You heard it hear first: Mark Mallman is the Mallwolf. He also screens his calls because, apparently, there is a Beckinsale-esque young lady packing a snub-nosed .38 loaded with garlic-tipped silver bullets lurking in the fog. Or just a superfan—but maybe that’s splitting hairs.
“I forgot it was Thursday,” he laughs, explaining sometimes fans get his number, otherwise he’d have answered City Weekly’s call. Just in case there is someone out there looking to rid the world of a shape-shifting, flesh-eating, howling piano man, it warrants mentioning that Mallman is cured. That is to say, he got over the common cold that morphed into lycanthropy.
“That’s something I did for a while,” Mallman confesses of his wolfen ways. “I got really sick one time, and I lost my voice. This was about five years ago. So I went out, and I bought werewolf mask, and I did the show that way ’cause my voice was [mimicking] all scratchy. Then I just kept on doing it, ’cause you know, it keeps it exciting.”
Now the admitted horror fan (“I’m fascinated with that; horror is my real passion”) only whips out the latex, spirit gum and dog hair headwear for special occasions—benefits instead of, say, cyclical lunar occurrences—playing classic-rock covers for a good cause. As for excitement, he’s pretty good at making his own.
Although he’s a piano man, a term that shrieks either milquetoast or Billy Joel (who ceased to be even sorta cool when he started that fuckin’ fire), Mallman is very much a rocker, purveying high-concept ’70s piano-man classic rock with the high-toned hunger of a werewolf, the passion of a vampire and the unrequited—even if he could articulate it—love of Frankenstein’s monster. And the sum total of that Universal Legacy monster orgy is evil genius.
From the first two songs (“Death Wish” and “Tell Me How a Man Gets Close to You”) of his fifth album Between the Devil and Middle C (Badman), the Tin Pan Alley-meets-Madison Square Garden melodies and triumphant arrangements seize your attention like Bela Lugosi’s gaze. Mallman’s prisoners, we’re jacked into his sinister 88-key instrument of death-by-music. He holds us rapt with his unironic, workaday themes, like we’re all Mary Tyler Moores who are gonna make it after all. Indeed, this is the sound of an average Joe’s big dreams—inspiring, exhilarating, crammed with all the false hope and resignation one needs to keep getting up in the morning. Yet, this is eeeeee-ville: it gets better (or worse).
The songs are sheer drama, phantoms of the rock opera, which those averse to showy tunes can read as “death.” But if you’ve ever loved Meat Loaf (or Queen or Billy Joel or David Bowie), you’ll gladly ride a bat straight up the devil’s middle C just to hear Mallman play one more song—because they’re exciting.
Sometimes that’s not enough for Mallman. Although horror is his true love, and music has just been “something I’ve done since … I was 3,” his behavior betrays a porphyrian craving to play. He’s good for an album a year—a once-reliable schedule to which most bands and artists adhere—and he overcame a bouquet of mental illnesses (including dysthymic disorder, a form of depression that inhibits or blocks the ability to feel pleasure) in order to play longer tours—not to mention longer shows. “Regular” ones reportedly stretch two to three hours. His “marathons”—two concerts in his Minneapolis hometown that lasted 26.2 and 52.4 hours, respectively—nearly got him into the Guinness Book of World Records (or would have, if it hadn’t been for semantic quibbling).
“Music is just kind of my being,” he maintains. “It [feels natural] for me to think about monsters because I’ve gone through so much wrestling psychological things. It’s almost like, to not be a monster, to be just happy, would be really cool.”
In that way, Mallman is a classic monster. He didn’t choose to be a creature of the (figurative) night; he just is. He fights it by day and flaunts it after hours, when he’s playing—or riding or standing upon—his electric piano and singing about struggle. Music is one way he keeps the beast within at bay; he self-medicates by tapping into his inner goodness and writing all those good songs.
“Really, for me, it’s just like a vision quest. Like, can I ever write that amazing tune? I’m always trying to do better and better and better.”
The day he gets it right is the day he’s really cured.
“I think once I do write that tune, there’s no real point to continue. I’ll just move on and do something else. This music thing is my life, it’s my reason to live, but at the same time, if I stopped tomorrow I’d find something else to do. If I do write that amazing song, fuck it. Even if nobody ever hears it, I’m done.”
MARK MALLMAN Burt’s Tiki Lounge, 726 S. State, Tuesday Aug. 14, 10 p.m. 521-0572