||April 5, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
As the flamboyant frontman for glam-rock revivalists Box-O-Car, Skid
Marks takes the stage in staid businessman's attire, but wearing lipstick
"I wanna be a girl/But I'm just a drag," he sings on the lead track of
the new E.P., "In the future ... On Mars!" Not that he has, um, issues
"We were doing a gig and I came home from work in a suit and tie," Marks
says. "For whatever reason, I was like, 'I wonder if my wife has any
makeup?' I got some eyeliner and lipstick, and it all came to life. It
struck me that you could dress up in an ordinary-looking outfit but twist
the image a little bit. The eyeliner was cheap, so when I was sweating, it
ran and looked trashy. And it kind of all ties together with the music."
Indeed, it does. Like fellow Chicagoans Caviar or the late, lamented
Cupcakes, Box-O-Car took its inspiration from the British scene of the early
'70s, when artists such as Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, T. Rex, and David
Bowie injected rock with a sense of liberating sexual exploration, defiant
gender-bending, and gleeful bubblegum hookiness.
"That music has a certain something that I can't describe," Marks says.
"I love a lot of American bands, too, but I think these sounds are just a
little bit more sexy. One of the big differences between Box-O-Car and my
old band is that the Charming Beggars were very macho, with more
testosterone and more physical shows. I'm still kind of a physical
performer, but as far as songwriting, I really try to tap into the feminine
side of myself, which I think we all have."
Endearingly chaotic, the Charming Beggars made sloppy but straightforward
rock in the tradition of the Replacements. They morphed into Box-O-Car about
four and a half years ago, with the goal of eliminating the messiness and
focusing on songcraft. "We were writing a different style and trying to stay
within three-minute power-pop songs," Marks says. "We wanted to really
arrange the songs and try to make them as undeniable as possible in a short
amount of time."
The new group found its moniker in a story of a friend's travels.
"Basically, we stole our name from a now-defunct high-school rock band from
Japan," the singer says. "We liked the sound of it and the fact that it was
A debut album, "Faster Than the Speed of Sound," was released on Veronica
Records in 2000; the new E.P. is on the band's own Modern Record Company.
Marks says he'd like to follow it up with another full album by the end of
the year--a goal that's made easier by the fact that guitarist Ken Sluiter
is one of the owners of Western Sound Labs (formerly Kingsize), so Box-O-Car
can pretty much record at will.
The current lineup is completed by Dan Polonsky on bass and the mighty
Mike Zelenko, veteran of Material Issue, on drums. The three musicians
create an impressive setting for Marks' onstage antics, which sometimes
surprise even him.
"So many times people that know me and come to see us play are kind of
freaked out by how I am on stage, because I'm usually pretty reserved and
quiet and shy," he says. "Maybe that's part of it, like the alter ego gets
unleashed. The last place I ever thought I'd find myself was performing in
front of people, but I think a lot of performers are like that. I don't
really think about what I'm doing--I just enjoy it."
At 41, Marks doesn't envision stopping any time soon, and he thinks he's
just now hitting his stride. "I feel like I'm getting better and my songs
are connecting more with people than they did before, even though I was in a
band that was much more popular than the one I'm in now. I feel like
artistically, the gap between how I want the songs to sound and how they
come out keeps getting smaller and smaller.
"As far as our place in the rock scene, I feel like we cross a lot of
boundaries. There are people who like heavy metal who like us, and power-pop
fans who like us; the average joe, and the hipster. We're not trying to be
super-cool and appeal to only a segment of the population."
Though, of course, a fondness for eyeliner helps.
Box-O-Car plays a record-release show tomorrow at the Double Door,
1572 N. Milwaukee (773-489-3160), starting at 10 p.m. The cover is $7. Also
on the bill: Wolcott, the Lovelies, and the Pages, a young band from
Evanston who will close the night with their typically spirited set of
early-'60s Cavern Club rock.
* * * *
A few weeks ago, this column profiled Tony Lovato, leader of Blue Island
pop-punks Mest, as he celebrated the release of "Destination Unknown," the
band's second album for Madonna's Maverick Records. Like many Chicagoans,
I'm a fan. But the column prompted some disturbing e-mails and discussions
on Internet message boards.
Eight years ago, when he was 13, Lovato played drums in a band called
Confederate Storm. Initially, the other musicians were skinheads as a
fashion statement, but they came to embrace that controversial subculture's
racist attitudes, and the group's songs included white-power lyrics. I
returned to Lovato to ask him about this, and he welcomed the opportunity to
set the record straight publicly for the first time.
"Kids bring this up all the time, and the record label and publicity
people are like, 'Let's not address it,' " Lovato says. "But I'm an honest
person, and the more honest you are with your fans, the closer they feel to
you--it's not like you're some singer who [messes around with] little girls,
then turns around and acts like he's a Christian."
Lovato says he grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, and his
first girlfriend was African-American. Then his family moved, and he found
himself isolated until he was drawn into the skinhead scene. Eventually, he
started to think about its poisonous attitudes. He then split and paid the
price, being ostracized and getting involved in fights. (He compares his
experience to the film "American History X.")
"When you're 13, you don't think for yourself, and you just go with the
flow with the kids you hang out with," Lovato says. "The scariest part about
Nazi skinheads and that cause is that they get you at a young age, and they
warp your mind. After two years of that, I was like, 'This just isn't
right.' It wasn't like it wasn't cool anymore, and that's why I got out of
it. I realized: 'This is [messed] up, these people are [messed] up, and I am
being ignorant and rude to people.' "
In the liner notes to the band's first Maverick album, Lovato writes,
"Sorry to everyone I hurt in the past from my ignorant ways--I hope you can
Now, the group tours with representatives of Anti-Racist Action, and he
steers fans to their information booth from the stage. "Because of what I
did in the past, maybe I can turn this around and do a positive thing," he
says. "The truth is, I hung out with these kids for a few years, then I had
enough brains to realize it was wrong, and I hope other people can learn
from my experience."