Bassist Mark Tulin, the Missing Link Between Psych Legends the Electric Prunes and the Revamped Smashing Pumpkins, RIP 1948-2011
A Few Thoughts on the Passing of a True Psychedelic Pioneer
I just found out that Mark Tulin died, which is weird because I just
saw Mark Tulin less than 60 hours ago at a worn out deli in Tarzana.
Kerry, Bjorn, Mark and I sat down for a meal just before we went over
to mix 'Zen Baby', which was funny because originally that song was
intended to be a song I had for the Prunes.
Mark had asked about a year ago if I had any good ideas that I wasn't going to use for SP, and I said "yeah, I got this kind of bluesy, stones riff you might like.", and he loved it so we went into Kerry's submarine to demo it out. Mark played his walking bass all over it and we worked the idea back and forth. Towards the end of the song, I had changed a few chords up, and was doing a guitar overdubub when I hit a series of unexpected notes that opened the song up into different territory, and the look on Mark's face was priceless. He told me later, "when I heard you hit those notes against those chords I thought to myself 'I'm fucked', because I knew you were never gonna let me have that song now!" So yes, it was funny that we sat in this broken deli only hours ago, us all old soldiers of rock and roll, having our usual laugh about the things that we found funny, and strange, and unfair in the world.
During our many hours together,- recording, rehearsing, sharing meals, Mike Byrne, the SP drummer, all of 19 years old at the time, befriended Mark and they became running buddies, or as Mark would have you know it, he became Mike's limo driver. Mark even helped Mike with his laundry, because he was a kind man and knew what Mike felt like to be so young and far away from home, playing in a band. Of course Mark gave Mike shit for helping him, but the guilt was part of the charm. Mike turned Mark onto all sorts of bands, everything from Grizzly Bear to My Bloody Valentine, and Mark soaked it all up, happy to see that psychedelic music was alive and well so many generations down the line from his. I told those two they should have a reality show, such an odd couple, but it says a lot about Mark that he could treat a young man 40 years his junior as an equal.
Mark was part of a movement of suburban kids in the mid to late 60s that changed the world with their dark musical dreaming, and of course their Anglophile obsessions. From their imaginations sprang so many technicolor daydreams and all manner of wishing; wishing that we were often what we are not. Professor Psychedelic was his nickname, and he wore it proudly. You don't always get credit for being one of the first across the line like the Electric Prunes were, but we all made sure to tell Mark many times that we understood what he had done was important and hugely influential. He had signed his first record contract at 17, and needed a judge to let him do it because he was a minor. By 19 the record company had stolen the band name away and was putting out an Electric Prunes band that had none of the original members. Mark's band was stolen from him, a fact he had never fully gotten over. It was a deep wound, but he fought to get the name back and had to go to court to do so. The judge let him sign his life away in the first place, and it was a lucky judge who gave him back his dignity. All those terrible things drove the two friends who had started the band apart, and after 30 years they came back together to make music again. As it should be.
He said to me the other day, jokingly, "I am the Electric Prunes", and I said laughing back, "well, I'm the Smashing Pumpkins!", but we said these things because it had never been easy for both of us, the band road, the politics, the heartbreak of it all. I know he loved James, the lead singer of the Prunes, seeing him as someone born for the job, and I agreed. Some bands just have the 'it' factor, and to those in the know, the Electric Prunes had it in spades before the blueprint was cast in cliched stone. Check out their album 'Underground' to see what was and also what might have been had they stayed un-fucked with.
Playing music with Mark was always a joy, he was truly a great, sympathetic musician, a native bass player who knew his instrument and played with a quiet fire. I loved working with him, and he was very supportive and complimentary of me as I was coming out of a rough time. Words can not express how much I enjoyed creating music with him, and it was a great honor to have him play on some of these recent SP tracks; 'astral planes', 'widow wake my mind', and many others, tons of unreleased stuff. He played a long lost style that was incredibly responsive to the vocals, and to the song. A lost art.
Mark was an expert deep sea diver diver, had a masters in psychology, and once ran some family business, carpets or something. I told him, 'boy, you've had an interesting life!'. He was incredibly sarcastic, but not caustic, but so obviously was a softy, especially when it came to his daughter and ex-wife, who became his best friend after their divorce. You got the feeling that there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for those he loved. We talked a few days ago about recording a song at Kerry's for a new Prunes record, a song called 'Medicine' that I wrote just for them. There is a demo, quite cool and fun and sounding like the Prunes for the 21st century. Hopefully we can finish that, what we have there. It will be only a small way to show our love for the man.
Mark played with us when Sky Saxon died, at his memorial. Mark had mixed feelings about Sky as a person, and it made him a bit uncomfortable; all the love for Sky after he died, like everyone had an easy memory in death. So we talked about it, and I asked what he honestly felt, I could tell it was confusing to him. I could tell by talking that he thought 'if everyone only knew the Sky I know!', but I reminded him that what he was honoring, with us, was the spirit and love that Sky had brought through his music, and that he (Mark) was deserving of the same honor. He gave me a snide 'alright, alright' and that was the end of it. He just wanted to play music, and the rest to him was a bit of a show, but we played well at Sky's memorial because we were brothers, and that's what brothers are supposed to do for our own. It was a night of wonderful music; The Prunes played was a punky spite and The Strawberry Alarm Clock evoked a patchouli soaked world of innocence. I hope we can do the same for Mark, but who will play bass?
I've avoided saying so far how incredibly sad this makes me, his passing, for Mark was still a fairly young man who had lots of plans and living to do, and I'm guessing that dying would really piss him off. In fact I know it would!! He died at least doing what he loved to do, helping others, as a volunteer, being part of a rescue team that helped distressed divers off Catalina Island. Mark had even helped dive for corpses in New Orleans, post-Katrina. He had a certain pluck and courage that makes sense if you knew him. He wasn't a hugger or a hippie, he was mostly interested in making the groove click and 'why' you picked one note over the other. He was big on the 'why' question. He reminded me many times, just by him being who he naturally was, that music is a religion for grown up boys like us, better than any suburban god or rainbow stories on the horizon.
The last thing I said to Mark when we parted the other day, just out in front of a music store, was that I'd be back in town probably for my birthday in a few weeks. "You're invited of course", I said, "but you don't have to come if you don't want to." He laughed quite loud, enjoying my guilt trip on him and the subtle dig at the same time. I always tried to make time with him when I was in town, no matter what, because I just wanted him to know that I saw him as someone worthy of a lot of respect and admiration. Mark made friends with everyone in my world, because his sweetness was always right there to be found. That says a lot to me, that he touched everyone I knew in an individual way.
One final story...Mark played with SP when we played the Tonight Show, and just before we were on, they dropped a screen door in front of us, and pumped some white smoke into our box to make the lights look better. We were on in 60 seconds, and Mark says to me, "you know, when my people see a door close and the gas gets pumped in, we get a little nervous." Thanks Mark...! And 1-2-3, cue music, we were on live...
God Bless you Mark, you will always be a star.
PS. I wrote this last night. I just woke from a dream that Mark was in. It was a party in somebody's backyard, and I found myself staring at him thinking 'how is it that he is here?' I watched him, and he seemed and acted completely normal. Eventually we were alone on a couch, and I leaned over and said "you know, it's funny but I've been sad all day because you had died, and yet, here you are! " Mark nodded his head, understanding what I was saying. "Mark, is this a dream? Because it doesn't feel like a dream." He again nodded his head, concerned that I was a bit confused. He smiled and said, hoping to explain his being there, "Well, it's just that now we aren't in such a hurry."