'Blue Skies,' flying shoes Cowpunk: Mary Prankster's song about Dundalk is gaining local airplay and popularity, though vulgar lyrics in her other songs limit her performance options.

July 08, 1998|By Young Chang | Young Chang,SUN STAFF

For the last month or so, fans of local radio station WHFS have been listening to something they've probably never heard before -- "Dundalk" in a song lyric.

And they love it.

The single "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," by an Annapolis cowpunk singer/songwriter who calls herself Mary Prankster, hit the airwaves in early June, and the reaction was "tremendous," says WHFS morning-show host Lou Brutus.

Prankster's label, Fowl Records, rushed out 1,000 copies of the CD, also titled "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," and almost immediately they sold out. The album is now in its second printing, and the relatively unknown Prankster is "overjoyed."

But Dundalk? Why does she invoke Dundalk in her song of love and heartbreak?

Prankster says she's just trying to find "the lighter side of a darker situation.

"People make Dundalk jokes in Maryland like the rest of the world makes Polish jokes, but it's actually a good, salt-of-the-earth community," says the 23-year-old.

A community, according to Prankster, that is "so typically Maryland that everyone in Maryland has heard of it ... and jokes about it, whether or not they've been there." A community, she says, that embodies characteristically "Maryland things" such as the "typical Baltimorese dialect and the blue-collar-can-do-attitude of the people there."

The CD's success is coming among a wave of successes and controversy for Prankster, whose sometimes-racy lyrics tend to be, in her words, "a little bit too out there."

Honored album

"Blue Skies Over Dundalk" is Prankster's first full-length, full-band CD. Her first release, a 1996 live recording on cassette titled "Mata Hari 4-Song EP," was nominated by the Washington Area Music Association for "Best Alternative Recording," along with the Dave Matthews Band.

In 1996 and 1997, reader polls by Music Monthly, the Maryland tabloid covering local music, named her "Best Acoustic Act," "Best Female Vocal" and "Best Folk Act." As a solo-acoustic performer, she has opened for acts such as the Violent Femmes, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dread Zeppelin. Now backed by a full band with lead guitarist Mike Lackey, bassist Cord Neal and drummer Matt Collorafice, both from the Martians, Prankster is performing at big-name venues like the 9: 30 Club in Washington and the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge in Bristow, Va.

In the last month, she has been promoting "Blue Skies," produced by the same label that launched the now-famous Jimmy's Chicken Shack (that band has since signed with Rocket Records, Elton John's label). Prankster has played "Blue Skies" atop WHFS (99.1-FM) vans parked at interstate rest stops and has made appearances at the Inner Harbor, drawing "huge crowds," according to Brutus. The CD is sold at venues such at Tower Records in Annapolis and Rockville, Ocean's 2 in Annapolis and the Sound Garden in Baltimore.

She'd 'rather not'

Prankster won't talk much about her private life. She would "rather not" reveal her real name and she'd "rather not" reveal where she went to school, because she likes the mystery.

"It's just like when David Bowie was Ziggy Stardust," she says. "He had a whole persona built around that name, and no one asked him where he went to high school."

In "Blue Skies," she sings this line: "But I built up so much character I have an alter ego." This alter identity is what she used to call her "evil alter ego," the one that used to come out when she was drunk, and about five years ago she named it "Mary Prankster."

"Mary Prankster" is a play on "Merry Pranksters," the group of hippies, including author Ken Kesey, who traveled around in the '60s dropping LSD, mostly in California. Prankster found the name in Tom Wolfe's 1968 book chronicling their escapades, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."

Prankster loves reading Wolfe. As influenced as she is musically by professional musicians such as the Pixies and local Annapolis punk band the Hated, Prankster considers herself "a writer first and foremost."

John Irving's 1989 book, "A Prayer for Owen Meany," is one of the more influential works she's read, and Irving and Dorothy Parker are two of her favorite writers. A newspaper editor in high school and a writer since age 13, Prankster says: "Music was just an extension of that."

Just don't perform

Despite her devotion, her music is not welcomed in some venues, including a few in her hometown. Phillip McGuckian, general manager of O'Brien's restaurant in Annapolis, says Prankster is welcome "to dine, to have drinks, to say hi ... but to perform, she's a little too ... heavy. The vulgarity that is used, it's just, unh, not acceptable.

"She has insulted people to the point where they've taken off shoes and thrown them at her," he says.

But Prankster says this was a one-time incident at A.L. Gator's, a Riviera Beach bar/concert hall now known as Daytona's, and the woman who had thrown her shoe had had a little too much to drink. "All of a sudden, as I was playing, a shoe whizzed by me," she says.

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