It all started with a series of phone calls that never seemed to arrive when I was actually in the office. I'd return from a brief constitutional on the New Times Executive Tanning Deck, step into the chilled comfort of my chambers--kept at a regulation 56 degrees Fahrenheit, in tandem with the average temperature in the Grotto of the Virgin at Lourdes--and approach the blinking answering machine. Turning to gaze into the roaring fire in the Italian marble hearth, a thoughtful fixture in all the New Times editorial suites, I'd let the messages play out.
And there it'd be again, a strange whisper heavily accented with a foreign tongue, telling me about a band named Curse of the Pink Hearse. I could make out the name Marco and vague references to rockabilly, all in the kind of mumble you associate with a 3 a.m. phone psycho.
Then, last week, in walked the owner of that voice. Six-feet-plus with a jet-black pompadour, blinding-blue jumpsuit (minus sleeves), the chutzpah of a professional wrestler and the sincerity of Albert Schweitzer, one Marco Polo.
And here is what I found out:
The man was born in Madrid, Spain, 26 years ago, got into rockabilly at age 15, moved to Mexico City for five years, then came to Phoenix to study dance therapy at ASU. He claims to be a pro at the mambo, rumba and cha-cha, worships Gene Vincent and James Brown and is an absolutely shameless self-promoter. And--most important--Polo seems genuinely to want to breathe new life into a tired and predictable music form.
This from his self-penned bio, which is about as hard to decipher but as intriguing as the Rosetta stone: "MARCO is a welcome and REFRSING change how plays music the way it should be . . . rough' raw and understands more avout entertaiment than all the TOP @ POPPIES put togeter." You can, by the way, find out if this makes any sense on Tuesday, when Curse opens for Grant and the Geezers at the Rhythm Room. Call 265-4842. But for now, here's Marco:
Screed: How'd you get the band name?
Marco: Okay. The first time I came to America, I bought a Cadillac hearse, 59. And I painted it fluorescent pink, and I said, "Okay, I'm going to call the band Curse of the Pink Hearse." The curse was, I got it, then it got repossessed, then I got it back again.
Screed: What makes your version of rockabilly different? Marco: I know everybody does rockabilly with country-style music in it, but what I want to do is try to mix it with Spanish Gypsy guitars and African rhythms, jungle rhythms and mambo, cha-cha-cha. A lot of people aren't ready for it yet, they're used to the more country rockabilly, so it's gonna take a while. . . . When I started, a lot of musicians were like, "Oh, man, I don't know about this, I like country," but now I found musicians, and we really connect. For five years, I've been developing a plan for this kind of music, and it's finally coming out.
Screed: Is there much of a rockabilly scene in Mexico City?
Marco: Oh, man, if I start a list, I won't even finish. They have a day--like Luther King day--they have a day for rockabilly. It starts in the morning and it lasts, like, three days. Pompadours, leather jackets, greasers, motorcycles, girls with pink dresses, pompadours everywhere, everywhere.
Screed: You aren't kidding with all this, are you?
Marco: No way, man. I never thought to make a living out of music, but what I'm doing right now, I take it so serious, because, like, so many of those rockabilly stars died in their 20s. It's, like, an incomplete story to me, what happened here. And as a dancer, I always loved the beat. When I first played this music, it changed my life, because I was always really hungry for music, was desperate for something, and I went to different rhythms, punk and all that, and I could never find it.
Screed: How does it affect you onstage?
Marco: Oh, man! I lose control. I'm like The Exorcist, you know what I mean? It's like when you take African rhythms and your body's just shaking, shaking, and that's how I do onstage; my body just loses control. And I scream a lot, and people sitting out there see that and they scream, and actually, it's great.
Screed: Given the fashion possibilities, do you think there're a lot of posers in rockabilly?
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Marco: Oh, man. A lot of people are into it for the look. I see guys with sideburns, cool pompadours, and I assume they're into rockabilly. We talk, and they say, "Well, I like Duran Duran." Shit . . .
Screed: Could rockabilly get big in Phoenix?
Marco: Oh, man, I have girls say, "Man, I never liked rockabilly until I came to see you dance." You can tell they're bored, they want something new. A lot of people go to see bands and it's too hard for them, they can't dance to them. I been seeing a lot of new rockabilly bands, and I get wild; I just go crazy. I like the jitterbug, the way they danced before they went to the war; they danced desperate, because they didn't know if they were coming back. So that's how I do it, because tomorrow I don't know what's going to happen. I've seen many bands trying to be like Gin Blossoms since they made it, but that's not the way to go for me. I'll make it official with you: We are the gonest.
@body:The hand of fate has taken another swipe at the Valley music scene, this time at Mark Wilmeth, drummer for Ernie's Rubber Duckie. Wilmeth was in a car accident on June 6, and suffered injuries that left him in a coma from which he has now awakened. "He's doing extraordinarily well, far better than was ever anticipated a week ago," his mother, Linda Wilmeth, told me. "He's awake, he's responding to those around him . . . he's alert, but not communicating a whole lot yet, because he's still attached to tubes that don't allow him to do much. All things considered, he's recovering." Benefit shows may be in the works. Those wishing to write Wilmeth may do so in care of the band at P.O. Box 25666, Tempe, AZ 85285. Zoning In: Fans of Mary McCann's The Studio Zone--prerecorded broadcasts of local musicians aired every Monday at 10 p.m. on KZON-FM 101.5--will be glad to know that as of Tuesday, they can witness the whole thing in person. Performances will be taped at the Rockin' Horse in Scottsdale on the third Tuesday of each month; the first two bands on the bill are Flathead and Rocket 88s. Whether they'll change the name to the Rockin' Horse Zone is anybody's guess. Call 949-0992 for info.