Posted June 2020
Nine years ago next month, I interviewed one of the voices who commanded a significant chunk of the soundtrack of my youth: Mark Farner, formerly of the iconic classic rock band, Grand Funk Railroad. During that chat, Mark was straightforward and didn’t mince any words when it came to speaking his mind whether it was with his relationships or his view of the world.
When the opportunity recently presented itself to chat with Mr. Farner again, I jumped at the chance and knew that it was going to be another candid (to say the least) conversation. In the last chat, Mark spoke extensively about the care he and his wife, Lesia, gave to their son, Jessie, who was totally paralyzed from an accident. Since that conversation, Jessie, sadly, passed away. As our conversation began, I started off by expressing my belated condolences on their loss.
“I thank you for saying that, Brother Randy. And you know, he's whole now. This is the only way we can really, in this earthly present tense, you know . . . what we are right now in this bone suit. . . because when you lose your child, it's like you have that big hole and it's. . . I heard it described very well as being "love with no place to go." And that's what it is. You love them but you can't show them. But we know he is whole. Now he is back where he came from.”
It was at this point that Mark shared a jaw-dropping story.
“I visited him when I had my pacemaker put in. I died, I left and I fought coming back, man. I come back into my bone suit kicking and screaming, five years ago. It was I think it was 2015 October 23. And my wife and I were at the Renaissance Center. We stayed down in Detroit; went down and did some PR, did some radio stuff. We got up in the morning and Lisa was in the bathroom washing her face and getting herself ready to go. She said when she stepped around the corner to check on me, that my arm had shot up in the air and my body was convulsing and going through some really weird stuff.”
“She got the paramedics and she called the front desk, they got the paramedics and they got me over to Harper in Detroit. I died on the emergency room table because they had me hooked to an external pacemaker and they hit me with so much voltage, it was like they plugged me straight into the wall. That's what it felt like. It hurt. Oh my god, it hurt. I died. I went right on into heaven. I was. . . I knew all things. I even, in that state of being, I even had the resolve of knowing what the purpose of these Earth years was all about. I didn't bring that back with me. However, when I did come back into this bone suit, I don't know if I got fit back into it quite the way I was when I left because now I can play slide guitar. I never touched the slide before. And one day here just a couple years ago, I slid a little bottle thing on my finger - it was like a medicine bottle - and I started playing it by just putting it on my little finger and I was making chords and still had that little medicine bottle on there and playing it with my pinky. And I'm going, ‘Where did this come from?’ I'm looking at it, I'm thinking, ‘Wow! I got it. I can play slide.’ I never played it before. Kinda crazy.”
Perhaps channeling some Johnny Winter?
“Yeah. I'm telling you, I don't know, but, back when we were doing Guitar Gods it was like. . . What's his name? The Canadian guitar player? Drinkin' Whiskey, Smoking Cocaine, or something like that? He took his own life. Ronnie Montrose . . . Ronnie really got the slide down just before he left his body. He was playing some slide, man. Really playing and I was admiring it. So, being that he's already checked out, maybe I got a little Montrose. . .
I knew that Mark was on a Montrose album that was released after he passed so I asked if Farner and Ronnie were close.
“We were when we were doing that tour. We were just like brothers. It was just like he knew me. I knew him. And we were cut from the same cloth. But I had no idea of his troubles. And, God rest his soul, he was a great man; a great musician. So, that's what I remember about him - my friend.”
Since we were in the midst of the pandemic when Mark and I talked, I asked him how it was affecting him and his.
“The "scam-demic" has been talked about quite a bit on public radio here in the state. And Governor ‘Witchmer’ has really kind of just popped up there and she's a talking head. But this is not coming from her. All these directives are coming from who she serves. This is not that woman. I keep that in my mind so I can't, like, bash her or anything. I just give her little jabs now and then because, you know, she didn't clear what she proclaimed as this. . . the lockdown. She didn't clear that with the senate here in the state. In order for it to be official, the Senate has to approve it. They shot it down, and she did it anyway. So, I don't give her any kind of cooperation, okay? I'm unlocked. Yeah, I did do one of those GoFundMes as Mark Farner's, mid-Michigan Flood Relief. You know, and I'm doing whatever we can do to help our brothers and sisters in the state here. But it's really, this thing, this lockdown, Brother Randy, it has messed with us. It has really messed with us. People are kind of . . . they've got cabin fever and their husbands and wives are fighting each other. I mean, crazy stuff going on. Crazy stuff.”
Our conversation switched from the pandemic to his 50th Anniversary in music. I asked him What thought 51 years ago when he was recording Grand Funk Railroad’s landmark hits, putting it out there, and performing it. Did he think it would have the kind of legs after all these years?
“Well, you know, as a songwriter, every song that you write - to you - is a hit. I mean, why the hell are you writing it if it's not a hit, ya know? So, in our mind, songwriters, we write hits. We think they're hits, you know, or we wouldn't believe in them enough to finish them. But, this whole process of the deregulation, you know . . . and the FCC, back in 1995, gave the ownership of all our - well, not all, but nearly all of our - terrestrial radio stations to the corporate conglomerates who control the playlists and who control the news, the fake news. It makes sure that the people are getting the narrative that they want to jam in their heads, in every open orifice on 'em, you know, to keep this myth going.
“But the music back when I was writing, you know, it was played on the radio, which was controlled by local families. There were patriots - grandfathers and grandmothers; moms and dads - people with a moral conscience over what our children were seeing and hearing. And until 1995, we had that safeguard, but that safeguard was removed under the deregulation of the FCC. Prior to the deregulation, you get on seven AM, seven FM, seven television stations, and you were limited to that ownership of seven to prevent a monopoly.
“Well, when they deregulated, guess what? Duh. We got monopolies. Holy crap! We don't have any influence on the people in radio anymore - terrestrial radio or satellite radio. I mean, you might find something that kind of sounds almost like it's friendly and real, but most of it just sounds plastic and fake. Just think of the minds it's coming from. The creative process has kind of stagnated. It's stalled out when the ownership switched hands from the people to the corporate conglomerates and the ones who fund the world and the countries of this world. Those families, they are controlling it all, those families. But the music, I hear some really good stuff, you know, people pass to me. Today, people are still writing it. You'll not hear it on the terrestrial stations. You might hear it on a YouTube channel or something or somebody sent you a link to. . . they were out in the club, you know, and videoed this song and it was killer. It certainly isn't in ‘lamestream’."
I was curious about what Farner was hearing from fans and the crowds now when he goes out and performs after all these years?
“Well, there's a lot of veterans that come to my shows and I always, when we play it live, it always goes out to our troops and to our veterans. We also put in kudos to our first responders, to our police and fire department, to the EMTs. It's something that everybody is concerned about. You're just so eat up with everything else that life is throwing at you. You kinda gotta sort it out and say, ‘Well, what am I gonna spend my time on that's gonna be meaningful and do something, mean something when you're finished doing it?’
What is Mark seeing in his crowds demographically?
“A lot of the fans bring their children. The older fans bring their kids, bring their moms and dads. I had - I think he's one of the oldest World War II veterans left alive - 94 years old - last year when he came to the show at the casino. His son brought him - a veteran - and I just, when I see people like that, my heart goes out, my love goes out to them. And the thing, for me, the exciting part is, his son brought him because he thought enough of my music to bring his dad to an experience, a Mark Farner's American Band show. That speaks volumes about. . . the young people that are showing up. I'm telling you, teenagers that are rocking with me, and especially when we do South America, oh my gosh! They come out by the thousands; the young people fill the places up and they rock American-style. They love me down there because I am who my songs say I am.”
With the pandemic affecting tours and live entertainment, I asked Mark if he had further plans to mark the 50th anniversary of any of his other Grand Funk Railroad work.
“Well, if I'm ever involved with anything like that. . . of course, I'm left out of all of the GFR decisions, corporate and everything, even though I wrote 92% of the music, that those guys are. . . Can I say shamming? Seriously? How can they say that they're Grand Funk without the guy that wrote and sang 92% of the stuff? It's just integrity, and there ain't much in this world anymore, brother. Seriously.
“The truth is, Don Brewer came to me after we had finished constructing the song in the studio. And I, I told them, I said, ‘You know, this song needs a cowbell.’ He didn't own a cowbell. I said, ‘It really needs a cowbell.’ He says, ‘I'll just hit the bell on my cymbal.’ I said, ‘No, dude, you need to get a cowbell, a real cowbell.’ And he says, ‘I'll pick one up tomorrow on my way to rehearsal.’ I said, ‘No, pick up six of them and let's pick the best sounding one for this song. We got to get something that's close to being in tune.’ It was like, man, that that cowbell fit that song so well. In fact, it was voted number two in Rolling Stone out of the top 10 cowbell songs. It's number two, only to be superseded by Honky Tonk Women.
“Yeah, but I forced that little cowbell thing. And I taught Brewer the drum lick that opens that record. He wasn't hearing it and I'm saying, ‘No, you got to kick it with the bass drum.’ The double kick is on the bass drum. And he finally he says, ‘Man, I can't do that.’ I said, ‘You can do that! Yeah, you can, man, are you kidding me? If anybody can do it, you can do it.’ And he finally did it. And . . .all the harmony stuff, all the guitar stuff . . . But he came to me after we were done with that session, Randy, and he says, ‘Mark, I've never had 100% right credit on any song. Do you mind if I take it on this one?’ I said, ‘Go ahead, Donnie,’ because, you know what? I'm a nice guy, and I'm not going to be. . . I'm not going to stop being a nice guy because I get screwed over. Jesus didn't stop being nice. And you know, he's just got to hang on to what you believe in and people try and steal it from you and try and discourage you from hanging on to it. But you just got to hold on through all things.”
The last time Mark and I spoke, he spoke at length about the relationship with the band. With what he just said, I said that I took it that things really haven’t changed much over the last nine years.
“No. In fact, they took me to court. They sued me over Mark Farner's American Band. They wanted me to stop using it and I had already applied for and received a trademark. That's my trademark. And it's obtained legally, through an attorney, my music attorney in LA. They got their asses handed to them, actually, in the courtroom. All of this stuff that they've been kind of throwing at me over the last 20 years and all these threats - they're gonna cancel my shows and all this stuff - I changed my name to get away from that; to stop using the ‘formerly of Grand Funk Railroad’ because that's where they would get me every time because there's always an internet violation and it was always a third party. It wasn't the party who read the contract and knew the contract and read the rider to the contract. It's some person at a radio station or someplace that they're making up an ad for this and they're just putting on what they want to put on. So that's how all the violations happened. Over the years, that stuff has just been going and coming and coming.
“Well, finally, that was turned around with this decision in federal court and they got beat. They were shot down. Everything they tried to do to me or put on me was shot down by the judge. It was just a no-win for them. And it kind of knocked the wind out of their sails there, which they need. They really needed that because I'm not going to lay back and take this anymore. This is just abuse. Why? Life is too short. Why people have to do things that are retaliatory and they burst in anger . . . and why all that debt has to be put on someone? I don't know if it's because they're hurting so bad that they think hurting someone else is going to relieve that pain in some way. I couldn't tell you, brother. But I am not a psychiatrist. Something in the milk ain't cream. . .”
I’m not naming any names but other groups besides Grand Funk Railroad have also experienced similar kinds of dissension. I asked Mark why he thought that was.
“Well, like I said, when the ownership of the terrestrial stations changed hands and all that stuff started, the people lost their influence. So, we are suffering from that corporate mindset that doesn't fit the family. It really does not fit a family structure. But people are bamboozled - they really are - with. . . fake news. People buy that, Brother Randy; they buy into it. And if they buy into a lie, what does that do for their credibility when they're speaking to someone else? And what if there's a bunch of them? This whole thing of the two parties and the hatefulness that's back and forth - that would have never occurred if the deregulation of the FCC wouldn't have occurred. If the families, the patriot families, still owned our terrestrial stations - television and radio - we wouldn't be under the pressure and this dark shadow of debt and indebtedness to an invisible monster. You know, that's all fairy tale crap, man. Jesus is bigger than all of that. That's unconditional love and we are made of it.
“We've been convinced of all this other crap that enters our mind and we've had to adjust our thinking for the situation we've been thrown into. And all of a sudden, you're reacting and life takes over. You can't hardly get to your heart anymore unless you go into your prayer closet. And that's hard to get to with all the commotion and noise in the flesh going on, you know. That's where it's really started - back then when they deregulated. And now it's like we’ve got the mind of the monster that we are reacting to. And all these puppets like ‘Witchmer’ here in Michigan that are anti-American, anti-constitutional. . . Anybody that's anti-gun - just think of this - if you're anti-gun, you're anti-constitution. The Constitution says that that gun is necessary for the freedom of speech. It's necessary. And nothing's going to change that. No matter how they lie and try to say, ‘Oh no, it's not necessary. We'll protect you.’ Oh, my God, forget it.”
As Mark Farner fans already know, after he left GFR, he enjoyed a successful career in Contemporary Christian Music. I asked him if he planned to re-enter the genre with new music.
“No. I'm open to my heart, what's coming into my heart. I've got a completely different view of the church now that I've died and came back to life, I'm telling you. You just have a different take on life in general. And the debt-consciousness that prevails in society is changed. When you start going to a church, all you do is you take on the church's debt consciousness. It changes from the world to the church, but there's debt consciousness and it's contrary to the word and contrary to reason.
“When you say unconditional love, there's nothing that love can't accept, can't pure, you know, can't change. There's nothing because it all came from there. It's just those evil people who have been planning this New World Order horse crap. They control the wars; they control the issuance of currency to all these various countries, not just the United States. Debt of the Federal Reserve issued to Mexico, Canada, South Africa. They issue to India, Japan; they issue to so many countries because they jumped in there and bailed them out when they were down on the ropes. And this is how these "banksters" operate.
“But all the countries that they are issuing to will vote the same way they vote when they have that UN meeting and they say, ‘We're going to disarm all the countries.’ Everybody that's beholden to them is going to vote the same way they vote. And in 28 states here in the United States, there's like this big push to protect Israel, because now it's against the law to be critical of Israel. I mean, this is in 28 states and the President signed something to this effect. It wasn't the same thing that the states were signing but, why is that? It infuriates me because my mother's people, my grandmother's people, the Cherokee Nation should not be criticized. The Lakota Sioux should not be criticized. My Navajo brothers and sisters should not be criticized. Do you hear me, Randy? There's a lot of people that deserve that status if we're going to give it to anybody. There's a lot of people in front of Israel that. . . as consideration as Americans - there is a lot more people here, and this has to stop. I see it as. . . it's kind of chicken crap. It's like, this is cowardice to tell me I can't criticize you? Forget you. I got a First Amendment. It's called the Constitution of the United States of America, and the freedom of speech and that's where I stand, brother.”
What’s on Farner’s radar for the next year or so?
“We're gonna release the 2017 video of Santiago. It's ‘From Chile with Love - Mark Farner's American Band’; and we're working on another video with. . . Did you see the "Can't Stop" video, the YouTube "Can't Stop" . . . the same producer and same people are getting together; they want me to put my head together with them and come up with another video. And that's going to be within the next couple of months here.”
With our chat wrapping up and still getting my head around his back-from-death story, I asked Mark how he hoped to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.
“Oh, yeah, you know, dying and coming back will definitely change your life around. Reprioritize. I want to be remembered as a farm boy with a big dream to save the world with a song and my guitar and go out there and spread love, peace; be used of the Great Spirit to make people smile and to bring light to the darkness. Because when I go to the prisons and play; when I go to the local jails and the drug rehabs and the juvenile detention centers and the prison camps that I've gone to, I'm taking the light. And, I'm telling you, it's not because I think I'm cool or anything, I think Jesus is cool. I mean, this light don't go out. This is the light we all come from, and it's real and it can't be put out. This is the rivers that flow from the throne, and that's what I want to be remembered as . . . that I'm a pusher of love, that I'm that guy on the street pushing love.”
Keep up on the latest with Mark Farner by visiting his website, MarkFarner.com.