I first saw Frank Portman (aka Dr. Frank) perform at a small venue in Santa Cruz in 1993. He was playing, of course, with The Mr. T Experience, an early fixture at 924 Gilman St. and one of the original Lookout! Records bands. It got pretty rowdy, as most shows did back in those days, and at one point while jumping and bashing around up front, I slipped in a beer puddle and took a pretty nasty spill. Even though I was a sprightly 20 years-old and numb from several belts of 100-proof Southern Comfort, I smashed my knee badly enough that I ended up watching most of the set from the back of the room. (It’s safe to say that 80% of shows in the early 90s resulted in some sort of semi-serious injury.) Still, it was a lot of fun. I’d heard plenty of MTX’s music before, at parties and blasting out of dorm rooms up at Porter College, but I wasn’t familiar with many specific songs. I knew the lyrics were smart and funny from the records I’d heard and the occasional title they would announce (“Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend”), but they were hard to make out through the wall of noise. However, when they kicked into a hyped-up punk version of the Brady Bunch’s “It’s Time to Change,” the place went apeshit, myself included. We all bounced around gleefully and shouted along with every word. They hit a giddy nerve and they knew it.
And they knew how to put on a show. I saw them a few more times throughout the 90s and it was always a good time. They had plenty of chops, but they also knew how to keep it loose, and it was clear that they never took themselves too seriously. That stood out back then, in a good way. While irony was definitely a hallmark of 90s rock culture, taking yourself too seriously was even more of one. MTX knew that we were there to have fun, and so were they.
I sort of lost track of them around the turn of the millennium. Then in 2010, while I was living in San Francisco, my girlfriend, a YA writer herself, brought home King Dork, Frank Portman’s novel, which had been recommended to her by a friend. I was intrigued. So that’s what happened to that guy, he became a writer. After MTX had released the album Yesterday Rules in 2004 it became clear to Dr. Frank that the music business had changed enough that it was no longer feasible to make even a modest living writing songs and selling records. He began to cast about for another line of work, and decided to try his hand at writing YA fiction. Starting with the title of one of his songs, “King Dork,” he wrote the story of Tom Henderson, a 14 year-old outcast, obsessed with rocknroll, girls, how terrible Catcher in the Rye is, and solving the mystery of his father’s death. With only his equally unpopular friend Sam by his side, he has to navigate the perilous social waters of his California high school, beset by bullies, cruel teachers, and all of the “psychotic” normal people of the world. Home isn’t much easier, inhabited as it is by his loopy, distracted mother, lovably awkward hippie-dip stepdad “Little Big Tom,” and eternally sullen little sister Amanda. Continue reading