Mark Mallman Talks Guinness Book of World Records, Marathon Shows, Keyboard Riding

June 9, 2009  |  8:00am

Last month, when we reported on Gonzales’ 27-hour record-breaking concert, we didn’t foresee the controversy it would stir up. Apparently, we failed to give proper due to Mark Mallman, a singer-songwriter who allegedly performed a much longer show a few years ago. The “Marathon Two,” as it is known, sounded like the stuff of musical urban legend, clocking in at an ample 52 hours in length.

An e-mail from one disgruntled reader claiming to be Mallman (Mallman himself denied this, despite the fact that the sender pointed us to Mallman's publicist) explained that the only reason he didn’t hold the official record was because of Guinness’ entry fees:

“[Gonzales] is NOT the true winner - Guinness wouldn’t take my application because I couldn’t afford to pay the admissions fee. They are a rude organization, and if I’d had the money, I would have the award 5 years ago…but since I am not rich, I don’t.  end of story.”

Whether Mallman penned the missive or not, it seems the statement is partially true. Not only did he perform a 26-hour long show with his "Marathon" session in 1999, but he crushed his own record later in 2004. Weighing in at 52.4 hours, complete with multiple backing bands and 650 pages of lyrics, Mallman’s seemingly mythical “Marathon Two” session took place back at the Turf Club in St. Paul, Minn. Seventy-five musicians took turns backing Mallman as he performed one song for over two consecutive days, only breaking to go to the bathroom.

So why, then, was Gonzales clutching an official Guinness plaque at the culmination of his 26-hour, 200-song concert in Paris last month? Depends on who you ask. “I did apply [to Guinness], and I never heard back, and that was too bad,” Mallman tells Paste. “Guinness has never contacted me, ever. They never replied to my application.” A phone call to Guinness was not returned at the time of this writing.

Later on, according to Mallman, the organization sent a letter of explanation—not to him, but to the cultural satirists at The Onion. “There was a ton of press surrounding Marathon, and it even got on CNN,” Mallman says. “So Guinness sent this really long letter to The Onion, who printed it on a full page. Guinness questioned the nature of what a song is, and they didn’t want my song in their book.” 

We couldn't find any mention of the letter in The Onion's archives, but Mallman appears to be above the controversy. "It's really just a thing you hang on your wall," he says. "To me, I've always associated it with two fat twins on motorcycles. I guess for the sake of my mom, it'd be cool to be in their book."

Mallman maintains that he has no sour grapes toward Gonzales. "I don't see any real similarity between what I do and what Gonzales does," he explains. "It was never really a priority of mine to get a world record, because what I do with these Marathon things is really more like a performance art than it is an endurance test." He adds that he would like the credibility from Guinness, but doesn't need to make any enemies. 

Although Mallman's excruciatingly long concerts may seem like the work of a musical masochist, they're pretty par for the course for the entertainer. "We live in a time where bands like Of Montreal and Yeah Yeah Yeahs are bringing the show back to rock 'n' roll," Mallman says. "I've been trying to give a crazy show for a long time, and people are finally excited about that."

Crazy show, indeed. Mallman has been known for his insane onstage antics. "I've done everything, from flying like Peter Pan to doing a keyboard solo in the air, to playing a keyboard solo with a rear tire of a motor scooter, to playing in a cardboard box," he says. Not to mention, "riding the keyboard," which, according to Mallman, requires the expertise, precision and endurance of a ballerina. Mallman also has an onstage alter-ego who happens to be a werewolf, "but my publicist says I'm not allowed to talk about him." 

Five years after his last Marathon session, Mallman is still planning on doing them...forever. "I've always said I would do it until I actually die onstage," Mallman says. But with an upcoming tour and a new record (Invincible Criminal), he asserts that record-breaking is one of the last things on his mind. Meanwhile, the harsh economy, he adds, is yet another reason for artists to prioritize the entertainment aspect of their shows. "It's imperative that the performer and songwriter get off their laurels," Mallman says. "Money means more to people now, and they deserve a full-on show."

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