Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Back in the 1980s, just out of high school, I was already fully into my ethic of taking on whatever I could (with a few trivial exceptions, like, oh, college). I had nosed my way into the Grand Rapids Press as a full-time freelancer, primarily doing illustrations but gradually taking on whatever writing assignments I could talk my way into until I managed to land myself an actual beat of sorts as a tragically underqualified concert reviewer.
Reviewing concerts isn't as glamorous as it sounds. The gems are there, but there's a lot of ore to sift through. Or sediment, I was thinking as I headed to yet another Parade of Oldies festival. It was kind of funny in a sad way, watching whichever member of any given one-hit wonder had managed to secure the naming rights to the band and put together some backing musicians and try to re-live, or cash in on, the glory years. Or, more often, glory week-and-a-half. I know. I was snobbish AND underqualified, which is a good deal less attractive than a whole row of aging doo-woppers in white leisure suits, gold chains and shiny toupees.
Then The Turtles took the stage to close out the show. Did I mention I was underqualified? I didn't know who The Turtles were. But just a few bars into their opening song, I was a fan. These guys - Flo and Eddie; what's up with that? - could play, and they had a stage presence and joie de vivre that brought me out of my coma for good. When the concert ended - too soon, which I wouldn't have predicted during Paulie and the Passingthroughs - I stayed a Turtles fan, but I remained ignorant.
Turns out it's easy to remain ignorant of just how much Mark Volman - Flo, the Phlorescent Leech - and partner Howard Kaylan - Eddie - have done, since they've done so much of it under the radar. But you'd be hard pressed to find two people who have played a larger role in modern pop music. Their nicknames come from when they performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. They sang backup on Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart," as well as on only the greatest rock and roll single ever, "Bang a Gong" by T. Rex. They also enjoy the distinction of having one of their songs - "Happy Together" - not only hit #1 on the Billboard charts, but bump a Beatles song off the throne to get there ("Penny Lane"). And there's more, much more.
I didn't know any of that stuff - I just liked their music - until a couple of months ago when I used their band and their nicknames for a Sunday Frazz strip that wrapped around a dreadful pun the way an old comics section might be used to wrap up the remains of last night's walleye. I was doing my research to make sure I didn't spread any misinformation and stumbled across all that information. I was a fan all over again.
And then Monday I got the phone call from Mark Volman, Flo, the Phlorescent Leech, my new hero and new friend. He had seen the strip and liked it a lot. We had a nice, long conversation, and we both enjoyed it enough that we must have started to hang up and failed a dozen times. I was honestly a little intimidated, because, like I said, he's had his hands in more of American music than most people, notably me, know. I'd still make a terrible music critic. Especially if I ever had to review The Turtles again. I know a little more about them, but I can't think of a thing to criticize. And if I could, I wouldn't.
I'm happy, if not completely together. I love this job.
Posted by Jef Mallett at 7:37 AM