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‘96 Tears’ Singer Question Mark on Predicting 9/11 and Katrina, His Beef With Bob Dylan, and the So-Called Planet Mars

If Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” (as in “you’re gonna cry 96 tears … cry, cry, cry,”) isn’t the greatest two minutes and 57 seconds ever to emerge from a garage in Bay City, Michigan, please say what is. In the realm of one-hit wonder rock gristle the only competition is “Wild Thing,” but then again, the author of that tune, Chip Taylor, while being Angelina Jolie’s uncle, has never claimed to have a soul from Mars or to have walked with the dinosaurs, as Question Mark, whose pumping Farfisa organ enlivened many a 1966 dorm room, has. Still defiantly crazy after all these years (he claims to have foreseen the WTC disaster and cites the fact that one of the planes flew into the 96th floor as proof), "?" brings the current version of his Mysterians to Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park Bandshell on Saturday, as part of the Ponderosa Stomp’s Detroit Breakdown. Also performing will be the great Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, among others. Admission is free, which sounds like a really good deal. Mark Jacobson managed to contact the famous Mysterian in mid-orbit and returns with the following Q&A with "Q".

Is that the right way to call you Question Mark?
Uh-huh.

Okay.
For the moment. After that you can call me “Q.”

Q, huh? When we get to know each other better.
Well, yeah. It’s up to you. Well, my dad calls me Ques. My mother calls me Question Mark, naturally. My manager is the one who calls me Q, and then his brother calls me Q.T. It’s always been a thing: He’ll ask me if I have twin sisters and I say, “Yeah, they’re parentheses, left and right.” I don’t know if you know Connie from Chicago. Connie, she does a lot of people, their penises.

You mean sculptures of them?
Yeah. When we were playing there she came up to me and this was like, what, ’97, right? And naturally she wanted me to come to her studio and I said, “Uh-oh.” I said, “Well, it’s shaped like a question mark, you know? But when it gets excited, it’s an exclamation mark.” There were tons of kids around there, right? She says, “Oh, I’d like to have a plaster of your cock.” And I said, “Well, at the moment it’s shaped like a question mark.”

This is kind of a family website, my man.
Well, I’m just giving you information about how it is on the road.

The “Mysterians” — that’s from the Japanese movie, right?
Yeah, but see, I never wanted a name for the group because we’re for real. That’s the name of my book, Are You For Real? When you get into the music world, they want to fabricate you. In other words, people don’t never know who you are. They knew who we are. That’s why on the back of our first album, you didn’t see us smile. We didn’t wear suits and ties and all that kinds of stuff, because our songs have the edge, they have the attitude. And that’s what’s missing with a lot of people, whether they’re the Sex Pistols, Iggy, whether they’re Prince …

You like some of those people though, right?
Like I said, they try to be who they are and they’re not real. I tell it like it is.

You’ve heard of Kim Fowley?

Yeah, of course. Have you seen that new movie about the Runaways?
Yeah. In 1971, he wanted to make me the king of punk rock because he said, “They need a king.” And I said, “Okay, I can do it but I don’t like the Sex Pistols because they don’t know what punk rock is, they don’t know what garage rock is.” If you remember, they were taking the attitude and cussing, and that ain’t what it was about. Rolling Stone said I’m their template in 1998. I don’t care what it is, whether it’s soul music, whether it’s country music, whether it’s jazz. I can do all that stuff.

Is this because of your being born on Mars?
Well, that’s where my soul originated from.

Your soul originated from there?
Yeah. Many eons ago and I’ve lived many different lives, and by the way, I can back anything that I say. And I’ve always said “the so-called planet.”

“So-called planet”? What do you mean by that?
Who called it that? The Romans, after their god. Well, where’s that god at? Hello? Is he still there? We’d all like to meet him, right?

Well they’ve got other gods now, right?
Well, what I’m saying is that it was done out of stupidity at the time, not knowledge. So it’s time for us to correct all those things.

You think that we don’t know enough yet, or just aren’t listening to the right people?
Well, yeah. They got to listen to me. I have always told people that the planet is orange, hello? Okay, when the so-called planet Mars was closest to Earth in 2003, well in CNN and in the newspaper — I used to have my articles before they got burned in a fire — and they said “the orange planet.” Hello.

Well, it’s a red planet.
No, they quoted “the orange planet.”

Well how could they get that wrong? Were they color blind?
No, I’ve been telling people for a long time what it was.

Are you going to be at the concert?

Absolutely, man. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
When you hear me do “Stand by Me,” my version of it, right?

The old Ben E. King song?
Yeah, but when you hear this song — everybody says this should be our next single. But anyways, no. A year before Katrina, right? In fact, in 2004, when I did it for Ira [Padnos] down in Ponderosa [Stomp] at that time, I brought the music down, I changed the beat, 'cause I’m an entertainer and I want to dance to the song. To make a long story short, I brought the music down, I ain’t gonna tell you all about it, and the message that I gave — I always try to have a message — I said that when you find yourself in that situation, when I find myself in that situation, this is what’s going to happen. I’m just going to tell you — it happened, right? In 2005. Ira called me on Friday, 'cause they sent us a contract in March, and I hadn’t signed it. He says, “Aren’t you guys coming back? We’re all excited.” And I’m standing up in my old house, which got burnt, right? And I’m looking at the ceiling because I know something’s gonna happen, but I didn’t know exactly.

So you kind of had a feeling about Katrina before it happened?
Well, like I said, I don’t know the future and things like that, okay? So I can tell you things that happened a year later, and things like that. I knew that Columbine was going to happen three days before it happened.

Are you like a medium? Are you dreaming these things in your sleep?
No, I don’t dream them, they just come to me.

Did you predict the World Trade Center?
Oh, I knew about that.

You did?
In the year 1999 I saw the first plane hit the building. It passed the Empire State Building, right? And I said, “You better not hit my building.” 'Cause that’s my building. I could care less about the Trade Centers. And I said that in 1999. [Barking in the background.] That’s my dog. He doesn’t like it when I talk to people and don’t pay attention to him.

How many dogs do you have now?
We were donated a Yorkie, and now we’ve got four. Oh, guess what? On the History Channel, guess what floor it hit?

Which floor? 96th floor?
Yep. They even said it. Hello? They even said it.

Do you ever get tired of playing “96 Tears”?
No. Like Mick Jagger said, “When I turn 45 I don’t want to be doing ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Hello!

Of course he wants to be doing that. It’s his most famous song.
No, but he said that. People like that, they’re not for real. They never were. Like I said, I’ve been on the stage all my life as a dancer and entertainer. And Rolling Stone, what’s their No. 1 song? Hello? And ours is number 215. Somebody just told me that.

215th greatest song of all time?
Yeah.

That seems like a rook, man. You should’ve been higher than that.
Higher? It should be No. 1. What are you talking about?

Okay, I’m not gonna argue with you.
No, because I’ll tell you why. For one thing, there’s Bob Dylan, right? “Like a Rolling Stone,” that’s the No. 1 song. No. 2 is “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

You’ve got no bitch with Bob Dylan, do you?
I never did like him.

You never liked him.
No, I don’t like him, and I don’t understand why people put people on pedestals when they don’t even deserve to be there.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues,” baby.
Whatever. The goat was crossing the yard and all of a sudden the bell tower rang at nine, and I was tying my shoelaces, flashing these cards. All of a sudden there was a drunk guy throwing up in Minnesota. What does that have to do with rock and roll? Think about it.

All right man, I’ll do that.
He wrote some great songs, but other people did them great. He never did.

Photo: Tamara Mitchell