Larger Than Life 

Casting shadows with Fatso Jetson

Wednesday, Dec 4 2002

Look closely at almost any significant rock band‘s background, and you’ll find an instigator, a critical link without whom the chain would not hold. Led Zeppelin had Roy Harper. Nirvana had King Buzzo. And Queens of the Stone Age, arguably the best American melodic hard-rock band since Cobain exited in self-disgust, have guitarist-singer Mario “Boomer” Lalli.

“Boomer has this quality I‘ve been searching for since the moment I saw him, and that is, Boomer’s unhecklable,” says Queens‘ Joshua Homme. “There could be a wide array of reasons to heckle Boomer, but it’s impossible when you watch him play. I‘ve seen people not like it, but I’ve never heard anyone go, ‘Bleh, shut up.’ Because you believe it.

”It‘s for real.“

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Born in 1966 as Mario Jr. and tagged with the nickname Boomer, Lalli was raised in Palm Springs, where his parents, a pair of opera singers, ran an Italian-themed restaurant called Mario’s (”Where They Sing While You Dine“) with Mario Sr.‘s brother Tullio. At Mario’s, which relocated to Pasadena earlier this year, Mario Sr. and Edalyn lead a small group called the Mario Singers in belting out two 30-minute shows (three on weekends) every night for the diners.

”Our family had a restaurant in the desert for 30 years,“ says Boomer. ”For 20 of those years it was very successful, and summers off were just party time. But now there‘s a lot of big corporate money doing the restaurant thing there, so a unique little place like we had, it’s tough to make it work. We just thought, Let‘s go for it in Pasadena.

“And as great as the desert has been for our music, it was a terrible place to play music.”

Since he was 16, Boomer has been doing music in the desert that didn’t exactly fit the format at the family restaurant -- or anywhere else. Taking a page from a punk rock friend in Los Angeles, Boomer and his bandmates built their own place, out in nature: far from the city, far from cops, far from the mainstream.

“We grew up on Aerosmith, but that was Fantasyland. Then we saw D. Boon and Mike Watt and the cats in Black Flag and the guys in Redd Kross and Saccharine Trust, and we saw these guys were guys like us! They‘re just dudes. And skateboarding too had a lot to do with it, because it was all about Find a place. Find a pool, bail it out. You gotta make your own culture. It’s like cheese: You gotta make your own.”

Just 18, Boomer had become a legendary figure in the Low Desert -- for his appearance (a “bearded, dreadlocked, gnarly, pissed-off-looking burly dude in a trenchcoat,” says Kyuss‘ Brant Bjork), for his van (called the Provoloan, with the name of Boomer’s band, Across the River, spray-painted across it), for his different bands‘ music (punkish) and for the outdoor parties he organized with nothing more, he says, than “trash cans, a good generator with a voltage regulator so it doesn’t blow everyone‘s shit, some ice chests and some word of mouth.” Boomer had even been to L.A. to do music with fellow desert dudes Alfredo Hernandez and Scott Reeder, and befriended some of the guys at SST, the renowned Left Coast punk label.

Eventually, Boomer, Hernandez and Reeder moved back to the desert, where they continued doing Across the River, which Hernandez remembers as “a heavy thing, with a lot of bluesy-type beats and a punk rock edge. People would come up and say, ’You guys sound like Soundgarden.‘ I didn’t know who that was . . .”

Across the River had drawn interest from SST, but a combination of poor timing and miscommunication meant that it was not to be.

Boomer: “Things happened. I got married, had a couple kids, and we got head over heels involved in the family business. So: priorities.”

Across the River‘s unwillingness to tour meant they were also unlikely to land a recording contract. The band broke up, with Boomer and Hernandez soon forming an instrumental outfit called Englenook with bassist Gary Arce. Then there was Yawning Man, another band with Boomer, Hernandez and Arce. Boomer’s cousin Larry joined on bass at some point, and Arce was in and out, playing guitar. It was this Boomer-fronted band that Homme, Bjork and future Kyuss vocalist John Garcia saw most often while they were teenagers.

With two Yawning Man albums recorded but left unreleased, the closest most of us can get to hearing this band‘s music is on Kyuss’ final album, And the Circus Leaves Town, released in 1995, at which point the band was composed of Homme, Garcia, post-Obsessed Scott Reeder and Hernandez. The album‘s penultimate track is a gorgeous cover of Yawning Man’s tranquillity-in-the-sandstorm statement “Catamaran.” Placed next to the heavy testes-crushers that make up most of the album, it‘s a sign of respect, of making plain an artistic debt to some important template-builders.

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