Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Slightly south of the border.

In honor of the Mekons 26th long player, Natural, which returns to mine the vein of Americana running through their previous work, I'm releasing the full text of my essay about punk rock and alt.country which was requested by the editors of a forthcoming critical anthology on alternative country. Below is what I gave them. One editor didn't like or perhaps understand it. Her main question, "Why do you keep talking about rivers?" I'll leave it to you to decide whether you like or understand my "Honky Tonkin'"

In the future I look forward to reading and reviewing the aforesaid volume, now tentatively titled Old Roots and New Routes: A Reader on Alt.Country Music and 'Alternative' Cultural Consumption and under consideratioon at Oxford University Press. To read the essay click on the entry link to the right

Honky Tonkin’ in Leeds, Nashville, and Chicago: The Place of Punk in Alt.Country

Play my song on the Nashville radio,
My life will never be the same.…
They threw me off the Grand Ole Opry,
Cuz I couldn’t behave.…
They don’t play my songs on the radio,
It feels like I never was.
–“Nashville Radio,” Jonboy Langford

Rivers Run Through Them

Many commentators have long noticed the connections between London punks and their West Indian reggae brethren in Brixton and Notting Hill (Coon 71, 79, Gray 229, Hebdige 25–9,Marcus 1993, 30, and Savage 330, 398, 488–9). But what of the Northern branch of punk rock with its roots in Liverpool, Manchester, and especially the Leeds art school production line of the Gang of Four, Delta 5, and the Mekons. Do they have a similar musical wellspring? Or more interestingly a distinctly different one? Both towns are sited by rivers. London exists at the first place the Romans could successfully ford the Thames and through the Second World War was England’s major commercial port. As Tom O’Rage notes in Mekons United:

Were it not for the river Leeds would not be there. At first only a rough Celtic settlement in the marshes — Leeds simply meaning a wet place — the conquering Germanic tribes from Saxony built a settlement where the parish church now stands and the river could be crossed. The a bridge was built across the Aire and it became a place.… A cross current at the heart of the heart of the country almost equidistant on a north–south axis from London and Edinburgh, and east-west from Liverpool and Hull, Leeds was made by the industrial revolution (15).

Two rivers, two cities, two different yet linked economies. Conversely, think of the potentially nice distinctions between cosmopolitan southerners and their linkage to urban decay, decades of immigration, and post-colonialism and provincial northerners and their roots in post-industrial blight, centuries of emigration, and the concomitant colonialism in the Americas and beyond. Contrast the vastness of London that infernal wen with the relative closeness of Leeds, which “is like a small town with loads of industry.….[[and] a big, huge university/polytechnic right in the
center of the town” (Hargus). These Northern punks then look to North America, specifically the southern United States (not the Caribbean) and country (not reggae) to express their outrage and politics musically. That’s the kind of clever concoction Greil Marcus would make of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, and the Mekons. But, as Jon Langford himself might say in that South Wales accent whetted and hewn to a harder edge with some West Yorkshire lime, that story is a “load of shite!”1 Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?

Here are the two most obvious problems with this fantasy. First, while the Clash clearly demonstrated some connection to and consciousness of reggae on their very first record, covering Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves,” the original “punk” Mekons broke up in 1982. Only after reforming in 1984, and adding guitarist Dick Taylor, violinist Susie Honeyman, and singer Sally Timms did they venture into the country world featured on such releases as 1985’s Fear and Whiskey. Second, the impetus to mine ore from a country vein came from outside the group, outside Leeds, and, yes, even outside the UK. As Jon Langford remembers it:

A DJ from Chicago [Terry Nelson of WZRD] came over to find his two favorite bands, the Pretty Things and the Mekons, and got us hooked up with [ex-Pretty Thing] Dick Taylor (who would join the Mekons for a while) and told us we were a country band . . . drinking songs, simple structures, bare-bones approach, singing for your peers, politics through the personal (Nickson).

So if there’s no direct spiritual connection between Northern British punks and Southern US country muses, what then is the connection between punk and the Mekons and the genre dubbed, for now, alt.country. As recently as 2001, Robert Christgau made the questionable claim that the Mekons’ 1985 Sin release, “Fear and Whiskey invented alt-country” (www.robertchristgau.com/xg/cdrev/mekons ro-not.php). If you define the term "alt" as decade specific to the 1980s; there's some truth to the claim or, at least, the truth as Christgau states it is that "Fear and Whiskey does it [alt country] right." Surely, however if you define the genre less restrictively, it dates at least to the moment when Graham Parsons left daddy’s citrus plantation and flew his burrito to LALAland (Dolan; Malone 2002, 306–7, n.90; Peterson and Beall). A contrarian might even argue that Alt.Country’s true roots lie in early Sun 45s, especially those by Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. However, the notion of the late 1980s Mekons and various later side projects as exemplifying either alt.country or the Bloodshot label preferred “insurgent” country remains sound. First, I will set some historical parameters for my narrative and define some terms. Then, I will examine the connections between the Mekons’ “country” records and the burgeoning alt.country scene of the late 1980s as a response to the problematic nature of “Nashville Radio.” Finally, I will focus on new side projects for Jon Langford and Sally Timms as they move to Chicago in the mid 1990s and join the anti-Nashville record label, Bloodshot. This narrative will explain the connections between at least one geographically significant branch of punk music and the current day phenomenon of alt.country.

Alt.Country/Insurgency/No Depression—Some Terms and Historical Guidelines

One should tread lightly when defining terms and even lighter when doing so in a volume whose very purpose is said definition. Without trying to reinvent the subject of this book, let me make a few points, both definitional and historical, about alt.country, No depression, and insurgent country. First and foremost, although I will wander further back in time on occasion, the subject matter of this book can loosely be contained within the time period from the 1980s to the present. Despite my previous one-upsmanship of moving alternative country, whatever its rubric, into the 1950s, you really first need a Nashville business model (focused on certain types
of sounds and a specific radio industry) before you can develop an alternative. If we go preindustrial, then I’m just writing a different take on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and Greil Marcus’s “Old, Weird America” (1997, 87). Second, the artists under consideration must feel a palpable alienation from said music and radio industry. This obviously works for Johnny Cash in the 1990s (think of his famous one-finger-salute-to-Nashville ad on the back page of Billboard after Unchained won a 1997 Grammy with virtually no commercial Country airplay) but not so in the 1950s. I doubt Graham Parsons gave a thought to what Nashville made of his SoCal strummings. These artists needn’t necessarily self-identify as a group, but it helps. Here I’m both buying into and tweaking E.P. Thompson’s famous notion of “class struggle without class.”2 It really is only at the nag’s end of the 1980s that critics and fans began talking about a variety of musical movements (many of which picked up steam in the 1990s and beyond) that defined themselves against everything they saw wrong with the whole Nashville ethos and consciously chose to avoid its malign influence by forming their own record labels and producing their own music elsewhere, whether in Chicago, the flatlands of Southern Illinois, or Seattle. Thus the 1970s outlaw phenomenon of the Highwaymen and what Barbara
Ching calls “Hard Country” is an altogether different beast than the horse whose teeth and gait we are inspecting. Having thus limited our historical parameters, what then are these things called “alt.country,” “insurgent country, “and “No Depression”?

Alt.country or alt-country or the more bombastic alternative country is the most fraught term and I won’t have much to say about it. Obviously it is an umbrella term that covers a variety of musicians who seem to have similar feelings about the Nashville system. Beyond that, I am pretty sure that any attempt to define some kind of meaningful generic coherence in the musical styles these allied artists produce is doomed to fail, although I’m open to the possibility that this volume will trump my skepticism. Jon Langford remains skeptical: "You have to have a box to put things in.…it's a bit of a discredited term.…there's always been people [making music]outside the mainstream"(Phone Interview). There are a variety of related names: Americana, Country Rock, twangcore, Roots Rock, y’all-ternative, and cow-punk, to list but a few. I now focus on two terms by which major figures in this essay choose to define themselves, negatively and positively. “No Depression” of course takes its name from Uncle Tupelo’s 1990 debut (which borrowed the title of an old Carter Family gospel number they cover) and from a magazine founded in 1995 (which in turn borrows the Uncle Tupelo title).3 Jon Langford specifically distances himself and his band The Waco Brothers from the “No Depression” label:

I don't think the No Depression movement sees the Waco's fitting in to it very well. We're to brash, too noisy, and possibly from the wrong background. I mean, I have done things that people have accepted really well over here (in the United States). I can't really complain about that sort of thing, but I think the No Depression thing is more about a singer songwriter-y sort of thing. And it is veryrespectful towards serious artists.…It's not really about the same sort of thing. A lot of our content is very political and it's sort of a brash and explosive live experience. I think the No Depression scene is more represented by technical expertise and introspection - things like that (Gross).

In seeking rigor and specificity, Bloodshot records has coined the term “Insurgent Country” for their acts. Since two of the main players in this story, Jon Langford and Sally Timms, are connected to the Bloodshot label, I thought we might spend a bit of time on this one now. Insurgent Country” is Bloodshot’s self-created term for “music that is as informed by George Jones as it is The Clash—if not in sonic content, then in aesthetic outlook”(www.bloodshotrecords.com/ faq.html). A bit more should fully define the idea and the attitude:

It is our reaction to the stagnation of the commercial country establishment, as well as to "indie" rock's recent willingness to be slopped at the corporate troughs.… but all [our artists] are dedicated to fighting the grim battle against line-dancing, smoke machines, and 7th generation Nirvana rip-offs singingearnest professions of emptiness. Also, we're all probably in agreement that The Eagles should be publicly flayed.

And with that manifesto it is time for us to cast our minds back in time to Leeds (the one in England not Alabama) circa 1985: “In a back street in Leeds, the rehearsal studio of the Mekons.”


Punk music has always been about accommodating a variety of musical styles: hard rock, reggae, metal, Northern Soul, and pub rock, for starters. Hebdige has focused specifically on the connections working class white youth (especially in London) felt to West Indian Reggae culture (see esp. 25–9, 62–9).4 I would argue culturally and geographically a similar link connects Northern England’s punk scenes and the Celtic fringe to the “folk” mountain music of the Appalachian spine, which traditionally underlies notions of hard country music, non-commercial, non-Nashville, alt.country. Another thing that connects the two musics is their innate sense of belonging to something from which you want to escape knowing at the same time you will eventually inevitably return. As Jeff Farrar and Jay Tweedy wrote on “Chicakmauga” off Anodyne: “Appalachian, so patient / The lessons we've traveled / As soon as we're out we're kicking our way back in.” Finally both punk and country share similar attitudes. According to Jon Langford:

When I started listening to Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Ernest Tubbs and Buck Owens—that stuff was amazing. It really made sense to me. It was no-bullshit music. And there is absolutely a connection between this music and punk. The good stuff, like good punk, is stripped and raw and really trying to deal with life directly and feels very sad. It’s not contrived. It’s about defeat and pain in a really true-feeling way. It’s not escapist pop music. Also, the stance of the performer in great old country is like that in punk—he’s singing to his peers about their lives. There is no gap between the audience and the guy on stage. Everybody is coming from the same place (Bottoms).

How Jonboy came to this realization and when he started listening is where our narrative now takes us.

This essay focuses on one collective of art students cum musicians who became the
Mekons in 1976. Around the time of the Miner’s Strike of 1984, the Mekons had ceased to exist as a going concern (touring and recording), but they continued to jam together. As Jon Langford told me, the music they tended to play was traditional country: “We listened to a lot of Country music … When the band did exist again, it was kinda like what will the Mekons do.… We were just kinda steeped in it. We would just take what seemed to fit for us: we recognized a lot things in country music like the subject matter, the pool of lyrics.” Here both Jon and I are agreeing
with Marcus’ notion that "the question of ancestry in culture is spurious” (1989, 21). Sally Timms similarly sees the connections between punk and country thusly:

just the usual ones that have been made a million times. !that both are blue collar, deal with the day to day and the harsh reality of life rather than just love songs. !the chords are usually simple, it's often protest music in a low key way. !as with folk music, it has a functional purpose, can be played in small rooms by pretty much anyone and sometimes you can dance to it.

They really had even hinted at such a turn on their earlier compilation The Mekons Story, where the atypical instrumentation gave a dadaist, pomo take to the traditional jug band of mountain fame (itself a kind of found instruments experiment). Younger and perhaps “hipper” readers might connect this phenomenon to the Athens, GA Elephant 6 Collective and especially to Neutral Milk Hotel’s masterpiece In the Aeroplane over the Sea.

From this starting point, the Mekons recorded three seminal albums: Fear and Whiskey (1985), The Edge of the World (1986), and The Mekons Honky Tonkin’ (1987). In discussing Fear and Whiskey, I will reference Original Sin, which is a 1989 reissue of said album with contemporaneous e.p. sessions. The Mekons purposely named their Sophie Bourbon-funded record label, Sin, and set out to parody Sam Phillips every move. Unlike the reverential treatment
accrued Sun by such New South rockers as the Drive-By Truckers5, (see for examples “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” on The Dirty South), the Mekons feel free to note the inherent contradictions in this Memphis institution. They start with that most famous of record labels: brown and yellow replacing it with pale pink and baby blue. The edge of the label is a sequence of bucking bronco cowboys that could either be a strip for a Zoetrope or the outside ring of a Phenakistoscope.


This sequence seemingly places a more country spin on Eadweard Muybridge’s famous Stanford farm horse gait sequence. The central rooster crowing at the rise of sun (records) has been replaced by a lone gunslinger peering curiously over his back shoulder as if fearing an ambush with somesort of skyline in the distant right. To assure us further that this isn’t a Sun record, there’s a quarter moon over the skyline thrown in for good measure. Building on this contrast, the one cover song on Fear and Whiskey goes back beyond Sun records to the legendary 1947 MGM Sessions of Hank Williams and his classic “Lost Highway.” Tellingly their other covers from this era were Gram Parsons “$1,000 Wedding,” which appears on the Slightly South of the Border e.p. (1986) and Original Sin, and Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Hold Myself in Line.” The album cover itself seems to offer a road to somewhere, but where isn't exactly clear.

From the album’s opening quartet, “I was out late the other night/Fear and whiskey
kept me going/I swore somebody held me tight/But now there's just no way of knowing,” in a song ironically titled “Chivalry,” we have entered a world of fear and whiskey, of darkness anddoubt, a place where it is hard to be human. A central thematic of much of the Mekon’s oeuvre is darkness/doubt/desperation, and they do seem to have a quarrel with a pop culture history that does not garner them a larger audience in the US; however, I think Greil Marcus overstates the case for bitter sentimentality (1993, 300–1). I’d position their desire in the same way Walter
Benjamin was “to brush history against the grain” (257), as a response to the apparent barbarity of civilization where a man dies “While the witless upper classes attended the boat race” (“Hey! Susan,” Original Sin).

Another reason the sentimentality argument does not wash is the very rootedness of this disc in all kinds of collectivity: the original T J Clarke/Guy Debord Situationist International inspired Leeds Art School collective as punk rock; the contemporary connection with the great Dutch kollektiv and punk band, The Ex; the multi-various collective instrumentation, which resembles nothing so much as a cross between a shambolic Celtic folk band and a traditional jugband.6 On one famous occasion, a one-off gig at the late, lamented Kennel Club in San Francisco during the F.U.N. 90/Curse of the Mekons era (January 7, 1991), the band gained and shed members almost every song and seemed like they were going to play all night long. I stopped counting the number of “encores.” There is, of course, a less artistic, more political angle to collectivity as well. It is the way of the miners and other unionized British labor; it is the way of hardscrabble miners in Appalachia, too. It’s also the only real way for noncommercial combine farming to survive. And it is at the intersection of those two related but distinct cultures (farming and mining) that the truest marriage of punk and alt.country exists.

In writing about The Edge of the World, Greil Marcus sees a kindred spirit with The Band’s seminal Music from the Big Pink, itself a work that figures importantly both in Mystery Train and Invisible Republic. He notes the album’s dedication to Richard Manuel, a rock and roll suicide that year. “Mekons records are …. A dramatization of the wish to make history, to live as if something actually depended on what one says or does .:… the Band’s music, out of old styles, out of what had endured, was made as a way back into [the country]. The Mekons are a lot like the Band in their seamless melding of rock ‘n’ roll, old country music, and ancient British folk music” (Marcus, 1993, 334). This disc masks Sally Timms emergence as a major player in the Mekons. She had sung a joint lead with Tom Greenhalgh on “Hey! Susan” recorded in late 1985 and originally released on the Crime and Punishment ep (1986). Her first solo lead occurs on the disc's third track "Oblivion."

For its first nine numbers, Honky Tonkin' appears a rather straightforward country rock outing, but then magically it veers HARD LEFT into "Danceband on the Edge of Time"territory. The rest of the CD becomes a veritable encyclopedia of folk musics. "Sympathy for the Mekons" is nothing less than a revelation from the moment Jon Langford warbles "Here's to a band that deals in the facts of life / In their ten short ugly years/ I wish the Mekons good fortune." Really the song is nothing more than a traditional Medieval vice parade of Pride, Lust Fever, Plague and riding behind on a pig the devil hisself. A la Robert Johnson, the Mekons apparently met Ol' Scratch at the crossroads where he "sold them fame and riches—and good health." The song of course alludes in its title and lyrics to the famous Stones' Altamont death number. But unlike that tune, it's not at all clear who the narrator of his song is. Surely not the Devil! Jon Langford then, but he's a Mekon and the pronouns don't work? Some kind of Chief Magistrate? Maybe that's what the last line business now" is all about? God (and not necessarily a benevolent one)? Trying to unravel the mysteries of the Mekons apocalyptic edge-of-the-world vision is a bit like untang- ling William Blake's mythography. Threads come apart but where exactly does each one lead? The next song 'Spit" seems like some kind of doxological benedictus. From there, we get amongst other things Northern Industrial brass bands (see Brassed Off). a traditional 19th century protest song–"Trimdon Grange Explosion," Music Hall/Tin Pan alley effects, waltz time, dirges, two steps, reels, Honeyman hard fiddlin' not really heard again until The Mekons Rock 'N" Roll, and, apropos Jimmy Rodgers, a West Yorkshire yodel ("Please Don’t Let Me Love You"). Here
endeth the Mekons alt.country offertory.


Like all the cities under consideration in this essay, Nashville has its own river—the Cumberland. On high bluffs, the original settlers were unknown ancient mound builders and then Shawnee. Modern European settlement arrived in the form of Fort Nashborough in 1779. By 1784, the name had been Americanized to Nashville. It became Tennessee’s state capital in 1843. Its position on the Cumberland which links to the Mississippi River system plus its location at the crossroads of some major rail lines insured Nashville’s importance both during and after the Civil War. The Maxwell family set up their world famous coffee business and in 1925 began broadcasting a barn dance from the Grand Ole Opry which lead to Nashville’s eventually becoming “The Country Music Capital of the World” and “Music City, USA” (www.lonelyplanet.com/ destinations/ north_america/nashville/ history.htm). We should note that what alt.country despises about the “Nashville Sound,” its poppy frivolity, is not just a late 1980s phenomenon of Big Hats, wireless wraparound mikes, and HNC. The very move to Nashville as a centralized hegemonic location for the production of country music limited regional differentiation in musical styles and field recording techniques; in other words, when country went to Nashville’s burgeoning Music Row in the 1950s, it had always already gone pop (Malone, 1985, 256–7).

The real problems alt.country has with Nashville have little to do with the music and
much more to do with the very nature of this city at the heart of the country music industry since at least the 1940s, when Fred Rose left ASCAP during a bitter strike, joined BMI, and incorporated with Roy Acuff in October 1942 to created the famous songwriting empire Acuff- Rose (Malone 1985, 180). Nashville is hardly a country town: It’s the town of bullish petit bourgeois overreaching boosterism which sees fit to build a faux Parthenon to mark its Centennial Exposition in 1897 (www.nashville.gov/ parthenon/) and lay claim to the moniker the “Athens of the South” (nashvillecvb.com/Media/ Statistics.aspx?menu=Visitors); the town of starched linen Belle Meade and the Frozen Tomato; “America’s Friendliest City … 4th Best American City for Holiday Travel and Culture and 6th Best American City for Fall Destinations” (nashvillecvb.com/); home to burgeoning health care, finance, and insurance industries; in a word, the town which brought us Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist not Al Gore's new best friend Robert Ellis Orrall, late of Boston (Remnick).


For an alternative urban history of country music, we need look no further than Chicago, Illinois, like Leeds itself, a city founded on a river and at the geographical and economic center of a transportation nexus. In telling this tale, I follow Elijah Wald’s lead in discovering the true roots of country music and its original but long forgotten popular performers. Where he found urban female blues singers and orchestras rather than the solitary Delta bluesman, I find the World's Largest Store (Sears) National Barn Dance and an urban recording industry in Atlanta that predates Nashville's hegemony (Peterson 99–101, 12-32). The former Chicago institution will be our hook to Jon Langford who found its detritus as well in the form of another Chicago institution, The Sundowners, once fronted by none other than West Texas playboy and legend Bob Wills.

Moving to Chicago in the early 1990s, Langford discovered further connections to classic American music through the older performers who once graced the airwaves on America’s oldest country radio show, The WLS National Barn Dance (www.wlshistory.com/ WLS20/). Jon and his band The Waco Brothers hung out at such country bars as “this place called The R&R Ranch, The Sundowners Ranch” (Langford). Jon went on to tell me:

In the late 1980s when the Mekons visited Chicago, people would take us out to redneck bars. I think they thought it would be a laugh. But we heard some really good music and took it seriously .… Actually we really got into it, even started wearing the uniform [embroidered shirts and ten gallon hats ].… And these guys would recognize us as a band and get us on the stage. Then I started going there on my own and performing with these real country musicians.

Later Jon credited his backing band on a Johnny Cash covers album as The Pine Valley Cosmonauts. This looser conglomeration of artists includes a who’s who of such alt.country singers as guest vocalists Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Neko Case, Dave Alvin and Steve Earle among others.

Langford’s projects include solo recordings, collaborations with The Sadies, The Pine
Valley Cosmonauts, and The Waco Brothers and cover compilations of Johnny Cash, Bob Wills, and WLS Barn Dance staples not to mention a burgeoning folk art career around images of country including a recent show "Three Britischer Cowboys" at yarddog in Austin, Texas (www.yarddog. com). Each of these solo and group projects illustrate another facet of Jon Langford's fascination with the harder-edged country music of his adopted homeland. His most recent solo effort (with occasional collaboration from the Pine Valley Cosmonauts) All the Fame of Lofty Deeds (2004) fully represents his descent into country insurgency while retaining a punk flair. And the odd Mekons reference abounds. This song cycle concerns Langford's mythical alter ego who quits his band and heads to Nashville and "gets his own show." On "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" "the little calm, this precious quiet / gives way to a riot," the riot one supposes that the Mekons claim never to have been in! The Dickensian "Hard Times" is a field day of verbal pyrotechnics surrounding all the possible connotations of the word "hard," including the hard in hard country. He even roots into Jimmy Witherspoon/Big Bill Broonzy country blues territory with a live Pine Valley Cosmonauts cover of "Trouble in Mind."

Sally Timms follows a similar career pattern from an early appearance with Pete Shelley, a major role with the Mekons from 1985’s Fear and Whiskey forward to a 1990s career as Cowboy Sally on TV and disc. Here she recalls her growing connections with the band for me:

i met the mekons in 1979.!my cousin shared dorm rooms with jon langford's girlfriend at that time.!i didn't start singing with them until 1983 and then started in a more full time capacity around 1986 or 87, can't actually re- member.!mostly my early interaction with them involved hanging around in the fenton pub as friends.

Beyond her vocal work for the Mekons, Sally Timms fronted an all female band the Shee Hees.

She fronted another band the Drifting Cowgirls on the 1987 ep Butcher's Boy. Her first full length release was 1988's Somebody's Rockin' My Dreamboat. Her solo career picked up more steam with 1994's To the Land of Milk and Honey. But it was with the 1997 creation of her Cowboy Sally character that she really highlighted her country stylings. She describes the evolution of this performing persona as an outgrowth of a Pee Wee's Playhouse stepchild:

cowboy sally is a character on a now defunct cartoon/live action show "rudy and gogo's world famous cartoon show" which was directed by our friend barry mills for tbs. !i played a slightly malicious cowgirl who rustled goats. !i decided to go under the name cowboy sally for the country stuff because it felt a little like a persona, and since i'm english there is a faux quality to the whole thing. !also it differentiates between the stuff i would do normally under my own name and the country stuff.7

Her 1999 release Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos "features songs written for her by Robbie Fulks, Jon Langford, Handsome Family, and Jeff Tweedy" (http://www.mekons.de/ sallydisc.htm). That list of artists should fully realize the entertwining and commingling of American and English punk, post-punk indie rock, and alt.country performers in the early twenty first century. All these groups play “insurgent” country, Bloodshot’s self-created term for “music that is as informed by George Jones as it is The Clash—if not in sonic content, then in aesthetic outlook” (www,bloodshotrecords.com/faq.html).

Austin 2006 and beyond?

Only one question remains: Whither from here? Austin seems as good a bet as any. Every other musician is moving to the “Live Music Capital of the World” (www. lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_america/austin/). Even Jon Langford has been seen showing his art at local gallery yarddog. Austin also has its own rebel country tradition around Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Asleep at the Wheel,(www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_america/austin/history. htm). And, of course, a river runs through it.


1 Just such facile comparisons and contrasts are still extant. The (formerly Manchester) Guardian even devotes an on-going section to the North-South divide(www.guardian.co.uk /northsouth).
2 For a listener-focused study which reaches different conclusions about "class
unconsciousness," see McLaurin and Peterson, 60.
3 For two subtle but opposing viewpoints on No Depression’s significance, see Bartling and Hill.
4 The standard narrative of these facts is somewhat contradicted by Mick Jones and Joe Strummer’s personal testimonies in The Clash—Westway to the World (Letts) which
suggests that reggae was more of an alien and exotic interest than an organic part of their everyday experience. Granted Paul Simonon grew up in Brixton, but then he only ever wrote one notable Clash song, “Guns of Brixton,” even though he was the only original member throughout the band’s entire decade-long run.
5 Themselves the progeny of the famous Muscle Shoals studio band.
6 For a fuller discussion of The Ex, see my “’We use volume as an instrument’: Displacing Rock/Placing Noise in the Nineties,” PerfectSoudForever.
7 There's a parallel narrative here: from punky Pee Wee's Playhouse to Captain Kangaroo, and then through the person of Bob Keeshan as Clarabell the Clown to the original alt.country idol, Howdy Doody.


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The Drive-By Truckers. The Dirty South. New West, 2004.
Langford, Jon. All the Fame of Lofty Deeds. Bloodshot, 2004.
Langford, Jon and The Sadies. Mayors of the Moon. Bloodshot, 2003.
Langford, Jonboy. “Nashville Radio.”
The Mekons. Fear and Whiskey. Sin, 1985.
———. The Edge of the World. Sin, 1986.
———. The Mekons Honky Tonkin. Twin/Tone, 1987.
———. Original Sin. Twin/Tone, 1989.
Neutral Milk Hotel. In the Aeroplane over the Sea. Merge, 1998.
The Pine Valley Cosmonauts. Barn Dance Favorites. Bloodshot, 2004.
———. Misery Loves Company: Songs of Johnny Cash. Bloodshot, 1998.
———. Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills. Bloodshot, 1998.
Timms, Sally. Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos. Bloodshot,1999.
———. To the Land of Milk and Honey. Feel Good All Over, 1994.
Uncle Tupelo. Anodyne. Sire, 1993.
———. March 16–20, 1992. Rockville, 1992.
———. No Depression. Rockville, 1990.
The Waco Brothers. New Deal. Bloodshot, 2002.
———. To the Last Dead Cowboy. Bloodshot, 1995.
———. Waco Electric Chair. Bloodshot, 2000.


Thanks to Bloodshot Records and especially Lee Gutowski for help connecting with the
artists and a cornucopia of merchandise. Thanks to Nobby for the JPEG of the Sin
Records label. Thanks also to Jon Langford and Sally Timms for talking. For comments
and suggestions I thank Robert Christgau and John G. Norman. For the impetus to write
this essay, I thank Barbara Ching, Renee Dechert, and Pamela Fox.

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