If being old enough to remember and have taken part in the rompings and stompings of Me Mom & Morgentaler means being, simply put, old as fuck, Montrealers of a certain age probably still wouldn’t trade the experience.
And while, alas, it still seems that their 2007 Jazz Fest reunion shows will remain their last, the bilingual punk/ska/goofball outfit left their legacy behind after breaking up in the later ’90s.
Having thus cemented themselves as best in show for a generation of Montrealers, Me Mom & Morgentaler make a one-off comeback with a new single out this week, and a new video launching as part of the online MTL vs. Racisme event happening this Saturday, Sept. 12.
“(MTL vs Racisme organizers) knew we hadn’t been a band or worked together since our last reunion show in 2007, but they hoped beyond hope that we would maybe wanna get involved seeing as how Me Mom & Morgentaler always was on the cutting edge of social awareness, especially when it came to racial issues. They knew we’d be a great band to represent that,” said MMM leading man Gus Va Go via phone from Toronto.
“They reached out to one of our members, John Jordan, who’s in Montreal, and John reached out to the rest of us. Even he kinda figured that because Kim was in Paris, Noah was in Barcelona and Bix and I were in New York, it would just be a crazy logistical thing and no one would have time.”
Distance has been one of the main factors as to why the band put it to bed once and for all after the 2007 gigs, but Gus and his vocal partner Kim Bingham, also on the call from Paris, both agree on behalf of their bandmates that Me Mom are the perfect fit for such an event, locally.
“Immediately, everyone was on board. We feel the Black Lives Matter movement is a super important part of what’s going on in 2020. No one even flinched. It was just like, ‘Yes. Let’s do something.’ Immediately,” Gus declared.
“Actually expressing your opinion through art or social commentary and being definite in that way gave the opportunity to others to kind of step up as well,” Kim recalled of Morgentaler’s impact in their heyday as stand-up people down for any just cause.
“That was a nice result of going that way with our music,” she said.
“We were involved in that sort of third-wave ska movement way at the beginning of Morgentaler, and that happened to be characterized by a lot of the subgenres of punk, including rudeboys and mods, but also these skinheads. Montreal had a ton of ’em. A small minority of these skinheads were the racist kind. A lot of people don’t know that there are different types of skinheads, but there were (many) that liked reggae and Jamaican music, and loved Me Mom & Morgentaler, consequently,” Gus recollected in a long and extremely telling history lesson on the ’90s scene that the band played such a huge role in building and fostering.
“There was a small number of these Nazi skins that would come to our shows and create havoc, getting into fights and brawls. Our shows started getting known as quite violent in those early, early days — I’m talking, like, our fourth or fifth show kinda early days.
“(Those skins) started getting pretty violent and taking over the dancefloors. I remember playing to basically just a bunch of skinheads. At one point I remember very vividly meeting a friend in the street and saying, ‘Wanna come to our show on Friday?’ And the guy being like, ‘Yeah, uh, I’d love to. But Gus, honestly, your shows are too violent, man. I can’t deal with the skins.’
“And that really struck me. I remember going back to the band and going, like, we have to do something about this. At that time all of our songs were about partying or being in love or heartbroken or whatever. And so consciously we were like, let’s write some songs that really deal with racism and anti-racism. We thought it was implied in the fact that we were a multi-racial band, anyways.
“That’s when we decided before we even had a chance to write any songs about this, we decided to do a cover of the Special AKA (aka the Specials) song ‘Racist Friend,’ which says very clearly, ‘If you have a racist friend, now is the time for your friendship to end.’”
Skinhead Mom stomp
“At our next show, of course, the skinheads are all dancing, we pull out that song. And I’ll never forget this, like, horseshoe of an empty dancefloor as soon as (it started). All of them stop dancing and create this giant hole in the dancefloor, arms crossed. And then as soon as we finished, they came back. So they protested by boycotting dancing to that one song,” Gus continued.
“The very next show after that was one of our most violent shows ever, with the audience actually wanting to kill us, throwing bottles on stage. I had this shirt that said ‘Fight Facism’ and one skinhead girl ripped it off (of me). It was scary. After the show they were standing around our van so we couldn’t load out, and we had to get a police escort to help us get out and return stuff to our rehearsal space. Needless to say, that ended and we started getting a lot more socially active and socially aware, and anti-establishment in our songs and our between-song banter. We started to get known as a left-leaning, almost activist band.
“Eventually the skinheads kind of just disappeared from Montreal, too. It was a dying movement. Who was to know that it would resurface? The fact that it’s now mainstream in so many countries around the world, and especially in the U.S. and Canada, it’s strangely time for Me Mom & Morgentaler to rear its head and speak up again.
“And — jeez, sorry guys, I really went on for quite a bit there!” Gus laughed.
“No, that was totally it!” replied Kim.
“I’d also say that once we started playing socially conscious music as opposed to just stuff about angst in your pants or whatever, it definitely polarized the audience,” added Kim. “But we just really had to be clear about that because if we were gonna keep playing, it wasn’t gonna be under those circumstances or in that environment.
“And I remember one particular individual who was a skinhead who a couple of years later came back and said, ‘I’ve seen the light and changed my ways and I want to be friends and I didn’t mean it!’”
The band had something of an anti-racism anthem with “Oh Well,” their 1993 hit single and video, on which Kim took centre stage with vocals, though Me Mom bassist Matt Lipscombe wrote the majority of the lyrics, they explain.
“‘Oh Well’ resonates (today), and as a matter of fact, when we were discussing being part of MTL vs. Racisme, it came up as a possible song we could do, but we decided on ‘Racist Friend’ because of its very clear message,” Kim explained.
“‘Oh Well’ takes it in a very poetic kind of way whereas ‘Racist Friend’ is more direct. Also, it was part of our setlist back in the day and we had never recorded it.”
“Another personal aspect that’s fun for me is that I finally get to produce and mix a Me Mom & Morgentaler song, which I’d never done before,” Gus enthused.
The video concept is being helmed by the band’s original drummer Sid Zanforlin and NY-based Montrealer Rosella Tutsi and each member filmed their own parts from around the globe, sending them in for the video, which will launch at MTL vs. Racisme this weekend.
“I had already been toying with the idea of trying to record a new Me Mom track remotely, anyway, completely coincidentally,” said Gus. “It was kinda the perfect storm. This is a great cause and a great trial to see if this can even work. So we decided on the song, and did it.” ■
MTL vs. Racisme, featuring Me Mom & Morgentaler and a long list of Montreal artists, takes place Saturday, Sept. 12, online, free, from 12 to 9 p.m. Further details can be found here.
For more Montreal music coverage, please visit our Music section.