The Mark Wirtz Interview

My Musical Life was an Odyssey

Mark Wirtz, born in Strasbourg, Alsace/Lorraine, was recently listed by Mojo magazine as one of the 100 visionary producers of all time. Among other achievements, his Rock Opera Teenage Opera, which paved the way for Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow or Who’s Tommy, brought him this honor.

Pally: What was important for you as a producer?

Mark Wirtz: My vision and primary ambition was to make «movies on record» I only partly succeeded with the never completed Teenage Opera and the later Philwit & Pegasus LP - to my mind by far my best British work. Only 30 years later, when I composed and recorded the complete Teenage Opera «sequel» TEMPO, did I finally manage to make my dream come true.

Pally: How did you come up with the idea for the rock opera The Teenage Opera?

Mark Wirtz: It was a dream I had. In it, I saw this grocer who was taken for granted by the village, and only appreciated when he died - mostly by the children of the town who had taunted him when he was alive, but who loved and now missed «Jack» dearly

Pally: Looking back what do you think of The Teenage Opera today?

Mark Wirtz: A wonderful example of how a spirit, courage and determination can make the impossible possible. I am proud of Teenage Opera, alas, sad that a) I have become known for that more than many other works of mine that I believe to be superior. b) Sad that I was never allowed at the time to complete the Teenage Opera as envisioned, consequentially cursing me with the shadow of having left behind an unfinished work and unkept promise. I am still
hoping that TEMPO will finally put things right...

Pally: Was there ever an attempt to play in its entirety?

Mark Wirtz: Teenage Opera was NEVER intended to be a theatrical work!! The opposite was true! It was intended to ultimately be an animated movie premise, thus allowing the original, contemporary soundtrack to be performed in complete fidelity. A stage «pit orchestra» could never have reproduced the music score, nor emulated the sounds I created. Perhaps the closest thing to what I had in mind, was the Beatles later Yellow Submarine

Pally: There is Rap-Version of «Grocery Jack». How came that together?

Mark Wirtz: Frank, the German producer, had been a fan of «Grocer Jack» for 30 years, and it had been his life ambition to one day record a contemporary version of it. I guess the time had come about two years ago, when Frank called me
and asked me to produce the children section for the record here in Savannah with some young black kids. Apparently, he and several other producers had tried, but nobody could pull it off. So I agreed and auditioned kids for the
session which went great! (I attach photo of the session.) Typical to Teenage Opera troubles and delays, it took Frank 2 years to find the right rappers and arrive at the right mix. I have not heard the final mix yet.

Pally: How and when did you discovered the band Tomorrow? What did you like about their music?

Mark Wirtz: They were introduced to me by Pink Floyd, whom I had signed to EMI (though did not produce) because I - rightly - thought that my friend Norman Smith was a better producer for them. I DID however feel right for Tomorrow and signed them on the spot.

Pally: How many solo records did you put out? What do you think about them today?

Mark Wirtz: There have been solo records and compilation albums out there on the market that I don't even know about, so I have lost count. These, however, are the key ones (for better or worse) that I produced as bona fide releases:
1) Latin A Gogo - Ember (originally entitled Wirtz 'n' Music)
2) Mood Mosaic - EMI
3) Philwit & Pegasus - Chapter One
4) A Teenage Opera - RPM
5) Fantastic Teenage Fair - Teldec
6) Come Back And Shake Me - Teldec
7) Balloon - Capitol
8) Hothouse Smiles - Capitol
9) Lost Pets - (never released, but tracks from it appeared on The Hollywood Years)
10) Cartoon - CBS (also never released, other than the singles "Maniac VS. Brainiac/Love Is Eggshaped, but also included in
The Hollywood Years
11) The Hollywood Years 2 Volume CD - RPM
12) The London Years Double CD -RPM, scheduled for release in June/July 2001
13) TEMPO (not yet released)

This is the pivotal chronicle of my music career, from my earliest recordings and productions (some never released), to my pre-EMI «Colinio Productions» days, to the «post-EMI London years», to my solo work in the US, to my «Swan Song» TEMPO. Perhaps the most important aspect of this release is that it finally presents me as a Rock'n'Roller (in my fashion) rather than the «Easy Listening» guy I have so erroneously been perceived as for so long.

Pally: Is there one of your albums that you dislike?

Mark Wirtz: Yes: Fantastic Teenage Fair and Come Back And Shake Me. Both crap, with only a couple of track exceptions (I never liked these albums, they were «paying the rent» money «gigs»)

Pally: You made a couple of Easy Listening albums. How did you approach them?

Mark Wirtz: I didn't really think about it much, just went into the studio and recorded them. They were «safe» and «market-proof» «assignments», so my
«creativity» only applied to compositions of mine like «A Touch Of Velvet» But they were work, and important opportunities to hone my studio skills.

Pally: Do you still produce bands?

Mark Wirtz: No. I was never an ideal band producer, with the exception of Tomorrow because of my musical bond with Keith West - I almost felt like the 5th member of Tomorrow. Maybe I should have been, chuckle.

Pally: What was the last song (from what year) you wrote and what was it about?

Mark Wirtz: My last composition was «KC's Theme» (for his love; note of the writer), which I composed and recorded just before I left Santa Barbara and California to move to Savannah to be with KC (It's on The Hollywood Years - Vol. One, Kitschinsync) CD. By now, 4 years later, KC and I had the most extraordinary odyssey (typical of my life), but she remains the love of my life and my muse. «KC's Theme» was my «Swansong» and I don't foresee ever composing again. I am now passionately committed to a new career as a writer (under the name Mark Sinclair) and novelist, even though I continue to promote and help market my past music and record catalogues. I DO, HOWEVER, have what I call my «treasure chest» in which I have many compositions that I
secretly collected over the years and that I am very proud of. So, no matter what might approach me in future, be it a movie score for which I might come out of my «retirement» a musical, or even a final album - I have the material...

Pally: What music or bands did inspire you in the sixties?

Mark Wirtz: Motown, Nashville, Atlantic, Beach Boys, Paul Anka, Rick Nelson, Neil Sedaka, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Goffin-King team, as well as Leiber & Stoller, Phil Spector, Quincy Jones (then a rock producer), arrangers Jack Nietzsche, Gene Page, engineer Roy Halee. Later favorites: Supertramp, Queen, Stevie Wonder and Elton John.

Pally: What music or bands inspires you today?

Mark Wirtz: Urban music - hip hop, rap, as well as movie scores, especially those by Hans Zimmer. Also, Elton John's music continues to be of never ending inspiration and joy to me.

Pally: When did you think the first time about a song: «wow, that's great, I wanna do that too»?

Mark Wirtz: When I heard «Diana» by Paul Anka.

Pally: To what music or bands do you listen today?

Mark Wirtz: Still listen to Supertramp and Queen and Beach Boys. And keep up with
all the new bands...

Pally: How do you earn your money today?

Mark Wirtz: As a writer.

Pally: Looking back, what do you regret from your past?

Mark Wirtz: Sadness, yes, but no regrets. «When dreams turn into regrets, we are getting old» (John Barrymore). I am still only just beginning, and everything is still possible.

Pally: What was the highlight of your musical career?

Mark Wirtz: First time I conducted an orchestra in a recording studio, the mixing session of «Sam» completing and listening to the playback of Balloon
and completing TEMPO and «KC's Theme».

Pally: What was the low point of your musical career?

Mark Wirtz: Too many to count or recall. It was an odyssey. Feeling that I had to leave England because radio (the BBC monopoly) refused to play my records was probably the lowest, but also an exciting turning point when I got to Hollywood. At least I was no longer just the man who wrote Teenage Opera because nobody in the US had ever heard of «Grocer Jack» So I got a fresh start.


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