Sunday, April 27, 2014

Change Your Evil Ways: Mark Farner Rocking for God and Against Injustice

In the long annals of rock and roll, no one stood larger in the hearts and minds of teenagers than Grand Funk Railroad in the late 1960 and early 1970s. Led by drummer Donny Brewer and guitarist Mark Farner, they set the standard for hedonism by which all following rockers are to be judged. The lyrics to their seminal hit “We’re an American Band” are a prime example of the hijinks they were up to in the 70s:
Four young chiquitas in Omaha | Waitin' for the band to return from the show | Feelin' good, feelin' right, it's Saturday night | The hotel detective, he was outta sight | Now these fine ladies, they had a plan | They was out to meet the boys in the band | They said, “Come on dudes, let's get it on” | And we proceeded to tear that hotel down
Grand Funk Railroad peaked out about 1976 and Farner and Brewer and the other members of the band went their separate ways. Farner tried his hand at a solo career without much success or acclaim. Brewer and the other Funkers remained together and released one album under the name Flint, an ode to their hometown, which went mostly unnoticed. Farrner, Brewer and Grand Funk reunited in the early 1980s and were included on the soundtrack to and in the 1981 full-length animated sci-fi movie Heavy Metal. After that, the band remained moribund until 1996.

In the meantime, Mark Farner underwent a spiritual awakening and became a born-again Christian. He reemerged on the musical scene in 1988 with his Christian-oriented rock album “Just Another Injustice.” I saw him on tour that year in support of this album, but unfortunately, he was unable to play the worldly “We’re an American Band,” although he did go through the repertoire of other Grand Funk hits that night in Long Beach at the Bogart’s nightclub.

Even while wearing his faith literally on his crucifix-encrusted armband, Farner does not come off as overly preachy on an album that has an admittedly niche audience. To show he was still capable of rocking it up Farner’s album opens up with “Airborne Ranger” and a set of double-meaning lyrics that can be taken either for a patriotic serve-your-country anthem or a faithful call to action against “the darkness all around you” Actually, the double meaning is not that cloaked, but it’s an enjoyable song to blast with the four windows down and blowing the doors off some lucre-loving snob in his new BMW. His solos are more restrained than in the 70s on FM heavy rotation album cuts such as “Shinin’ On” but he gets in his hot licks.

Perhaps a better cut is the pure blues jam “Judgement Day Blues.” Farner really blasts the materialistic culture of the late 80s as suffering from a “vast epidemic” of people breakin’ all the lord’s rules. A great day is a comin’, and Farner proceeds to explain it on his axe, sinfully soloing over the slow beat backed up at the bottom end by some funky bass playin’.

It’s probably just serendipity, but a track that still really speaks to me is “The Writing on The Wall” about a world full of lies, confusion and illusion. If the country was in a spate of moral crisis in the 1980s, what about today? Farner warns us not to watch it slip away again. If only we would or could learn from the examples of past generations. Every generation faces its own temptations—ours is no different from our predecessors. Hopefully, we’ll heed Mark’s warning and change our evil ways before the Day of Reckoning comes post-haste!

Whether you’re a believer or just a fan of overlooked rock albums from the past, “Just Another Injustice” is worth a look and a listen. If you’re a traditionalist, it’s available in limited quantities on Amazon, but if you tend to a more 21st century based solution iTunes and Spotify also seem to have at least the title track, if not the entire CD, online.

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener

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