JON LANGFORD'S ART
World Tatto ,Chicago 1993/94
Bridgewater/Lustburg Gallery, New york 1993
Anne Nathan Gallery, Chicago 1994
Dime Museum, Chicago 1993-94
Richad Mercle's " Music Bos I-VII" Stuttgard 1992,
SEVEN show at Garofalo Architecture space, Chicago 1996/97
Eastwick Gallery (solo show) Chicago 1996/97
Lounge Ax (solo show) Chicago 1996/97
Big Act prints show at Lineage Gallery 1996
Yard Dog Art (solo show) Austin Texas 1996/97/98
Barristers Gallery, New Orleans 1996
Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland FL 1996
Llantarnam Grange Art Center, South Wales 1997
Mekons United at Threadworks Space, New York1997
Augen Gallery, Portland Oregon 1997
Other Music (solo show) New York 1998
Inverness gallery, Scotland 1998
American Pop Culture Art gallery, Nashville TN 1998
University of Leeds Department of Fine Art 1976-81 BA Hons Fine Art
see also Rico Bell
THE DEATH OF COUNTRY MUSIC
An exhibition of etchings, paintings and
gravestones by Jon Langford at the
American Pop Culture Gallery,
Scarritt Place, Nashville TN
opening August 15th 1998
Concurrent Chicago exhibition with same title: starting Friday 21st at the Eastwick Gallery Chicago
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 their casket
Beneath the towers of Nashville
in a deep black pool of neglect
from The Death Of
Country Music by The
We’re having a funeral but the corpse just won’t lie down! A sea of
ockey-haired mourners in stiff white Stetsons check their watches anxiously.
They’re in a hurry to get back to the city and divide up the loot. At the
stroke of midnight a battered pine box is owered slowly into the cold damp
clay. Car doors slam, powerful engines roar and the unknown country inger is
finally laid to rest in an unmarked grave. Out on the air-waves a sampled
steel-guitar lick fanfares product recognition for the new Nash Vegas hordes
gorged on a diet of Eagles, Wings and Bread. Like a wheel-clamp on the radio
dial they cry crocodile tears for a world that never existed. There’s no
country here, just the shaved, silicon beat of the suburbs and The Masters
of Industry juggling their figures and shuffling their shrinking pack. But
in the shadows by the cemetery wall grave-robbers skulk about listening for
a boot tapping faintly beneath the sod.
They threw me off the Grand Ole Opry ‘cos I couldn’t behave
Didn’t know how many friends I had ‘til I was lying in a cold dark grave
I gave my life to Country music, I took my pills and lost
Now they don’t play my songs on the Radio, It’s like I never was
from Nashville Radio
by Jon Langford from
The Gravestone EP
This is Jon Langford’s third show at the Eastwick Gallery. Having lived most
of his life in England and Wales, he moved to Chicago in 1992, a city he’d
visited many times as a touring musician with the Mekons and The Three
Johns. It was during these trips in the mid-to-late 80s that Langford
developed his interest in the music and culture of the American south,
particularly country & western. This much maligned genre is mostly treated
as a joke in Britain and cruelly neglected by the commercial mainstream in
the States where it’s been swept under the rug in favour of New Country;
bland, easy listening pop that’s all style, no content and adds little to
the legacy of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline & Bob Wills.
The best country music comes straight from the blues. says Langford, It’s
music, just like punk or reggae. The simple delivery of a song is more
important than any
flashy musical technique and the lyrics talk about the lives of both the
performer in very direct and realistic ways. It’s functional music that
needs to be made...
These gravestones are monuments to the long forgotten country singers whose
torn and faded
promo-shots smile down optimistically from the bar-rooms of Nashville
through layers of nicotine
and dust. It’s a tough business and a hard country. Young hopefuls sign
their contracts, get used up and spat out and are finally forgotten. Just
like they would be in any industry or theatre of war.
People are disposable. The ones who don’t stay in line become heroes only
after they’re dead.
Jon Langford has shown his paintings and etchings widely in the USA and
Europe. He is a founder
member of legendary British punk band The Mekons and sings and plays guitar
with The Waco
Brothers. In 1998 he released his first solo CD SKULL ORCHARD on Sugarfree
Records of Chicago.
To accompany The Death Of Country Music exhibition Bloodshot Records of
release JON LANGFORD/THE GRAVESTONE EP as a signed and numbered limited
From Addicted To Noise:
Mekons' Langford Flaunts His 'Hard Country' Paintings
Singer displays portraits of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash
Correspondent Jeff Golick reports:
NEW YORK -- Extending his artistic reach ever further, Mekons, Waco
Brother and newly minted solo artist Jon Langford recently unveiled a batch
of new paintings at a small record store in downtown Manhattan.
A modest gathering of Langford friends and superfans showed up on a
recent Friday at Other Music to toast the singer of the art-punk collective
the Mekons and his 11 new works, together called "Hard Country,"
most of which are portraits of country music's forebears.
The display is made up of mostly "ink drawings on paper that are
stuck down to hardboard then painted on with various pastels, acrylics
and white-out pens -- glazed with scummy transparent nicotine varnishes,
gouged, scratched, scraped and torn," Langford said.
With Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Jimmie Rodgers and Pasty Cline staring
out from high on the back wall, Johnny Cash on the stereo, and beer and
chips on the side, the event had the casual, friendly air of a swap meet.
The images themselves, despite wearing the yellowy glow of age, are
all new. All, that is, except for the Buck Owens, which Langford let languish
in a Leeds, England, cellar for five years -- "an essential part of
the process," he said. They wouldn't look out of place hanging by
the kitchen in a truck-stop diner. "I use bottles and bottles of acrylic
varnish as [the works] have to be both dirty and shiny at the same time
to have any meaning for me," he said.
"These paintings speak to Jon's love of music in all its forms,"
said art patron Mia Konphan, "and of history. And boozing."
The few non-portraits on the wall -- among them "Dance" and
"Ingo Bingo Sixpenny High" -- "borrow from square-dance
calling," Langford wrote in an e-mail.
Taken together, the works recall the dirty, shiny music on mid-period
Mekons albums such as Fear and Whiskey and Honky Tonkin', as well as last
year's Waco Brothers country-rock outing, Cowboy in Flames.
And they're selling fast -- five of the 11 works have been sold. "Hard
Country" was scheduled to remain on display through the end of March
(98) at Other Music, 15 E. 4th Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10003.
Chicago Sun-Times / October 3, 1997, FRIDAY
Artistic Mekons have brush with greatness
BY: Dave Hoekstra
A little bit of soul goes a long way.
Mekon Jon Langford and his old mate Eric Bellis (a.k.a. Rico Bell, Mekon accordionist) just wrapped up a showing of their artwork at the Eastwick Art Gallery, 245 W. North, a few strokes west of the Old Town Ale House, a Picasso blue period kind of place in its own right.
You can feel the Mekons deep working-class soul just by viewing the pastels and oil paintings of Bellis and Langford, respectively.
Their work is still up in the Eastwick salon. (Call 312-440-2322 for gallery hours.) And Langford is featured in "Country Music and Other Religions," with works by Laura Gomel in a show that opens at 6 tonight at the South of North Gallery, 2058 W. Roscoe (773-281-7666).
"With the Mekons, we talk a lot about the idea of functional music," Langford said last week at the salon. "Music making sense forever, being a functional thing that goes on in a corner or in the background. It's there to do a job -- for people to dance to, rituals and all that stuff.
"The songs come from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down, where people are making up songs in the trenches and factories instead of the star system that exists now."
That's also an eloquent explanation of Langford and Bellis' artwork. Their rustic colors and dark shadows shed light on rugged individualism far more than vogue-ish icons. The rock-country Mekons (whose name is taken from the "Dr. Who" television show) have improved with age since 1977, when Langford formed the band with fellow art student Tom Greenhalgh in Leeds, England. Langford is a graduate of Leeds University and he studied art with over-the-top situationist T.J. Cl
Langford befriended Bellis when they were each graphic designers at a hospital in Leeds. "Eric came into this pub in Leeds one night," Langford said with an emerging smile. "It was about 15 years ago. He had on all this makeup and a Gary Glitter haircut. We started a little chat. He was a glam-rocker."
Bellis added, "And Jon was a goth-punker."
And Langford had painter's block.
"Writing songs seemed to make sense," Langford said. "It didn't have as many contradictions as painting. So when I finished college I stopped painting for years. I did illustrations and bits for music papers and fanzines (Langford does the 'Great Pop Things' cartoon strip that runs in the free Chicago weekly New City), but I never did anything that was meant to be art.
"I tried to figure out how I could approach art without getting into those problems. So I decided to make the paintings about music, or painting about being a musician." Langford has since done oil paintings of Buck Owens, a monoprint of gospel singer Dorothy Love Coats and etchings of Hank Williams and Bob Wills.
Frequent trips to Nashville have inspired Langford, especially stops at Tootsie's, the matchbox-sized bar behind the original Grand Ole Opry house. Country Music Hall of Famers Willie Nelson and Harlan Howard wrote some of their earliest songs at Tootsie's.
"The idea of the decay and aging that went on at a place like Tootsie's is my inspiration," he said. "Just the walls of that place: all the torn-up photographs, old gold frames nailed to the wall, graffiti everywhere and everything covered with a fine layer of nicotine."
I asked gallery co-owner Tom Eastwick if it was common for artists to put so much thought into their work. "No, but more than thought, it's soul," Eastwick answered. "A lot of the art world is full of crap. There's no soul. I get very much the same feeling from Jon and Eric's paintings as I do from their music."
Inspired by American naive painters of the 19th century, Bellis only got back into his densely detailed pastels after a 10-year hiatus. "As it went on, my work separated from the music," he said. "Only in the last year or so have I managed to bring the two things together. What I'm thinking about with music I'm slowly getting into the painting. It's almost autobiographical."
Like Mekons music, the artwork of Langford and Bellis will hold up years from now. Langford said, "Right now in music and art there's an obsession with what's happening at 'this moment.' There's a fake avant-garde idea that you burn everything that went before. It's weird. When people look back at today in 200 years time, they won't see those little 10-year delineations of what went in and out of fashion. Most of it will look pretty stupid and quaint."
Country's Grave Condition
Jon Langford Came to Nashville To Bury
Country, Not To Praise It
By Bill Friskics-Warren
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 30, 1998; Page G01
NASHVILLE—Lots of people here complain about how
country music has forsaken its hillbilly roots and become a
lifeless pop commodity.
Jon Langford doesn't just gripe about the sad state of
country music. He sets his criticism in stone -- tombstones,
to be exact. Langford's monuments to country music, each
a 135-pound slab of chiseled pink granite, can be seen at the
American Pop Culture Gallery here as part of his exhibit
"The Death of Country Music."
The point, he says, is that Nashville has buried its past.
One gravestone, titled "Country Music," portrays Hank
Williams as Saint Sebastian, the third-century martyr and
patron saint of archers. Inscribed alongside the image of the
singer, whose protruding rib cage is riddled with arrows, is
an epitaph that reads in part: "The bones of country music/
Lie there in their casket? Beneath the towers of Nashville in a
deep black pool of neglect."
Another headstone, "Hank Williams Signs His Contract,"
finds the late singer, pen in hand, seated at a desk strewn
with whiskey and pill bottles and a skull that looms in the
foreground. As heavy-handed as they are incisive,
Langford's stone carvings are characterized by the same
emotional directness and moral force that have historically
marked the best of country music.
Langford, a Welsh-born artist and musician who moved to
Chicago in 1992, has campaigned against the corporate
pimping of pop culture ever since he and fellow art students
at the University of Leeds formed the British punk band the
Mekons in 1977. His current art show -- which runs through
Sept. 25 and also includes etchings and paintings -- is
located just two blocks from Music Row.
"I thought about putting the stones outside record
companies and having a bus tour and making a film about it
as a piece of guerrilla art," says the 40-year-old Langford,
who dressed in mourner's black for the show's opening.
"But then I thought the fact that they existed is enough."
Accompanying the exhibit is "Gravestone," a limited-edition
EP by Langford that's being released by Chicago-based
Bloodshot Records, a small label that specializes in what it
calls "insurgent country." The CD's opening track,
"Nashville Radio," features a reggae-style adaptation of the
Tennessee anthem "Rocky Top." Langford assumes the
ghostly voice of Hank Williams: "I gave my life to country
music, I took my pills and lost/ Now they don't play my
songs on the radio, it's like I never was."
Virtually all the gravestones featured in the exhibit evoke a
sense of abandonment. One headstone is inscribed with the
words "Bury your dead high on bar room walls." A figure --
holding a guitar etched with the word "neglect" -- is draped
in a fringed cowboy jacket, above which a death's-head
The inspiration for that piece, as well as for many of
Langford's paintings, comes from the defaced publicity stills
of country singers that cover the walls of Tootsie's Orchid
Lounge, the Nashville honky-tonk that was once a favorite
haunt of Grand Ole Opry stars before the radio show
vacated downtown's Ryman Auditorium for suburban
"When I came to the States in 1988, I went to Tootsie's and
saw all those pictures -- photos of singers I knew of and
singers I'd never heard of staring out from layers of
historical snot and dripping with nicotine juice," Langford
says. "They were all torn, but they all were smiling out
Langford, who has a degree in art, scuffs and dirties up his
paintings, which include portraits of Buck Owens, George
Jones and Tammy Wynette, to evoke the corrupted photos
at Tootsie's. "After I finish them they have to be scratched
up," he explains. "Sometimes I'll actually throw an etching
plate across the floor so that rather than being this pure
black sheet of paper I'm working on, it'll have interference
and noise on it. And that's kind of what happens with my
paintings. They're not really old, but they do look
And yet despite their aura of ruin and decay, Langford's
pieces never come off as cranky or one-dimensional.
Doubtless some of this has to do with his subversive sense
of humor (Hank Williams a martyr?). Not only that, unlike
today's country music industry, Langford refuses to treat
the likes of Bob Wills and Patsy Cline as museum pieces.
It's a sensibility, at least as applied to his country subjects,
that harks back to the mid-'80s, when the Mekons were
reinventing themselves as a honky-punk band with such
albums as "Fear and Whiskey" and "The Edge of the
"We're listening to the country boys and dancing on their
graves," sang Langford on a song from "The Edge of the
World." And on that album's version of Hank Williams's
"Alone and Forsaken," a waltz overlaid with the sinister
viola obbligato from the Velvet Underground's "Black
Angel's Death Song," they proved as much. Langford and
his mates -- a collective that has suffered its share of woes
at the hands of the music business -- were bent on having
their way with their beloved hillbilly music even if they had
to raise it from the dead.
That's certainly what Langford's other regular band, the
clamorous Chicago-based Waco Brothers, does every time
it stomps the country pathos out of the signature songs of
George Jones and Johnny Cash.
But just because they stomp all over country songs doesn't
mean Langford lacks respect for the hillbilly tradition. " 'The
Death of Country Music' has the same kind of rage we saw
in punk rock," says Grant Alden, co-editor of the
alternative-country bimonthly No Depression. "Using the
language and materials of punk -- and specifically of the
punk poster tradition -- this is how Langford says, 'I value
this deeply and you have missed it.'
"And because he's from outside the culture," adds Alden,
referring to Langford's U.K. origins, "he becomes in effect
de Tocqueville, saying: 'I am the court jester and you have
missed the point of my play. You have missed something
crucial about your own culture.' "
"I'm not really criticizing individuals or musicians," explains
Langford. "I'm not saying that Alan Jackson is a big jerk and
shouldn't be allowed to make records. I just think the
system is stupid and that the people at the labels aren't
considering that. I don't know if any of the execs really care
about the product they're pushing" -- product Langford
dismisses as "suburban rock music with a cowboy hat on."
But Langford does believe the breezy ditties that have
dominated country radio in the past decade are good for
something. They are, he says, "perfect" for advertising.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
FROM PUNK TO COUNTRY TO BLAH
Jon Langford looks out at the healthy state of country music today and is . . . horrified.
Langford, 40, a founding member of punk band the Mekons who plays country music with the Waco Brothers, unveiled an exhibit at the American Pop Culture Art Gallery that sums up his feelings. It's called "The Death of Country Music."
"Wal-Mart music has replaced real country," Langford said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his adopted hometown of Chicago. "America won the Cold War preaching individualism and freedom. And everything they criticized about the Soviet Union -- the gray sameness -- they aspire to that now."
To Langford, 40, so-called "young country" or "hot country" formats popular on radio these days are more like homogenized noise. To his ears, the music is a dramatic comedown from the country artists that he loves: Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Hank Williams Sr.
"It's like some Stalinist bureaucrat programs the radio stations," said Langford. "The music doesn't really get out unless you dumb it down and make it bland."
Copyright 1998 Chicago Sun-Times, August 23, 1998
Grave situation in Music City;
BY: Dave Hoekstra
A Brotherly view of 'Death'
Jon Langford's spirit of adventure helped give birth to Chicago's role as the alternative country music capital of America. The accomplished artist and Waco Brother-Mekon-Pine Valley Cosmonaut just opened his exhibition "The Death of Country Music" in Nashville and at the Eastwick Gallery, 245 W. North.
Featuring several 100-pound granite gravestones with metaphorical etchings of Hank Williams and cynical commentary on the industry, it has caused controversy in Nashville.
The commercial country music industry is always whistling past the graveyard. How else does one explain why Merle Haggard and George Jones are without record deals? Recently Jones was dropped from MCA Records, weeks shy of his 67th birthday. It's the early successes of veteran artists that are Nashville's foundation.
"People in the business were quite p- - - - - off about (the exhibit), which is exactly what we wanted. We faxed invitations, and MCA (Records) phoned and said they had no intention of coming to the opening and they wanted to be removed from the gallery's fax list -- right after they 'had to let George Jones go,' " Langford said during an interview in his studio atop a North Western Avenue T-shirt factory.
The title of the exhibition comes from the scorching "Death of Country Music" track on the Waco Brothers' 1997 "Cowboy in Flames" CD, where Langford sings, "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 their casket/Beneath the towers of Nashville in a black pool of neglect . . ."
Both exhibitions are up for six weeks. The Eastwick show features 13 gravestones and 15 Langford paintings. The Nashville show features a dozen Langford etchings, eight paintings and eight gravestones at the American Pop Culture Gallery.
The exhibitions also come with a limited-edition, reggae-tinged "Nashville Radio" EP that leads into a reprise on the death of country music. The 11-minute "Nashville Radio" features Langford, Chicago multi-instrumentalist John Rice, bassist Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu and drummer Brian Doherty, who has played with They Might Be Giants and the Silos.
At 8 p.m. Tuesday Langford hosts the semi-regular "Here Be Monsters" collective at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport (773-525-2508, $ 5), featuring guests Sally Timms and Edith Frost. Expect lots of old-timey country music played on synthesizers.
The busiest musician in Chicago, Langford is also the bandleader and producer of "The Pine Valley Cosmonauts Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills," due Sept. 8 on vinyl and Oct. 6 on CD on Chicago's Bloodshot Records.
The Cosmonauts consist of fiddler-guitarist Rice, steel guitarist Mark Durante, Waco Brothers drummer Steve Goulding, bassist Tom Ray, saxophonist Paul Mertens, Poi Dog Pondering pianist-trumpet player Dave Crawford and former Texas Rubies vocalist Jane Baxter Miller.
Langford has deep passion for exploring the past. The master tailor Manuel came to his Nashville exhibition, and he may barter one of his suits for one of Langford's paintings. Manuel (Cuevas) has designed stage wear for John Lennon and Neil Young, and is responsible for the garish rhinestone suits of Porter Wagoner.
"We were drinking some good tequila when we were talking about it, but he's a fan," Langford said with a grin. "That's kind of what the exhibitions are about. I've talked to people who don't even know who Bob Wills is. And I'm from Wales. I found out who Bob Wills was. That's one reason I came to America."
To better understand Langford, check out the gravestone "Hank Williams Signs His Contract" in the Chicago exhibition. Langford also has done an etching and painting with the same title.
Langford embraced the dark, worldly spirit of 17th century Dutch paintings with Williams at a table landscaped with a skull, a book, a miniature Cadillac, a picture of wife Audrey, a beer bottle and a record contract.
"A lot of my work is not just about country music or making fun of the Nashville industry, but it's autobiographical," he explained. "Like 'Hank Signs His Contract' is a pivotal moment between being an optimistic musician and a crushed foot soldier. It's when you slide over and end up on the other side. I don't know anyone who has had fantastic experiences with the music industry."
What enhances a Langford project like the Bob Wills salute is his ability to capture Wills' adventurous spirit. Wills rejected the "country star" label. His Western swing was a hybrid of blues, country, Spanish folk music and Dixieland jazz, delivered in a big-band setting.
"I just wanted it to be how we played with the Waco Brothers," Langford said. "It's not as electric as the Wacos, and we didn't deliberately speed things up. This is geared toward a live band playing in a bar in Chicago. I didn't want to do one of these hideous tributes to people who are really good and they make horrible new country versions where everything is slowed down with digital production. That doesn't remind you of the original thing at all."
In 1993 Liberty Records released "Asleep at the Wheel/Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys," which featured Garth Brooks, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill and Willie Nelson. The Lyle Lovett-Asleep at the Wheel collaboration of Wills' "Blues for Dixie" won a Grammy.
In my mind it can't compare with Sundowner Bob Boyd's jump blues take on "Hang Your Head in Shame" (replete with a mellow Tommy Duncan yodel -- Duncan was Wills' lead vocalist). Or the spicy fiddle-laced "Stay a Little Long," a duet the 67-year-old Boyd sings with Neko Case on the Bloodshot release.
Boyd has covered Wills since he joined the Sundowners in 1959 at the old R.R. Ranch in the Loop. The band's most requested Wills number was "San Antonio Rose," which Langford redid with Alejandro Escovedo for the tribute.
"I noticed my voice was a little weak because I haven't been singing much lately," Boyd said in a phone interview. He is undergoing monthly chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer. "My lung power isn't what it used to be. When I get done with the chemo I'm going to see if I can build it back up again. Other than that I feel pretty good. I still haven't missed a show this year. I got four more (Sundowners shows) in September (including a 7 p.m. Sept. 17 performance at Pow Wow Days in Westmont). I'm sure I can make all of them." And such is the relentless spirit of real country music.