AFTER 15 YEARS in a band that has never surpassed cult status, Sally Timms has a well-honed appreciation for the harsh realities facing the average


Sympathy for a Mekon

Sally Timms keeps recording with her band and as a solo artist, despite the modest returns.

AFTER 15 YEARS in a band that has never surpassed cult status, Sally Timms has a well-honed appreciation for the harsh realities facing the average working musician. She doesn't want your pity, though, and won't be pacified any longer by the endless cavalcade of free drinks. Some wealthy benefactors, on the other hand, would be most welcome.


Graceland, Tuesday, May 1

Timms, solo artist and full-time member of the Mekons since 1985, hatched an ingenious plot last year for a rock 'n' roll patronage program. Her proposal—which ran in the Chicago Tribune and was written on fliers and handed out by Timms during last summer's solo tour—outlined some of the less-than-glamorous aspects of the lifestyle and, more important, offered suggestions on how to assist your favorite underground rock musician. As a means of bypassing record companies, Timms suggested an "endangered" list of musicians in need of a more direct pipeline of funding. Donors could essentially "adopt" their favorite artist. How's the response been so far?

"I only received three checks. They came out to $150 total," notes Timms via telephone from Chicago. "And each of the people who sent the checks wrote notes along with them saying how this was all the money they could spare. I didn't feel right cashing them in. That reminds me—I should mail those back soon. . . . I still think it was a good idea, though. If I were to do it over, I think maybe I'd make the writing less joking."

It's clear—at least to anyone who's ever listened to a Mekons or Sally Timms record—that financial strains have never given rise to any compromise in integrity. In fact, it's fair to say that the group's ethics are perhaps better known than their songs. Formed in Leeds, England, in 1976, the Mekons were feisty at their inception; their first single, "Never Been in a Riot," was a rebuke of the Clash's "White Riot." They've continued sniping away from the forefront of unpopular culture ever since. Since the mid-'80s, the Mekons have been tinkering with a singular blend of punk, traditional British, and country-and-western sounds (their most acclaimed album, 1985's Fear and Whisky, is an essential primer in the alt-country canon). Remarkably, through innumerable lineup changes, near total neglect by the British music press, a disastrous tenure with a major label, and the scattering of band members to assorted geographic locales, the band's focus has remained fundamentally intact. Last year's Journey to the End of the Night was more well-rounded than any Mekons release in nearly a decade, and Timms' 1999 release, Cowboy Sally's Twilight Lament, was a stunning showcase for her vocal talent. So while more of the band members' time these days is diverted toward other artistic endeavors—mainstay Jon Langford's Waco Brothers being the most recognizable of the side projects—the band's goals have remained unchanged during Timms' three-decade involvement. "We never thought that we'd be famous. For me, the band has always been about getting to work with really intelligent, creative people."

Considering this staunch dedication to D.I.Y. ideals, some were confounded by another of Timms' missives in which she offered a defense of then-reigning pop queens the Spice Girls. While she makes it clear that she is by no means a closet top-40 fanatic, she doesn't necessarily begrudge all megastars. "I just thought that even though they were manufactured to a great extent, there seemed to be something genuinely rebellious and fun about them. And they had a couple of really good pop songs. . . . The Jackson 5 were also manufactured in a similar way, but they made incredible music. It just doesn't happen that often anymore though. Some R&B acts, like Destiny's Child, are pretty good, but as far as really big rock bands, there doesn't seem to be much out there that I'm aware of. That's totally outside of my realm."

Her realm is a particularly busy one at that. Timms has two solo albums in progress—a stripped-down country record for Bloodshot and a fuller rock effort for Touch & Go ("I've been working on that one for five years!"). The Mekons will also be back in the studio following their current tour. What will the next Mekons record sound like? "Who knows?" offers an unfazed Timms. And that's as satisfying as any answer. You never know exactly what you'll get from Timms and the Mekons, aside from it being lively, smart, and funny. Sounds like an awfully worthy cause.

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