Franz Dobler:
"Auf des toten Mannes Kiste"
("Upon the dead man's chest")

»Get Country & Rhythm!«
Published by: Nautilus, Am Brink 10, D-21029 Hamburg, ISBN: 3-89401-337-0
It's one of 2 articles about Mekons/Wacos. The other focusses on the Bob Wills tribute

Reprinted with kind permission. Get the book, it has articles about Charlie Feathers, Rose Maddox, Hasil Adkins. Dig the contributions by Eugene Chadbourne and Ed Ward!

Translated by Nobby Knape

 Pirates are dancing around the fire singing their song ’13 men on the dead man’s chest’ – ho ho – and a bottle of rum! In our dreams we are on RL Stevenson ‘Treasure island’, the knife squeezed between our lips, we jump unshaved upon the pride of the royal armada, the cry of big freedom on our lips – shut up bastards, it’s payday, und send greetings to that yuppie’s love parade. Oh Henry, watcha doin with that axe, that nice little boat! I’m nobody who walks the streets with big dreams, but this one I do like. Oh God, I’m nearly 40 now, what should I dream of instead, maybe you’re the next ‘journalist’ to marry some guy from the government? But our area is full of dreams. With the nice one they make dollars and for the nasty ones we have the Waco Brothers.
“To protect their money men built banks, to protect the banks they bought guns and tanks, the barrels are smoking and the chambers are hot, they’re no better than us they just got a better shot.”

What a bad, bad dream. But keep patience – the dream may be normal in Chicago, but here it does disturb only a few crazy ones, or did you see a rank in front of the German Bank? Anyway, if there is a real pirate band out there, it is the Waco Brothers. Waco is a slang expression and means crazy. The skull with the cowboy hat is there often stolen signature. That sounds, as if they were guys with black leather pants, who throw TVs out of hotel rooms or burn the books of Keith Richard. Instead they’re the ones who burn rock musicians’ black lather pants and they force them to read Keith’s books. (Or they force Keith, to read them.) They’re the worst kind of pirates that is around, intellectual pirates, with big hearts, big mouth, big thirst. That’s not little and it’s seldom seen – and they’re great musicians and writers too.

The Waco Brothers came into existence, when at the beginning of the 90s the ‘central organs’ of the English band ‘The Mekons’ went to Chicago. Jon Langford, Steve Goulding (and Sally Timms, who isn’t part of the Wacos but shares bills with them.) The English foundation was broken, there had been contacts and interests in the USA before already; and love had a share with the change too, as FSK’s Michaela Melián told me. The Mekons had started in 1977 as a punk band in Leeds and throughout the years their musical spectrum wad broadened and they shed some reggae, folk, pop, country and even the post backwoods the USA has to offer, Cajun, into their own Mekons style. They played Hank Williams’ Lost Highway’ and ‘Alone and forsaken’, they mad quite a noise and played the waltz. They were and they stayed on the left. On their lp ‘The Curse of the Mekons’ (1991) you can hear: “Your dead are buried our’s are reborn, you clean up the ashes we light the fire, they’re queuing up to dance on socialism’s grave, this funeral is for the wrong corpse. This is the testimony a dinosaur’s confession, how can something really be dead when it hasn’t even happened, democracy is an alibi the peaceful country an ordered cemetery, what you call a sane man is now an impotent man, this funeral is fro the wrong corpse.” As I know, their last record came out in 1996, a collaboration with the American writer Kathy Acker, who passed away so early, it’s the setting of her novel’ Pussy king of the pirates.”

Hard to say, if the Mekons died.. Whereas Jon Langford is so lively. When they are dead, the Wacos are their graveyard; the grave is well cared for and we think of them in loving memory – yes, Mother Mekon would be damned proud of her sons. The lyrics could well be written by herself and they reach something, ‘the hardest country band in the world”. In a world, where country can mean so much, they are (more accurately) “the hardest-working (and hardest-drinking) band in insurgent country.” Insurgent means aufständisch. The protagonist of that rebellion in Mexican Chiapas is called Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos. The man, who by the not waco (crazy) at all brothers is responsible for the pedal steel, is called Mark Durante, and in the line-up he sometimes is called Sub Commandante Marcus Durante. You can call that coquetry – but in a world, where U2 and that whole idiot bunch can get away with their hypocritical benefit shows, they Wacos one thing aren’t for sure: coquettish. And as they manage to build up a massive wall of guitars with brass and then play absolutely not old fashionable in a traditional way and then again leave each cowpunk band miles behind, they can be witty too, analytic, bitter, melancholy, direct or even something for your own (socialist) PDS-Uncle:“ Or rewards are not in heaven, weak apart and strong together, divided we fall united we stand, working woman and the working man, we’re not waiting for judgement day.”

It wasn’t the bloodshot records homage, which brought that pirate stuff to my mind – how much more was my astonishment when I was greeted with the following sentence: “There comes a tome when every man feels the urge to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats.” (said the famous publisher HL Mencken, who discovered John Fante.) On that rancho de bloodshot they started ion 1993, fighting against the big boys of industry. Not without self irony. You shall imagine them as “ protectors of that little village, surrounded by heartless bandits.” For their company profile they have chosen a clear expression “Insurgent Country”.. It’s the program, which gives credibility to their attacks, against Kill-Country-Establishment, against posing alternative country, “7th generation Nirvana rip-offs singing earnest professions of emptiness.” The small output of the first 2 years cantered around 2 compilations of “Insurgent Country” (besides others with Freakwater, Old 97s, Lambchop, Robbie Fulks, Grievous Angels, Moonshine Willy), in the meantime they made it up to 50 productions, with those mentioned above and Sally Timms “Cowboy Sally”, Neko Case & her boyfriends (or the Sadies or the Sadies alone), the Meat Purveyors and of course Alejandro Escovedo’s “Bourbonites Blues”, and (maybe their biggest success in Germany): André Williams (& the Sadies) with “Red Dirt”, which starts with any amicable “hey truckers, you bad motherfuckers!” In any case I should mention the series of old and classic recordings – they revolting doesn’t mean forgetting Spade Cooley (which radio stations do).

The start of the label coincides with that of the Waco Brothers, BS 003 was the first single in 1995 /with “Bad times are coming round again” and Jimmy Cliff’s “The harder they come”). Then the band of six made “To the last dead cowboy”, “Cowboys I flame”, “Do you think about me?” and in 1999 “Waco World”. It’s a pity, you won’t find them in your next shop. I got the first one from my dealer Decker The Belgian; I came into his shop and he put it on the turn table at once. That’s to be said about replacing a network of good dealers.

Insurgent Country implies tradition as well as its blowing up, and I don’t know a and that can deal with them both as good as the Wacos do. They are, with Langford as motor, the backbone of the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, who honoured the works of Johnny Cash and Western-Swing-King Bob Wills, both respectful and renewed. They have the Soul, which I never found with those cowpunk-rebels; for him and for me they have hymns like this: “I’ve poured the whole bottle down my neck & fallen on my face, this world could never find me a place.” On the other side they perforate the usual country- and cowboy-kitsch, which isn’t as any music only music but object of identification for scenes, groups and classes.

“Tonight the west is sleeping, and the desert will be creeping, inch by inch across the continent, and the bones of country music lie there in the casket, beneath the towers of Nashville in a black pool of neglect. So we cast our nets in the water, dragged the pool and caught ‘em up and snort ‘em, deep into the night. And we spill some blood on the ashes, of the bones of the Jones and the Ca-ashizz, skulls in false eye-lashes, ghost riders in the sky!” The song was published in 1997 and is called “The death of country music.”

If this music is dead – and Ed ward has found a lot of logical reasons, no fan should ignore – then there are flowers growing from the grace. And with all dead, who we’re near to us, we don’t need the place, but it’s good to have as well. So we stand and remember the dead, whom we still love and think of those, who will join them soon. We sing and are glad about the flowers and the weeds on the grace. Then we have the feeling it might be time gain. For a dance. We leave the cemetery and start our next search.

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