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The Musician As Artist - Jon Langford
By Mick Polich - 01/28/2011 - 03:14 PM EST

Happy 2011 out there in ‘Netville – winter has set in for good here in the City Beautiful. The temps are nestling somewhere between zero and the low thirties during the day, teens and BELOW zero at night. It’s all good – to me, there’s a nice little blanket of comfort that’s settled in. Weird to some, but it works for me.

Several cool gifts appeared Christmas Day ( thanks Santa, for that Philly Eagles throwback jersey – De Sean Jackson, number 10, the kid’s a talent). One gift was book by artist/musician/author Jon Langford.

The Welsh –born Langford rose to prominence as the guitarist with seminal punk/country rockers the Mekons back in the ‘80’s. Since then, Jon has found a home on Bloodshot Records, where he continues to release solo albums, and collaborations with Toronto surf /country/punkers the Sadies , as well as numerous Bloodshot – associated musicians. As stated in these hallowed pages before, I found out about Bloodshot back in the mid-1990’s while out family was living in Columbus, Ohio. A Chicago label, the brave men and women at Bloodshot continue to uphold, defend, and bring forth to the public, under-the-radar country ,roots – rock, punk, and blues, while shouting out the long-forgotten threads of an anthem to the musical roots that not only Chicago held at various point in the 20th century, but America held as well. But I digress, pilgrims – and even as I do, the ideals behind Bloodshot are the ideas behind Jon Langford, and his artistic vision, so it all ties in……

Taking photos of musicians from a by – gone era, Jon transfers, etches, scratches, and re-configures the photos to show a dark underbelly and reflection of not only the music itself, but our society as a whole.

I bought Jon’s book, ”Nashville Radio”, a collection of his artwork, musings, and a companion CD of songs – it’s a mystical, thought – provoking collection that forces you to look at one of America’s oldest musical traditions, wrapped up in a dark, grim wrap that’s presented back to us ( because we had a heapin’ handful creating it….).

I’m still reading Jon’s book, and haven’t listened to the CD that is included – I wondered if I should even comment on the book at this point. But I can comment on Jon Langford as artist and musician – I like what I’ve seen and heard so far. Here’s an example of the powerful reactions Jon can emit as a visual artist: there are a series of etchings that are based on Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, two powerful cultural icons.  Two etchings of Cash jump out at me – the hues are grey, black, and blue, and Jon has deepened the lines in Cash’s face and hair that seem to bring up images of Boris Karloffs’ Frankenstein monster. It’s eerie, because of what we now know of Cash, and the demons he tried to keep at bay throughout most of his life – his brother’s early death, drugs and booze, womanizing, the casualties of trying to be a good Christian on the touring road, and the great patriot that used to put out material that shouted what-the-hell-happened-to-my-country? The symbolism is scary…….

Hank Williams is portrayed as Saint Sebastian in one etching – pierced with arrows, the martyr for country music, and it’s dark lyricism of retribution, and redemption. Another etching is Hank signing his recording contract, surrounded by demons and angels, skulls, and symbols of death.  But the one etching that really gets me is Hank in a suit and cowboy hat, playing his guitar, one boot propped on a skull – the harbinger of things to come in a tragic life.

Skulls, blindfolded cowboys, angels, demons – Jon brings these images to remind us of a music and culture that celebrates an art form, then eats it’s young. Jon GETS it –the thin line between country and punk. One celebrated country songwriter has gone so far to state that, well, hell, punk ain’t nuthin’ but country sped up. He’s right – in form, function, attitude, and life.

Jon gives us a wake-up call with his art, as if we need to rise up from our cheap hotel room bed, hung over from whiskey, cigarettes, and a hard life that keeps barking at us to confront our own demons, to look at where we’re at, and where we’re headed . We created country music, and the truths it presents to us – except we gloss it up, gloss it over, and throw it in the wastebasket. Jon Langford isn’t throwing anything away – in fact, he’s rummaging thru the trash to see what art he create NEXT……..  

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