ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 12, 1991
By Steve Newton
Usually when this scribbler prepares for an interview, he starts by listening to the artist’s tape or CD, perusing its liner notes, scanning a record company bio, and maybe reading some press clippings. But for a chat with former Grand Funk Railroad singer/guitarist Mark Farner, getting ready meant climbing up on a chair, retrieving the gold vinyl version of We’re an American Band from my record shelves, and tossing it on the dusty ol’ turntable. And guess what? The title track—that rockin’ homage to the bacchanalian excesses of rock ’n’ roll—still excites some 18 years later.
Unfortunately, that tune won’t be one Farner will play when he joins the Five Man Electrical Band, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Crowbar, War, Sugarloaf, and the Spencer Davis Group in the Rockstock classic rock show this Sunday (September 15) at the Plaza of Nations. Its glorification of the sinful life isn’t in keeping with his current God-fearing ideals.
“In 1983 I was born again,” explains Farner, on the line from his home in Petaski, Michigan. “I had made millions of dollars, so I had all kinds of financial security—lived on a 1,600-acre farm in Michigan and had another one up in Canada—but when my wife left me and the kids in 1983, I just found out how insecure I was. I was watchin’ my kids play in the living-room, and I was about halfway through a 12-pack, and I just recalled how my mother turned to alcohol after my dad died, and how the kids suffered as a result of it. And here I was, perpetuating the thing that I hated the most about that life!
“So, to make a long story short, bro, I got into this little church, and even with my long hair, my headband, my Hawaiian shirt, and faded jeans and sneakers, they loved me—these people really showed me the love of Christ. And I went forward that moment and re-dedicated my life, and said, ‘God, please, send my wife back to me.’ And that same afternoon, 50 miles away in another city where Lisa was livin’, she got saved. Two days later we got back together. And we’re gonna live happily ever after.”
While Farner’s current music—“God rock”, as he calls it—is Christian-oriented, it’s not necessarily Sunday-school material.
“It’s got a Christian message, but it’s not like any Christian rock that you’ve ever heard. This is funky, straight-forward, heavier rock stuff—and that’s what my last three solo albums have been. We do some of that in our show, but it’s still 70 percent Grand Funk.”
But no amount of coaxing from yours truly can persuade Farner to fall from grace for three-and-a-half minutes to pull off “We’re an American Band”, the band’s biggest hit.
“Like I said before, I don’t do that song, and it’s not specifically because of the lyrical content. Don Brewer [the original Grand Funk drummer] wrote that song, and I go out and do the things that I wrote.”