I was drawn to cult acts long before I was in one, so I’m pretty sure my fascination with the phenomenon has less to do with trying to figure out my own personal place in the musical cosmos than it does with trying to figure out why so few people seem to like the same music as my friends and I (or why no one seems to like music as much as my friends and I do).
The great thing about writing for Tommy Tompkins at the Bay Guardian in the ’90s was that he was always willing to hear me out whenever I felt as though I’d had some kind of epiphany at a show that was worth turning into a piece. This one from ’97 came after I was underwhelmed by a Jazz Butcher gig at Great American Music Hall an old college buddy had convinced me I’d love.
Definitions of cult bands vary, but here’s a fairly reliable test: if you ever encounter an inexplicably long line for a band you’ve never heard of, just say something like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of this group. Aren’t they some kind of a cult band?” The angrier the crowd becomes, the more heated their denials that their beloved band is anything like obscure, the more inventive the epithets they hurl at you as you run away, the more likely that you were right after all.
That test works in reverse, too, as I found out when I dragged a friend to see the Mekons. I mean, I never thought of the Mekons as anything other than the best band in the world. Who else could introduce a number by saying, “Here’s a song off our last book,” and mean it? Only the wonderful Mekons. This was in September, in New York, and I had the good fortune to be in town the same night the Mekons were passing through. I was one of many happy drunks in the audience, admiring my luck, loving the band, and I turned to share my shit-eating grin with the old friend I’d convinced to join me.
And I saw something impossible: she was bored. Continue reading