing to bet, much, much more worth your trip out of
the house and into the night. This J.L., while only 10 years older than the
above-mentioned, has been a seminal figure on the alternative rock and dark
country scene for nearly three decades, ever since co-founding The Mekons in
the mid-’70s. Since then, the Welsh immigrant has been one of the hardest-working
members of the Chicago art and music world, performing on a regular basis as
a solo artist and as part of the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts.
He’s also a prolific painter, whose artwork shows at galleries around
the world, and an author as well, with a new book, “Nashville Radio,”
coming out later this year, as well as a father of two boys.
“I don’t really think of myself as a musician or a painter,”
says Langford. “I think of myself as a worker. It’s a privileged
position I’m in, because I’ve basically scratched a living playing
music, doing paintings and performing for the last 28 years.” He laughs.
“I’m quite glad I didn’t get too much more into the glamour
end of it, because it seems like that drives you pretty insane. I kind of enjoy
having a puny level of celebrity. I pretty much get the best of both worlds—making
a living doing what I want, but still staying relatively invisible. Sometimes
the best thing you can do is build your own little world, you know, make your
own space to do what makes sense for you.”
newest release, Gold Brick (Bloodshot Records), is perhaps Langford’s
most beautifully disillusioned record yet. The songs are all about people from
different parts of the world coming to America, trying to find a better life
for themselves, and ending up in a worse place than they ran away from. Characters
narrate their life stories from bar stools and back alleys, while historic figures
like Columbus and John Henry make grand sacrifices to pave the way for “hard
& cheery” businessmen to grow rich and corrupt.
“I don’t think it’s a fatalistic album,” says Langford.
“I think it’s just realistic. I think people have hopes, and usually
hopes get dashed. There are a couple of lines on the album—there’s
a song, ‘A Little Bit of Help,’ that says, ‘In every treaty
signed/ the seeds are sewn for slaughter.’ I moved up to the old Indian
land here in Chicago, and I think about this country, and I think about how,
if you read anything about American history, it’s pretty amazing. It’s
like, they made all these treaties, and they never gave those indigenous people
anything in the end. It was just a slow process of decimating their populations.
songs aren’t necessarily explicit about such things, but yes, definitely,
there’s a thread, a thread of hope, how uprooting oneself is supposed
to make one’s life better, and sometimes it doesn’t work out,”
he continues. “I think what’s going on in America, with the work
force at the moment—you’ve got a lot of people, you’ve got
the issue of illegal immigrants. Everybody’s against having illegal immigrants,
and that they should all leave, but if they went, what would happen? It’s
like there are these invisible people that keep the whole thing going. It’s
like musicians—the ones who keep fueling the fires of creativity—are
these invisible, underpaid characters on the fringes, you know? There are definitely
some weird parallels there.
“I’m definitely not having any trouble finding things to write about
lately, with things being the way they are in the world!” he finishes.
“I mean, I’ve always tried to engage my immediate surroundings and
the political landscape in the stuff I write. I can’t really help it.
I mean, I say I try to, but really, that’s just what comes out. But it’s
really fascinating at the moment! I really don’t know what’s going
on here, but my tactic has always been to write about the things I see and the
contradictions I see and sort of juxtapose the bizarre things going on in society
at the moment. I think it’s funny—my mother phones me from Wales,
and she’s pretty conservative. She’s not as right-wing as some,
but she’s pretty middle-of-the road politically. But she’s calling
me up on a regular basis now, telling me what an idiot our president is! ‘He
says he saw that gay cowboy film, and then he didn’t see it!’ she
says. ‘So did he see it or not? What’s he talking about? Does he
not know he went to see a gay cowboy film or not? What’s he scared of?’
My mother’s yelling all this stuff at me over the phone, and I don’t
know what to tell her. I don’t know whether or not President Bush has
gone to see ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ but if he did, I’m sure
someone told him to say he didn’t. Yeah, it’s a funny sort of world
right now, isn’t it?” ||
Jon Langford will present his performance work The Executioner’s Song
on Fri., Feb. 10 and Sat., Feb. 11 at the Walker Art Center’s William
and Nadine McGuire Theater. 8 p.m. $20 ($16 for Walker members).
For more information on Jon Langford, check out Bloodshot Records website