Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Marching toward Jerusalem: The Mekons: Part of the Chain of Holy Warriors

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Marching toward Jerusalem: The Mekons: Part of the Chain of Holy Warriors

Article excerpt

I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Jerusalem, In England's green & pleasant Land.

--William Blake, 1804

One of the high points of 2002 for me came near the end of the year, when I heard the album OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads) by The Mekons, a band of British art-school socialists born in the great punk revolution of 1977 that has, against all odds, persisted.

During their 25 years together, The Mekons have expanded from four guys playing guitars and drums in Leeds to a far-flung tribe of eight musicians. Their sound has expanded from the punk-rock base to include Celtic and country-and-western strains and contemporary dance music. In the mid-'80s they added a full-time fiddler and accordionist. In the mid-'90s they recorded an album of electronica.

I've always loved The Mekons' music. But I've also been attached to them as comrades, and my appreciation has deepened as they've stayed engaged in struggle--artistically and politically--over the course of a lifetime. They are My Generation. We all came into adolescence in the late '60s and found our adult feet in the backwash of the late 1970s. I haven't gotten everything they recorded, but I've always felt the need to check in on them periodically to see how they've fared, and how they're making sense of life's middle passage.

So it was especially thrilling to crank up OOOH! and hear The Mekons swing into the hymn of praise to English religious socialism that is quoted above. "Oh, I love the Union and Glory Hallelujah!" The Mekons sing on their title track. "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem/All that march through history must still mean something to you/Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem." With a funky dance beat, scratching rhythm guitar, and layers of vocal call and response, the track goes on to summon a chain of holy warriors that runs from the Levelers, Ranters, Quakers, and Diggers of the 1600s to William Blake and William Morris and on down to Tony Benn.

Yes, that Tony Benn--the old guy who went to Iraq and interviewed Saddam Hussein. In The Mekons' younger days, he was the Great Red Hope of the British Labour Party's left wing. In his Arguments for Socialism, Benn started with the assertion that the first source of British socialism is the Bible--the Mosaic Law, the eighth-century B. …

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