96 Tears in the News
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 31 Oct 97 18:19:34 -0800
Subject: 96 Tears in the News
Chicago Tribune October 26, 1997 Sunday, CHICAGOLAND FINAL EDITION
SECTION: ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT; Pg. 17; ZONE: C; Rock.
LENGTH: 1079 words
HEADLINE: ANSWERS FROM MR. ?;
MYSTERIANS' LEADER'S NOT CRYING OVER ' 96 TEARS'
BYLINE: By Rick Reger. Special to the Tribune.
Anyone who was paying even the slightest attention to Top 40 radio in
1966 can probably remember hearing it for the first time.
That insolent, repetitive two-chord organ riff. That sneering voice
mouthing a series of threats culminating in the lines: "And then I'm gonna
put you way down here/ And you'll start crying/ 96 tears. "
Even in a year that was rife with garage-punk hits like the Music Machine's
"Talk Talk," the Seeds' "Pushin' too Hard" and the Standells' "Dirty Water,"
? and the Mysterians' "96 Tears" stood apart. It was the nastiest and most
willfully rudimentary of the year's bad-boy anthems. And in the last week
of October 1966 it was No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Although ? and the Mysterians never repeated the success of "96 Tears,"
the saga of the band and the song continued well beyond the '60s. "96
Tears" became a widely covered standard, numbering Aretha Franklin, Jimmy
Ruffin, Garland Jeffreys, the Music Explosion, Joe "King" Carrasco, Big
Maybelle, the Residents and Primal Scream among its many interpreters. It
was especially popular in the wake of the mid-'70s punk revolution.
And the Mysterians continued to resurface in one form or another, always
fronted by their enigmatic leader ?, who responds only to the name "Question
Mark," who won't reveal his true identity and who has reportedly never been
photographed without his trademark shades.
Currently, ? is leading the re-grouped original Mysterians on a tour to
support a new LP of re-recorded band classics entitled "Question Mark and
the Mysterians." I recently phoned the reclusive Mr. ? at his home in Clio,
Mich. (where the Mysterians originally formed) to discuss the mystique that
surrounds the band and the seemingly eternal "96 Tears. "
The following was culled from ?'s wildly digressive, rapid fire,
Q--Why did you adopt a question mark as your name?
A--I've never really wanted to open up to the public, and I've never told
my story until recently. Before that, I never publicly said anything about
myself other than that my favorite color was orange.
Q--What was special about the Mysterians when you first appeared in 1966?
A--We were for real. We dressed the way we felt. If I felt like having
my shirt tails hanging out, then my shirt was hanging out. I didn't want
suits. I didn't want ties. The record company made us do that a couple
times, but I hated it. When we first came out, we were for real, and our
sound was for real.
Q--Weren't The Beatles and the Rolling Stones real?
A--The Beatles weren't real. They were emulating the sounds of American
music. They were into that black leather and wavy black hair look. The
Stones have said that they played the bad guys opposite the Beatles good
guys image. So, without the Beatles, you couldn't have had the Stones. We
were an American group playing our music. We weren't emulating anyone.
Q--Why do you think that "96 Tears" was such a big hit in 1966? What
was special about it?
A--It was the attitude of the lyrics. Motown was big then, but it was
all lovey-dovey. I loved the Supremes. They were a really good rock 'n' roll
group. But everything was so lovey-dovey back then. I said no, no, no.
There's got to be more attitude in rock 'n' roll. You've got to show what
life is all about. You shouldn't try to cover it up.
Q--The song also had a real distinctive sound, that droning organ, the
menacing beat. Where did all that come from?
A--I was raised a Catholic, so I was used to going to church and hearing
that solemn organ. Then, after attending church, I'd go to the ice cream
parlor, which was right next door to a Baptist church where they'd be
hitting a tambourine, wailing and clapping their hands. And I always loved
the big sound of movie soundtracks like "Gone with the Wind." If you combine
those three elements, you don't need much more.
Q--Why do you think so many people have covered "96 Tears"? What is it
about that song that resonates with so many different artists?
A--I don't explain my songs. People should take the song the way they
want to take it. When a roomful of people hear a song, they'll all come up
with different interpretations of it. Once you explain what a song is all
about, you limit it. It becomes the artist's song rather than the
listeners'. That spoils the whole thing.
Q--Are there any versions of the song that you think are especially good,
or not so good?
A--Thelma Houston covered it in 1981, and the music she used in the
background sounded like that disco song "'Funky Town." I've heard most of
the different versions of "96 Tears, " and I liked Aretha's. And I liked
Big Maybelle's. But I didn't like Thelma Houston's interpretation. "Funky
Town"? My goodness.
Q--There were a lot of covers of "96 Tears" during and right after the
punk era. Do you think the song qualifies as a punk anthem?
A--I don't know. Remember Wendy O. Williams (lead singer of the Plasmatics)?
Is that what rock 'n' roll is all about? Bringing an old vehicle on stage
and destroying it just so you can get attention and be successful? Come
on. I'm not breaking old cars. I'm writing good rock 'n' roll music. That's
Q--Some artists who are associated with one signature song come to view
it as a curse. Others see it as a blessing. Has "96 Tears" been a curse or
a blessing for you?
A--It was a blessing for us because everybody knows that song. People
from all kinds of different music know it. In the '60s, when you listened
to AM radio, you heard rock 'n' roll but you also heard Johnny Cash, John
Denver, the Singing Nun, whoever. So when our song became a hit, people who
liked country and blues and whatever also heard it. It reached a lot of
people. If it came out today, only people who listened to that kind of rock
'n' roll would know it. So back then, being a one hit wonder wasn't so bad.
A lot of people heard your music. Also, if we had been successful with a
lot more No. 1 hits, I sometimes wonder if I would have gone the way of Jimi
Hendrix or Janis Joplin.
Q--What's the legacy of ? and the Mysterians?
A--Write this down. ? and the Mysterians are the world's greatest garage
band. They have an attitude, and they're ready to rock and roll!"
Q--Anything else you want to add?
A--"Yeah. I was a symbol long before Prince!"
LOAD-DATE: October 26, 1997
The New York Times October 23, 1997, Thursday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section E; Page 3; Column 1; The Arts/Cultural Desk
LENGTH: 918 words
HEADLINE: The Pop Life; 96 Tears? Still Flowing
DATELINE: Neil Strauss
"Tell Tom Hanks to get a hold of me and I'll give him a really good story
about an American rock-and-roll group that had a No. 1 hit when nobody
believed in them," said ? (pronounced Question Mark), the leader of ? and
the Mysterians, a band that in 1966 had an even bigger hit than the
fictitious group in the Tom Hanks movie "That Thing You Do." It was called
"96 Tears, " and not only is it still played on the radio today but it is
also an important precursor of punk rock, a garage-rock classic and an
oft-cited example of the use of Farfisa organ in rock.
"People always say that song was a one-hit wonder," continued ? (formerly
Rudy Martinez), speaking by telephone from his home in Michigan. "I think
it was more than one hit. How many bands are still going to be around after
31 years, with all their original members?"
On Saturday night, ? and the Mysterians are to perform in New York for
the first time in 12 years as part of Cavestomp, a festival of garage-rock
bands on Friday and Saturday nights at Coney Island High. The band has also
just released an album of remakes of their old songs called "96 Tears"
"After '96 Tears,' rock-and-roll died," ? claimed. "Hendrix and everyone
were great musicians, but they weren't playing rock-and-roll. They called
? has always been one of music's more obscure eccentric figures. For
most of his childhood and adolescence, he wanted nothing more than to be a
dancer on "American Bandstand." But in 1964, he began working with musicians
to see if they could play the songs he was hearing in his head. Two years
later, he signed to the label Cameo because its singles were his favorite
color (orange). Soon the band's first single was the biggest song in the
country, and ? was a temporary star, a skinny, leather-clad Mexican-American
who, even to this day, supposedly never removes his sunglasses and who beat
Prince to the punch in changing his name to a symbol.
"At first the press said I was a gimmick," he said. "But how can I be?
I'm a real person. I was born on Mars many eons ago. I was around when
dinosaurs were around. I've always had dreams of T-Rex chasing me, and he
got me. Since then I've lived many different lives. When I return in
another life form, I may be a tennis player or a basketball player because
I'm very athletic."
? isn't joking around. He claims he has ESP and often receives messages
about the past, present and future in his head. Like the jazz band leader
Sun Ra, he can philosophize for hours about his extraterrestrial origins
and man's problems on earth. While the rest of the world is planning how to
celebrate the year 2000, ? is thinking even further ahead. "I myself am
going to come back in the year 10,000, and I'm going to be singing ' 96
Tears, ' " he said. "And people will know it's me in this other body because
I will say a unique phrase that no one in history has said before. But for
right now I'm just going to rock-and-roll."
The New York Times October 24, 1997, Friday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section E; Part 1; Page 27; Column 1; Movies, Performing
LENGTH: 3035 words
HEADLINE: Pop and Jazz Guide
Here is a selective listing by critics of The Times of new or noteworthy
pop and jazz concerts in New York City this weekend. * denotes a highly
* CAVE STOMP '97 at Coney Island High, 15 St. Marks Place, East Village,
(212) 674-7959. Back before rockers took themselves seriously, they got
together to bash out simple riffs and yell their frustrations away. A
two-night extravaganza brings together some original 1960's garage bands
and their proud, rowdy heirs. Tonight, the headliners are the Shadows of
Knight (whose hit was a raucous version of "Gloria"), on a bill that also
includes the Smithereens, the Swingin' Neckbreakers and the Fuzztones;
tomorrow night, the Mysterians will perform the immortal organ riff of "96
Tears, " on a bill with the Lyres, the Chesterfield Kings and the Nomads.
Admission is $15 for each night or $25 for both nights; purchase must be
made in advance (Pareles).
The Columbus Dispatch October 21, 1997, Tuesday
SECTION: FEATURES ACCENT & ENTERTAINMENT , Pg. 8E
LENGTH: 233 words
Hispanic magazine (www.hisp.com) has plenty of links to back issues,
recent stories and related sites.
Want to know what Erik Estrada and Sam the Sham have been up to lately?
Check the "Where Are They Now?" article.
One of the musical acts mentioned in that article, the band ? and the
Mysterians, has a site (www.96tears. com) named after its big 1960s hit.
Browsers can learn more about ? and order the new album (available Oct.
29) featuring 96 Tears.
-- Compiled by Gary Budzak
© 1997 Peter Langston