From left: Larry Lalli, Mario “Boomer” Lalli and Tony Tornay
Larger Than Life: Casting shadows with Fatso Jetson
by Jay Babcock
A much shorter version of this piece was published Thursday, Dec 12 2002 in LAWeekly
Look closely at almost any significant rock band’s background—at its deeper, hazier context, at its place/space in its particular subcultural zeitgeist—and you will find someone who acted, perhaps unwittingly, as a crucial instigator: a subtle yet critical link without which 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 one quality that I’ve been searching for since the moment I saw him, and that is Boomer is un-heckle-able,” says Joshua Homme, the leader of the Queens of the Stone Age, who’s been watching Lalli play since he (Josh) was 14. “There could be a wide array of reasons to heckle Boomer—but it’s impossible when you watch him play. The second he starts to play, when he squints his eyes? I’ve never heard anyone go, ‘bleh, shut up!’ I’ve seen people not like it, but I’ve never seen anything thrown at him. Nothing. Because you believe it.
“It’s for real.”
* * *
Born in 1966 as “Mario” and quickly tagged with the impossibly appropriate 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 re-located to Pasadena earlier this year after three decades in the low desert, Mario Sr. and Edalyn lead the Mario Singers, a small group of performers, most of whom have other roles at the restaurant, in belting out two 30-minute shows (three on weekends) every night for the diners. (Now 80, the senior Lallis are still working/singing every evening, even on Sundays at 9.) [Restaurant’s now closed.—Ed., 2010]
“Our family has had a restaurant there for 30 years,” says Boomer. “For 20 of those years it was very successful, and summers off were just party time, just great. But now, it’s just changed. 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 there these days. Our lease was up in the desert and we just thought What the fuck, let’s go for it in Pasadena.
“And you know, 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.
“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. You wanna go skateboard? Find a pool, bail it out. You do all that work, you put effort into it, and then you’ve got this place. And that bled over into music.”