by Rick Dumont
Chris Mascara is a
real man of genius when it comes to the arts. He’s a student of the
psychology of music, a writer of deeply introspective themed rhythmic
tapestries, an amazingly talented actor and, oh yeah, he’s also a
very accomplished musician and singer.
It is that music, complied
into a new album, Fountain
of Tears, that will be released
in January with a celebratory show at the Middle East upstairs on the
“It’s a nice combination
of my back catalog and new,” Mascara said during a recent interview.
“But there’s no
way to spot what’s old or new,” chimed in bassist Bo Barringer,
who is also known throughout the scene for his creative mastery with
the Me & Joan Collins band.
For the last three
years the two, along with drummer Matt Graber, who also smashes the
hi-hat as a Self-Employed Assassin in Sarah Rabdau’s talented backing
gang, make up Mascara, are a power trio that immerses themselves into
the very core of the human psyche while softening and tearing open the
mind to enlighten and usher a whole new realm of thoughts into their
Fountain, it should be noted, got its title thanks
to Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet and playwright of provocative
and risky poems and plays, and also closeted homosexual who was executed
in 1936 in a place called Ainadamar, an Arabic word meaning fountain
of tears. Ainadamar is also a song on the album.
“I’m deeply moved
by iconoclastic, trailblazing tragic artists from the past,” Mascara
said. The entire album is a series of vignettes and homages to many
artists whose lives were tragically cut short and other stories that
simply tell tales of disturbed humans. Like the tragic life of singer
Jackie Wilson, known by many as “Mr. Excitement.” The song
“B261” is so named for the number on the grave marker that was once
Wilson’s only symbol noting where he was laid to rest after his death
in 1984. Wilson had lingered in a coma for nine years after suffering
a heart attack on stage performing in 1975. He died a relative pauper,
thus the grave marker, but Mascara said in the years following his death
a proper headstone was erected by fans and music people. Wilson
was a pioneer and would call himself the “black Elvis Presley,”
while Presley would refer to himself as the “white Jackie Wilson,”
In order to bring the
messages and stories to life, Mascara needed some musicians to help.
Three years ago he found them. They had been friends for nearly a decade
having played together and shared stages along the way, including a
stint where both Graber and Mascara sat in with Barringer’s Joan Collins
band for a bit a few years back. But it was ostensibly Graber’s return
from a two-year life excursion in Tel Aviv that brought him into the
fold and completed the triangle.
“I am blessed to
have both these guys playing with me,” Mascara said. “They’re
my editorial board.”
Mascara writes his
songs like others might keep a journal. They are expressions of his
feelings, experiences and analysis of what it is to be human, a “daydream
journal” if you will.
He brings the material
to the guys and they “gang banged it,” arranged it into what ultimately
wound up on the album. “There’s a great synergy between the three
of us that is just beautiful,” Mascara said.
got a good thing going,” Graber said when it comes to playing off
each other in the creation of the music.
Part sensitive deeply
philosophical romantic, part bluesman, part punk rocker and part madman,
Mascara’s writings depict an insight that comes out unlike many of
his contemporaries like is heard on the album’s opener “Dragonflies.”
In it Mascara pays homage to one of his dear friends, Mary Anne.
“I have tender feelings
for this person,” Mascara said. “And I wanted to delve into a deeper
plan” to fully explore and express those feelings for her.
Combined with that
sensitivity is the backdrop of sound that is far larger, thicker, and
more articulate than what might seem possible from a three-piece band.
Also on the album is
a song that evolved from Mascara’s very deep and personal struggle
with bipolarism several years ago. “Listerine” is a metaphor for
what substances many who share in that battle use to try and take the
edge off the madness that roils within the mind.
In the song he faces
his scars, his demons peering deep into the abyss and exposing himself
and the experience for all to sense. Anyone who has ever dealt with
the illness will certainly hear the pain and anguish within the heartfelt
Musically, the band
added touches of dissonance to “create additional tension,” Mascara
said. “It’s the appropriate backdrop.”
Mascara nearly lost
it all when preparing for a role onstage as Christ in the Tuft’s University
production of Jesus Christ
Superstar in the mid ’90s.
He described basically torturing himself by not eating or sleeping,
among other things until he wound up at McLean Hospital for a month,
which also happened to be the place where another of his heroes, Sylvia
Plath received treatment.
“I really wanted
to become Jesus Christ,” Mascara said. Instead of being able to perform
the role, Mascara’s breakdown forced him to miss out, but he did face
the demon and began treatment. But he the opportunity to “be” Christ
resurrected itself in 2000 when Boston Rock Opera’s traditional Christ,
Gary Cherone, decided he wanted to play Judas instead.
“An amazing dream
realized,” Mascara said of the fortuitous occurrence.
Though he doesn’t
want to be thought of as someone who suffers, that was so 15 years ago,
Mascara doesn’t shy away from pouring out his feelings in song or
on stage forcing the listener to feel and understand the mind.
“If you confuse people’s
expectation it will trigger more synapses to pop in a listener’s head,”
Another of the songs,
“High School” is based upon Mascara’s perceptions of his real
father’s life growing up in Brooklyn. Mascara was adopted and wrote
a song that is as powerful and dark as life on the streets of the Big
Apple can be in reality, yet used a minimalist mindset and still paint
a vivid word picture.
The song is short,
or at least was until Barringer got hold of it. “He wanted to add
a “Day in the Life” style of ending,” Mascara said. So what was
once a two minute blast of the mind expanded and morphed into a seven
minute gurgling primal scream for understanding, thanks to Barringer’s
idea for a near never ending cacophony of reverb and Tesla-like static
extending out into the blackness of space.
But unlike the Beatles’
coda to “Day in the Life,” the guys urged Mascara to free form over
the manic sound. For effect, Mascara said he chugged a quart of milk
to get that “guttural thing going on” and went off, improving a
series of poetic and maddening bursts of mental anguish that the Effervescing
Elephant Syd Barrett would have enjoyed. “Once we got started tracking
it, it turned into molten lava,” Mascara said.
Creatively the guys
are just getting started to truly tap the resources of Mascara’s mind
and their own inner musical madness together. They will continue to
play in their other incarnations, including Mascara’s appearances
with Ad Frank & the Fast Easy Women, where he plays keys alongside
Will one day the three
play a show bringing together the extended family of artists intertwined
into one pulsating, sensuous, and ripping glory? Only time will tell.