Mark Griffin was born in 1957 in Kentucky but based in Dallas, Texas since 1979 as far as known. Actually a classical trained and studied musician and trumpet player, he joined a local New Wave Band, The Telefones and played with Jazz musicians, worked for a local indie record store during the 80’s and became MC 900 Ft. Jesus ca. 1988, named after an Televengalists vision of 900 Ft. high Jesus statue he promoted heavily at that time. Together with DJ Zero (Patrick Rollins) they self relased a first 12″ which caught interest of Nettwerk – then looking for quite progressive acts fitting in the late EBM / Synth Wave / Alternative Electronic corner like Consolidated, Meat Beat Manifesto, Severed Heads, Skinny Puppy and more.
“Hell With The Lid Off” (Nettwerk, 1989) with DJ Zero was themed arround the questionable TV & Radio preachers and their agenda not unlike the middle ages indulgence tradings which caused the first great crisis of the catholic church, the schism and splitting into evangelic and catholics in Europe. Paired with a good sense of irony and sarcasm.
The irresistible groovy electro tracks ‘I’m Going Straight To Heaven’ and ‘Truth Is Out Of Style’ made their way into my favourites back then, despite the unavoidable Stephen R. Gilmore Design which ruined so many records for me and the obvious hip hop scratching. I nearly sorted this LP out after reviewing it then but for a late 80’s record it beared many good ideas and did not hesitate to jump over the boarder to the plain absurd. A special humour which was seldom in my usual listening then. The album title was of course another direct quote – John Peel even offered a session as I recently discovered feat. ‘Truth Is Out Of Style’, ‘Real Black Angel’ and ‘Revolution 10’ (from the ‘UFO’s Are Real’ 12″).
Peel Session, February 1990
“Welcome To My Dream” (Nettwerk, 1991) expanded the spectrum Mark Griffin worked in favourable. Less synthesizer and hip hop orientated it started with a bang – ‘Falling Elevators’ which was an surprise success 5 years later after Levis used it in a campaign and got subsequently issued as a single in 1996 (!).
The more in sync with the earlier tracks ‘Killer Inside Me’ and the futuristic lounge jazz track ‘The City Sleeps’ where then as singles issued with lesser success. The bizarre ‘Dalis Handgun’, nearly an acapella track also showed Griffin’s main interest in leftfield themes and storytelling as did ‘Adventures In Failure’ and ‘Hearing Voices In One’s Head’. It is a great album and much more serious than the first but as the song titles give away it’s no surprise the mass appeal needed for commercial success was vanishing. Slightly jazzy downtempo tracks where not really en vogue while half America started stage-diving to Grunge and Europe was raving on with sidesteps into Warp, IDM and Ambient. The lyrics, missing an overall album concept kept the intelligent observations, the sarcasm but with self-critic present also which was not going down to well with most of the hip hop influenced audience.
Mark Giffin writes on his channel: “About 47 minutes of a live show we did in Moers, Germany on June 7, 1992. I don’t think it was broadcast, but rather was shown on closed circuit TVs scattered around the festival. Someone recorded it and gave me a copy, but unfortunately they stopped the tape before the end of the set. Still, it’s some of the best footage I have of the band from those days. Features Chris McGuire on reeds, Baby G on turntables, and Mitch Marine on drums.”
“One Step Ahead Of The Spider” (American Recordings, 1994) appeared on a new label, three years on. Already involved in “Welcome To My Dream” where Mike Dillon (Percussion etc.) and Chris McGuire (Saxophones), but now he went full way into jazz band realms, adding Drew Phelps (Bass), Dave Palmer (Piano), Earl Harvin (Drums, nowadays playing with Tindersticks), Nikhil Pandya (Tabla) and Rajiv Chakravarti (Tambura).
Starting the album with an 11m43s track – ‘New Moon’ – showed how ignorant / arrogant / free of commercial orientation Mark Griffin operated back then. If you made this and managed to follow the storytelling you where ready for the album. If not, then not. Many of his old listeners might have skipped it then, I know I did. I missed any sense of dynamic groove and was so disappointed I gave it away after listening half hearted ca. twice…
The artwork did not help either.
I think this is one of the quite spectacular cases where the grown public was scared away in large parts without gaining a new.
Anyway – this year I finally felt curious enough to give it a go again (…..).
Lyrically Mark Giffin took this to the top, the dark sarcasm he showed on “Welcome To My Dream” turned into blank Cynicism besides his observational storytelling. A Curtis Mayfield cover with Living Color’s Vernon Reid guesting on Guitar did not save this from being a step ahead into uncharted territory. ‘Tiptoe Through The Inferno’ is one of the greatest song titles ever used imho but it describes pretty well where he was heading to.
Find a comic adaption with full lyrics on instagram courtesy of Simon Paul.
‘If I Only Had A Brain‘ was the lead single, and became one of his best known songs, especially after it was used in MTV’s Cartoon Beavis & Butthead.
‘But If You Go’ was the second and final single, the video was never properly finished nor aired and is from his personal archive.
Afterwards – he disappeared. A fourth album was planned but didn’t work out; “I had sort of lost my sense of humor about it,” he says. “The big thing about MC 900 is we’re a pretty dark thing, but it was like I used to at least try to be kind of funny and I got to the point where I didn’t think anything was funny anymore and I still kind of am that way.” (Dallas Observer Interview, January 2017),
He finally opened up a little about his whereabouts, frustration leading to more alcohol and a complete reinvention as Pilot and Flight Instructor to build up enough praxis to apply for a commercial Pilot license but after 9/11 demand vanished and he found himself living of his savings until he asked for a job in a bookstore. Years later he slowly started DJ’ing in a small bar, started a MC 900 Ft. Jesus facebook page in 2012, took on a second Job to survive.
A full professional recording “Live In Vienna — A.D. MCMXCII” (2013, self released), a Radio Broadcast from 1992 was published via MC 900 Ft.’s Facebook page as free download in December 2013.
I discovered this thanks to discogs when I was startled whatever happened to him after listening to ‘Welcome To My Dream’ once again to start my day working from home.
In 2016 he finally made a full live appeareance which can be found on youtube.
So, at last he found the attitude to go out and play again in addition to his daytime jobs after a hiatus of more than 15 years. Perhaps there is more interest in his dark, witty observational style maybe now than in the 90’s and it would be great to have a few songs reflecting the changes of our times from his POV.
Bonus Track: Instore set, Record Store Day 4/22/2017, Dallas Tx
1: Falling Elevators / 2: The Killer Inside Me / 3: If I Only Had A Brain / 4: Tiptoe Through The Inferno / 5: The City Sleeps / 6: U.F.O.’s Are Real