Sarre-Chasm – Ruminations on the ? Reunion – Column


Ruminations on the ? Reunion and another thing…

by Jon Sarre
Illustration by Timothy Walker

One Hit Wonder. That’s some big league finger pointin’, serious mud-slingin’, fightin’ words, son. Ya level that un at yer Marvin Rainwaters, yer Roger Millers (the guy who did “King of the Road,” not the Mission of Burma no-hit wonder), yer Wall of Voodoos, yer New Kids on the Blocks, yer Milli Vanillis, yer Hansons (soon enough). Much like in the case of the guy who wrote “Spirit in the Sky” (no one I know can dredge it up (Norman Greenbaum – trivia-crazed life-deficient ed.), but Doctor and the Medics managed their one-hit with a cover version), the song is better known than its artist. Just ask the flashes-in-the-pan who came up with “Hocus Pocus” (Focus – ditto. ed.)

The stock take is usually “coming from nowhere and going back there just as quickly.” Today a genius, tomorrow a has-been, who, if lucky, will end up as a “Who was” question on Jeopardy!, the subject of a where-are-they-now feature, sentenced to the county fair circuit for all eternity, or the punch line to a comedian’s joke about the Spice Girls. There’s no business like show business…

“96 Tears.” Now, there’s a big one, arguably the biggest on the one-hitter Top 40… Y’know it, that repetitive two-note organ riff, “You’re gonna cry, cry, cry 96…” – where that number came from, not 98, not 900, I guess only ? (born Rudy Martinez, but I understand he legally changed his name to the interrogative symbol after bein’ persuaded to do so by aliens from the future, yeah, the acid really was better back then) really knows for sure. The song is a rock’n’roller for the ages, probably the only thing yer dad and Lester Bangs ever saw eye to eye on. Throw the oldies station on for two hours and it’ll probably slide by ya between a Four Seasons human rights violation and a Lesley Gore gagger (maybe even the ultra-bizarro sequel to “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry”).

The song (“96 Tears,” not “Judy’s Turn to Cry”)’s always struck me cuz, shit, it’s a great fuckin’ song: faux James Brown greaser R?, call it garage rock as pop, or Chicano Blues from Saginaw, Michigan (via Texas) pinned up in Seventeen Magazine and then…? So what did ? and the Mysterians do after that? Did everything after “96 Tears” flop? Was there anything else? Did they die? Go straight? Are they still out there somewhere?

The answer to all of the above is pretty much “yes” (‘cept for the “dying” and “going straight” parts). After five years or so of obsessively pawin’ through used record stores’ “Q” sections for ? product (not as difficult as it sounds, other than Queensrÿche, Quicksilver, and Suzi Quatro – if yer lucky – what else is there? [C’mon, Quarterflash. They were even from Portland! ed.]), I found this weird re-issue of the 96 Tears album (basically the single wrapped around some other stuff).

It’s okay, but not nearly as good as On Fyre by the Lyres (who are pretty close in sound to the Mysterians). To put it in context with their contemporaries, it’s better than Psychotic Reaction by west coast one-hitters, the Count Five, but the ? debut doesn’t quite hit the highs of Roky Erickson’s 13th Floor Elevators (did “You’re Gonna Miss Me” chart?). The songs range from pretty cool to obvious filler, but nothing else has the impact of “96 Tears.” It’s like a bolt from the blue, just one of those things, right? Divine intervention, maybe, I dunno…

Oddly enough, soon after pickin’ up this record, I got a clipping in the mail from the January 4th Sunday Boston Globe. It was an article about the return of ? and the Mysterians. Apparently, ?’s been kickin’ around all these years doin’ a Paul Revere and the Raiders or John Kay and Steppenwolf bit with a crew of better-left-unknown Mysterians, but now he’s done and got the perplexed lookin’ buncha a babyfaces from the record cover back together for a new album and tour (and damn, I was in Boston the week before they played the Middle East).

So January found me back in Oregon, where there are no ? or Mysterians, so I can’t vouch for the show, but I sure liked the former Mr. Martinez’s comments to the Globe‘s Elijah Ward re the state of music circa right now: “Because what’s out there right now, it’s not music, it’s just blech, trash. You turn on the radio, and subconsciously you know it’s junk, but you accept it, because without music what are you gonna do?” (italics supplied by Mr. Ward)

The guy’s got a point, right?

I keep hearin’ rumors (threats) of another reunion in the works –The Stooges. Now, just for the record, here’s one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands of all time, Bowie mixes on Raw Power, or no Bowie mixes on Raw Power and bein’ only two when they called it quits, I never saw ’em live (no, my folks weren’t fans). Today, though, why go through with it? I mean, sure they’re gonna be more “professional” than they were back in ’71 (not exactly a selling point is it?) and Iggy looks good for a guy in his fifties, but ya gotta admit that his peanut butter/broken glass and a mic in the teeth days are past and Ron Asheton’s probably gonna leave his Nazi duds at home in Ann Arbor. Furthermore, where the fuck has James Williamson been hidin’ since producin’ the Iggster’s not exactly rock-steady New Values record back in 1979?

Yeah, it’s still intriguing in a perverse way, but interested parties oughtta stick to the three official Stooges LPs and if that ain’t enough, there’s always the Iggy re-mix of Raw Power, the Bomp de-mixing of Raw Power (Rough Power). Hell, check out the gems in the Bomp “Iguana Chronicles”: Jesus Loves the Stooges, Open Up and Bleed, I Got a Right, Kill City (not really the Stooges but Pop, Williamson and Soupy Sales’ kids, you may remember them from tin Machine), California Bleeding, etc. Try to find the live Metallic 2XKO (for the stage banter, if nothin’ else), buy AuGoGo’s all-Aussie bands Stooges’ tribute Hard to Beat. As for Iggy, if he wants to resurrect one of his past careers, he should get out on the links and earn back his PGA card, but let the Stooges rest.