I think about you, everyday till the set of sun
And at night, when I'm alone again
I cry, I cry
I can't get next to you, I don't really try
That's way I wrote this song, that's why I cry
I'll send it to you, you could play it in your box
I cry, I cry
I don't really feel like a man, I'm feelin' low
Man on the keyboard, I'm gonna play my organ solo
[from the lyrics of "Cry"]
As the story goes, Mark Ramos-Nishita first came into the fold when some girl ran her car into the entrance gate of the G-Spot, an incredible '70s-type pad that the Beastie Boys rented in 1989 during the recording of "Paul's Boutique". The Dust Brothers were working on the album and asked Mark to fix the front gate. Mark was given an address and he went there.
He fixed the gate and after the job was done, he didn't see anybody around and wondered how he was going to get paid. Adam Horowitz (one of the Beasties, a.k.a. Ad-Rock) drove into the scene and paid Mark for his carpentry. Then Adam invited Mark to a party the Beastie Boys held that night.
The Beastie Boys were planning to build a studio, they needed a carpenter for that job and Mark helped building their G-Son Studios in Los Angeles. Mark also played keyboards, so he was a dual purpose member of the group.
Nishita's Fender Rhodes funkiness redefined the Beasties' sound into more Jazz-Funk-influenced grooves on "Check Your Head" and "Ill Communication", along with the new percussionist Eric Bobo. Completed by the original Beastie Boys, Michael Diamond on drums, Adam Yauch on bass and Adam Horowitz on guitar, they were a true groove machine.
After the success of the Beastie Boys albums, Mark decided to release the old tracks he had been playng long before he met them. The tunes on his debut EP "Performing Chicken" released in 1994, which are the subject of this post and were also included in his first full-lenght release entitled "Mark's Keyboard Repair" the next year, are just what he's been doing for a long time.
Money Mark has created a style and a sound of his own; his music may sound a bit weird or amateurish at first, but after a couple of listenings one gets sucked into his funky grooves and simple hooks.
The secret of Mark Ramos-Nishita's unique sound lies behind the warm heart of his analog synthesizers and keyboards. Among his organ grooves Mark also includes guitars, bass, flutes, even kazoo and other unusual stuff. The basic drumlines in his music seem to come out straight from a cheap Casio keyboard, but definitely with more feeling and life in it. Mark's lyrics aren't complicated or tricky, just plain and direct.
Mark has a special relationship with his keyboards. The following quotes are excerpted from an interview by Miguel D'Souza published in The Sidney Morning Herald, January 5th 1996:
«It's some thing I can fix on my own, that's what I feel most comfortable about. I have little relationships with my keyboards; these digital keyboards, I can't have any relationship with them. I look at them and, if they could look at me, they'd stare and go, "ha ha ha, there's nothing you can do, you can't alter me at all." I just recently bought a new car; it was the first new car I'd bought and when I opened up the hood and looked at the engine I thought I could never fix this! I can't even get to the spark plugs, I'd need special tools, oscilloscopes, all these other things to tune it up. I have this old '63 Chevy. When I look in there, I just... I get happy. I can fix it, I can see all the parts, I can see how this motor works and I can really see what's wrong when I open it up. It's the same with my analogue synths, if it is malfunctioning, there really isn't much that can go wrong, there's only a few parts that can go wrong. If you're talking about an IC or a chip you're at the mercy of some manufacturer, who you have to buy the chip from and then there's really no satisfaction in fixing it, all you've done is change a chip. It's hard for me to deal with this new-world, this new technology. Well, when I learn about a keyboard and I learn how it's made I have an idea of what it's going to sound like. I know, for example, that a Hammond organ is going to sound great, because of what's going on in there: there's a motor turning, the metal wheels are spinning and these electrons are flying and these pickups are picking them up... I take an idea like that and I... I get my motor drill and plug it in and stick it next to the pickups and it makes a sound. It has to do with having a little knowledge. I'm not going to buy a keyboard because it looks nice or it's the thing to buy, the trend. Some of these things look like little monsters, but if I know how it's made, I can look at it and say, "hey, this thing is going to be great." I have the idea that a musician should be a technician. It helps to know what's going on with the instruments, it helps the musician create new things, to know what's really going on in there and then you mix that in with some emotions and then when you make things they are really full because they have the best of both worlds, you know - left brain, right brain. A little bit of technical knowledge could lead to something where you can say, "Hey, if I cluster these kinds of notes together because I know that if I do these frequencies will bump into one another and create this other thing." Science is not usually connected with emotion, except maybe Einstein connected it. I just love to study keyboards and I do try to get some technique, I try to keep a balance between the technical thing and the musical thing as well. A person who is just strictly a musician may not have the same kind of sensitivity towards the keyboards they're playing, maybe they see the notes as just notes, the sounds are a secondary thing. They're rather more interested in the harmonic structure than how the tones are happening; but I try to consider the whole thing.»
"Performing Chicken" contains the following tracks:
01. Sunday, Gardena Blvd. (2:31)
02. Insects Are All Around Us (2:21)
03. Three Movements For the Wind: Theme For the Innocent Hostage (1:08)
04. Three Movements For the Wind: Poets Walk (1:00)
05. Three Movements For the Wind: Spooky (1:08)
06. Cry (2:21)
07. Pretty Pain (3:11)
08. No Fighting (1:28)
09. Ba Ba Ba Boom (1:35)
10. Have Clav Will Travel (1:23)
11. Don't Miss the Boat (2:31)
01.07.2013 Update: sorry guys, the big bosses of the Music Industry have knocked on my door and kindly asked to remove the audio files related to this post, download links are not available anymore...
Money Mark's music conveys a profound optimism and a sense of joy. This time instead of babbling about the eleven short pieces of "Performing Chicken", I prefer to offer you a short writing by Mark himself that I found on the Internet and saved to my computer some fifteen years ago. I can't remember the original source, I googled for it but it seems that it is not available online anymore, so I'm particularly proud to bring you...
"My year as a ball boy for the 1971-72 world champion Los Angeles Lakers" by Mark Ramos-Nishita
«My dad used to take me to basketball games because I wanted to be a basketball star. But who didn't? I mean, everybody did. I know Bob Mack did. I know Ricky Powell did. I know Adam Horowitz did. So when I was 12 years old, I wrote the Lakers a letter on my college-ruled paper - I was supposed to be doing my math homework - and I said: "To whom it may concern, I want to be a ball boy. How do I do that?" I really didn't think they'd respond me at all. But about a month later I got this card from Laker GM Pete Newell's secretary. So I bought some new Adidas Superstars and went to what was then called "The Fabulous Forum", or "The House That Jack Built" (as in former Laker owner / current Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke). I walked right through The Forum Club into Pete Newell's office, and Sam Winston was there! You know, the famous tire guy? He was good buddies with Jerry West. Then they gave me a ball boy uniform, which was like Lakers' own warm-ups. Next came the long walk down a hallway that led right into the locker room. I don't know how I'm gonna write this - sorry Mom - but what I saw next was Laker forward Jim MacMillan taping his penis to his thigh with some white adhesive tape. Seriously! I don't think he did this all the time, I think he just had a groin injury. And other players were taping other shits. Like Gail Goodrich was taping up his weak knees. That was my first impression of the locker room, but basically they were just getting ready to play the Phoenix Suns. I watched while the pros soaped their socks so they didn't get blisters; take two pair of socks, put one on, get a fresh bar of ivory soap, rub it all over the bottom of the first sock, then put the other sock over it and the soap will act like oil between the two socks asd thus prevent blisters. They had a way to tie their shoes, too, called "Russian Bow Tie", which never came loose. At this point I was acting really nonchalant because like any big fan I felt really close to the team already. So there I was, hangin' in the locker room, trying to act cool, watching all the guys crack jokes and talk shit. Incidentally, even then I noticed that one of the only players who was not dicking around but acting more serious was Pat Riley. Things didn't seem as glamorous back in the locker as they did out on the court, either...
...Eventually I was introduced to the head ball boy, who debriefed me on my duties. We went out on the court with the players for warm ups, and the first thing I noticed was that even though the baskets looked kind of big, the players were fucking huge! Anyway, I was supposed to hand out towels, and my mop was my best friend because I always had to be ready to wipe the sweat up off the court. Of all the players, probably Wilt Chamberlain sweated the most, but it was always sweaty under the hoop. If someone fell, then that was like a big mess. So during that first game against the Suns, I was wiping up some sweat near the free throw line while all the players were down at the other end of the court. I thought I had enough time, but suddenly the Suns' hairy-backed big man, Neil Walk, stole the ball from somebody like Mel Counts and came barreling down the court. By the time I looked up he was right on my ass and I had to make a head-first dive for the baseline to get out of his way. Then I heard the whistle. I was interfering with the game or something. Of course I had always dreamed of someday seeing some NBA action, but this was definitely not what I had in mind. I was pretty embarassed and turned red. You would too if 17,505 people were looking at you. I was afraid to even look up because I thought the ref called a foul on me or something. Even so, I actually did make it into the NBA - which is more than Bob Mack, Ricky Powell or Adam Horowitz can say! In the end, I only worked six or seven home games that year, probably because of that interference call. Who knows? Maybe Pete Newell got wind of it. Nevertheless, despite some embarassing moments, it's still one of my fondest memories...
Money Mark as pictured by Phil Knott, promotional shot for the album "Push the Button" (1998)
...By far the biggest highlight of my experience was witnessing the classic rivalry between Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who played for Milwaukee then. Just being able to see those two go at it inside was something else. It was the first time I ever saw anyone block Kareem's hook shot, and I was right there, watching Chamberlain do it! He was the first and only guy to challenge the shot that would later be known as the allegedly unblockable "Sky Hook". Of course, I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't admit that it got kind of boring after a while, just sitting there under the basket, wiping up sweat. But the plusses definitely outweighed the minuses. It was the Lakers' greatest season (in fact the best season of any team in NBA history), and I was part of it. I also got to eat before the games at the M&M cafe near The Forum, where players like Harold "Happy" Hairston ate soul food (and where, to this day, Magic often munches). I got to meet Laker announcer Chick Hearn, definitely, who by the way still looks exactly the same. I also became buddies with one player, the great Connie Hawkins, though he never knew my name. Plus, it was just cool being on the court during the game. This was before all the frills. No cheerleaders, no band, no TV timeouts, no Cable TV. Finally, the players were cooler then, and security wasn't as tight around them. There was a lot of partyin' going on after each game, especially in The Forum Club bar. You could see movie stars in there like Billy Barty. You could see Wilt smoking cigarettes. But you never saw Jerry West. In other words, it was dope, both then and now. Back then, it gave me a sense of identity which was cool to have at school and stuff. Something that other kids couldn't front on and that I could prove. And nowadays, it's just cool to go to the games, look at the new ball boys and remember how it was. Something that I can take with me.»
Here's a few videos courtesy of YouTube, including a 1995 audio interview, a recent live rendition of "Insects Are All Around Us", a 2004 Moog-based improvisation with Woody Jackson and a complete Beastie Boys MTV special / live performance broadcasted in 1992, enjoy!
A few more information about Money Mark is available here:
If you have any other useful information about Money Mark and "Performing Chicken" - especially corrections and improvements to this post - or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!