The Legendary Marvin Pontiac

Last updated 12:39 01/04/2009

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 Little 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").

Elsewhere on the album you will hear the African sound that jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette was searching for in his Music for the Fifth World album.

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.

Pontiac album coverAt 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

"I've always been a fan of Mr. Pontiac's -- my housekeeper Cubby really loves it"   -  Michael StipeMarvin Pontiac

I couldn't believe what I was reading. And I was right. This record is a hoax. 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 still really like this album - and play it often. It's a superb hoax.

Seemed appropriate to talk about it today. What other music-related hoaxes can you think of?

10 comments
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Danny   #1   01:03 pm Apr 01 2009

Not sure if you would class it as a hoax or not, but i loved the 2 albums XTC did as "The Dukes Of Stratosfear". Psychedelia at its best, especially the second album. Dam, i wish i still had a copy!

Simon Sweetman   #2   02:15 pm Apr 01 2009

@ Danny - I love Chips From The Chocolate Fireball

Danny   #3   03:17 pm Apr 01 2009

@ Simon. Yes, i used to own that CD. That particular CD was a collection of both of the albums. I always thought, and I assume a lot of people who heard it did too, that each song was a homage to a particular late 60's artist- e.g. Vanishing Girl (Hollies), Collideascope (John Lennon), Braniacs Daughter (Paul McCartney), Albert Brown (Small Faces).....but there i go getting off the topic again! I am going to go looking for that CD this weekend, as well as the Schnell Fenster and Phil Judd CD's we discussed ages ago.

Graham   #4   04:12 pm Apr 01 2009

Hijacking the conversation even more, I think Chips From The Chocolate Fireball is awesome too! 'Vanishing Girl', 'Little Lighthouse', and 'Brainiac's Daughter' are my favourites.

yeti   #5   05:02 pm Apr 01 2009

Never heard of the topic guy thanks Simon

On to the Dukes

Good News Danny "Chips from the Chocolate fireball' is on iTunes (thats if memory serves both of the albums together the Psunspots one & the first one) for the handy price of 18.00

Go buy it now!

mike74   #6   06:27 pm Apr 01 2009

Paul is dead. Its true. All the clues are on the Abbey Rd and Sgt Peppers album covers.

Danny   #7   08:53 am Apr 02 2009

@ Mike74. Not to mention his output since 1970. Surely thats the biggest clue of all! I have this theory that the Beatles are dying in order, from most talented, to least talented. Its a tough call who is going to go next!

Ben   #8   10:33 am Apr 02 2009

How about - http://www.nin.com/strobelight/.

And I got all excited too.

DR   #9   10:54 am Apr 02 2009

@ Ben I stared to get excited over http://www.nin.com/strobelight/ too then I saw the words featuring Sheryl Crow, Fergie and Al Jourgenson then I thought they have got to be taking the piss

Amy   #10   01:15 pm Apr 02 2009

Clutchy Hopkins sounds like a contemporary version of Marvin Pontiac - did anyone ever work out who he actually was?

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