I only have one album by The Legendary Marvin Pontiac – but given his self-proclaimed “Legendary” status it is probably the right one to have: Greatest Hits. It kicks off with I’m A Doggy and from there the, er, “hits” (I’d never heard any of them before I bought the album) roll on. In fact someone uploaded a heap to YouTube in a playlist so click here to make your way through some samples.
This selection of songs takes in the subdued growl of John Lee Hooker’s late-career albums (like The Healer); that close-to-the-microphone, late-night whisper. Pontiac also has a way with a word that is reminiscent of Captain Beefheart (two of the memorable couplets from this collection are (“she loves ugly children/they run up and lick her face” and “my penis has a face/it screams at Germans”).
So who is, or was, this Marvin Pontiac?
Selections from the liner notes tell us that he:
was hit and killed by a bus in June 1977 ending the life of one of the most enigmatic geniuses of modern music. He was born in 1932, the son of an African father from Mali and a white Jewish mother from New Rochelle, New York. The father’s original last name was Toure but he changed it to Pontiac when the family moved to Detroit, believing it to be a conventional American name.
Marvin’s father left the family when Marvin was two years old. When his mother was institutionalized in 1936, the father returned and brought the young boy to Bamako, Mali where Marvin was raised until he was fifteen. The music that he heard there would influence him forever.
At fifteen Marvin moved by himself to Chicago where he became versed in playing blues harmonica. At the age of seventeen, Marvin was accused by the great Little Walter of copying his harmonica style. This accusation led to a fistfight outside of a small club on Maxwell Street. Losing a fight to the much smaller Little Walter was so humiliating to the young Marvin that he left Chicago and moved to Lubbock, Texas where he became a plumber’s assistant.
His disdain and mistrust of the music business is well documented and he soon fell out with Acorn’s owner, Norman Hector. Although approached by other labels, Marvin refused to record for anyone unless the owner of the label came to his home in Slidell, LA and mowed his lawn.
Reportedly Marvin’s music was the only music that Jackson Pollack would ever listen to while he painted; this respect was not reciprocated. In 1970 Marvin believed that he was abducted by aliens. He felt his mother had had a similar unsettling experience, which had led to her breakdown. He stopped playing music and dedicated all of his time and energy to amicably contacting these creatures who had previously probed his body so brutally.
When he was arrested for riding a bicycle naked down the side streets of Slidell, LA, it provided a sad but clear view of Marvin’s coming years.
In 1971 he moved back to Detroit where he drifted forever and permanently into insanity.
I remember when I purchased Greatest Hits by the Legendary Marvin Pontiac (it was released in 2000). I was invited to read the A4 laminated counter display sign while I listened to the album. Here were some of the raves:
“In my formative years, as an aspiring bass player, there was nothing I listened to more than Marvin Pontiac” – Flea“
A dazzling collection! It strikes me that Pontiac was so uncontainably prescient that one might think that these tracks had been assembled today” – David Bowie
“A Revelation” – Leonard Cohen
“This record has changed my life” – John Lurie
“Marvin would kick your ass for nothing. A true genius, Marvin was a pure original” – Iggy Pop
“The innovation and possibility in this music leaves me speechless” – Beck“
Marvin is good” – Angelique Kidjo
The Legendary Marvin Pontiac is a construction by the brilliant John Lurie - I love that he went so far as to include himself in the blurb of media quotes.
Lurie is an actor, musician, artist – if you click above where I have highlighted his name you will have got all of that (if you didn’t know about him already).I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And I was right. This record is a hoax.
I still really like this album – and play it often. It’s a superb hoax. That doesn’t stop it from being superb music.
Between late 2007 and early 2016 I wrote a daily music blog at Stuff.co.nz called Blog On The Tracks. I’m reposting some of the entries here because the discussion is still valid or entertaining or because you might have missed them the first time.
Click here to see the original post from 2009.