Jon Langford should write a novel.
I understand why he hasn’t. Langford is a busy man. He’s been making music with various incarnations of the Mekons since he was a university student in Leeds, way back in the latter half of the 1970s, to say nothing of his more contemporary work with the Three Johns, Waco Brothers, the Sadies, et al. His paintings are displayed the world over, and he’s created album art for everyone from Buddy Guy to Jim Lauderdale. He illustrated the comic strip “Great Pop Things.” Heck, he’s even published a book, but Nashville Radio was a retrospective of his career as a visual artist, not a work of fiction.
None of this is to imply that he should stop making records. I’d wager that Old Devils, credited to Jon Langford and Skull Orchard, is his finest non-Mekons album to date (even after a quarter of a century, 1985’s Fear and Whiskey is still the one to beat). I’ve been listening to it repeatedly the last few days. Which is why I want Langford to write a novel. He’s a great lyricist. There are moments in songs like “1234Ever” and “Luxury” where the judiciously chosen words and musical cadences alchemize into something greater than their individual parts, connecting with the immediacy of the best work of the Jam and early Elvis Costello.
Consider the opening stanzas of “Book of Your Life”:
I was the hero of the story but half way through I died
Another character took over
He had all the answers
And all the good lines, in the book of your life
That makes me want to keep listening. Ditto “Self Portrait,” which seemed to contain a fair chunk of autobiographical detail, dolled up in enough twists to keep things interesting. These lyrics leave me wanting more! But I don’t expect Old Devils to clock in over 45 minutes—about the ideal maximum length for an album, in my opinion—norshould Langford start churning out substandard albums just to meet my ridiculous demands. A book of prose seems the next logical step.
Okay, it doesn’t have to be a novel. I’d settle for a crackerjack memoir or a collection of short stories. (Just don’t publish your collected lyrics and expect me to treat them as poetry; that’s cheating. Unless you’re Patti Smith or Leonard Cohen.) Maybe start by adapting “Nashville Radio,” the great tune that concludes Bloodshot’s Making Singles Drinking Doubles anthology. If John Wesley Harding and Steve Earle and Kristin Hersh can all create worthwhile works of literature, it seems reasonable to ask the same of Langford. He’s proven via his successes in other media that he’s up to the challenge. Man up and write a book, Langford!
And if I see him at his show at the Tractor Tavern tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 28, I’m going to tell him just that… as soon as I find the perfect words.
DJ El Toro hosts the variety mix show on Wednesday nights from 9 PM to 1 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His weekly rant, “Weird At My School,” (usually) appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog. Please follow DJ El Toro (aka Kurt B. Reighley) on Twitter!