BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE
October 24, 1999
On The Rise
Not like other kids on the block
Chris Mascara has a strange name (and yes, it is real), but the name doesn't even scratch the surface of how unusual this 31 year old guitarist/singer/songwriter really is.
At age 8, he taught himself to play classical organ and began performing at churches and on the radio. By his mid-teens, he was teaching himself Kiss songs on the guitar. In 1995, he played sitar in the Boston Rock Opera production of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"; the following year he was a cast member in that company's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and, was understudy to Gary Cherone (now the lead singer of Van Halen) as Jesus.
His true weirdness, however, comes out in the dark, twisted words and expansive avant-pop of songs like "Electrode," "Carnival," and "Cellar Door" on his band Mascara's debut CD.
"I was taking a course called the Literature of Chaos at Tufts, and I had a nervous breakdown and ended up at McLean Mental Hospital," says Mascara. "l wrote 'Carnival' about the way the other patients there helped me cope more than the staff did."
He also wrote "Electrode" about shock therapy and dedicated it to the poet Sylvia Plath, who had once been incarcerated at McLean, although Mascara, who was in the hospital for about a month, was not himself subjected to such treatments.
Singing in a dramatic style and creating opuses that veer from heavy Led Zeppelin riffing to spaced-out Frank Zappa-esque experimentation within a four-bar phrase, Mascara has a musical style that doesn't fit into any comfortable niche.
"I'm not like the kids that grew up around here and were into the Ramones when they were in their teens," says Mascara "But I'm not, ashamed that I grew up on classic rock, either."
His wildcat howls can bring to mind the randiness of Robert Plant, and occasionally echo the bombast of "Jesus Christ Superstar." And Iyrics such as "He takes bong hits too long with Victor the Wild Boy, but nouns do not represent reality' (from the song "Cellar Door" off the CD of the same name) show a literary bent not usually found in rock music. He even quotes Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges in one song.
Live, the heady lyrical concepts tend to dissolve into the clatter and bluster of the music. In a recent show at Kirkland Cafe, the audience was sparse, but Mascara nevertheless flung his guitar dramatically around the stage and cut loose with confident singing while a sturdy bassist and equally sturdy drummer, both of whom Mascara pays as his backing band, kept the spirited and complex arrangements moving along smoothly.
"Sometimes we'll be playing at some club on a Wednesday night and on the surface it can seem like such a drag, like we're cursed, but I think we're blessed," he says. "How many people get to experience being on a stage in front of people, and on top of that performing something you've gotten really good at, and maybe even speaking your mind or your heart about something? That's a blessing."
Mascara plays with Ad Frank and Precious Few (a group with which Mascara also plays bass) and Ross Phaser on Nov. 11 at The Linwood, 69 Kilmarnock St., Boston. Call 267-8644.