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An interview with Question Mark

By James Porter

DECEMBER 28, 1998:  "You can recognize so many singers when they do the same thing over and over," opines Question Mark, the Detroit garage-rock pioneer. "It's boring. They take a break for five years, and then they come back and do a new album, and it's still the same." So, with this in mind, why was Question Mark & the Mysterians' fourth album in thirty-one years full of remade songs? All of their classic Cameo label recordings, including the hit "96 Tears," are now owned by rock bigwig Allen Klein, who is endlessly milking the Rolling Stones' catalog; he refuses to license or reissue any of the seminal songs of the Mysterians, or those of any other bands in his stable. Notice that Question Mark was conspicuously absent from the recently-released "Nuggets" garage-rock box set? Now you know why.

But this Mysterians comeback is not a temporary deal. In the past year we've been blessed with the remakes (nice, but there ain't nothing like the real thing), a scorching live album ("Do You Feel It Baby?"), and a new seven-inch single, "Sally Go Round the Roses," b/w "It's Not Easy" (Norton Records).

It's no accident that Rudy Martinez chose to call himself Question Mark. To this day, he won't disclose the meaning of his songs, and he dodges most questions because he's saving the answers for his long-rumored book. Even his own bandmates - still the original members, by the way - claim they haven't seen him without his sunglasses in years. "I work very hard to be original as much as I can," he says; it's a practice he takes as far as asking the band's members if their riffs are original. "Because if it isn't, don't lie to me."

Question Mark & the Mysterians' first album, "96 Tears" (Cameo), was released in 1966 and contained mostly originals at a time when many bands filled their LPs with remakes of other people's songs. However, when the record label forced them to repeat the "Tears" organ riff on a non-original ("Can't Get Enough of You, Baby"), they knew the end was near. Contemporary audiences aren't that ignorant - when the band played the Empty Bottle last year, they were viewed as important punk progenitors and not as a tired oldies act with only one good song. And that's the truth.


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