Grand Funk Railroad frontman Mark Farner, who is part Cherokee, speaks in Native American-isms when explaining why he has released just one single (“Take You Out”) since 2006’s solo album, “For the People.” “If you lived in my moccasins for just a week, you’d understand,” says the stadium-voiced singer, who has received the Lakota Sioux Elders Honor Mark and the Cherokee Medal of Honor. He spends every nontour moment taking care of his quadriplegic son, Jesse, who recently injured himself back-flipping off a picnic table on a dare. Singles are all he has time for now, says the rocker, who appears this weekend on the “Happy Together” tour with 1960s-70s acts the Turtles, Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night), Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and Gary Lewis & the Playboys.
You’ve had some scary experiences yourself. You literally died over a year ago. Twice? Yeah. In Detroit, my body started going through these crazy spasms, and they rushed me to the hospital, where they hooked me up to an external pacemaker. And on the gurney, I went into this seizure and left my body, and immediately I knew all things and it was like being back in my mother’s womb almost. I was far away from the bone suit, on my way someplace. Then I started hearing my wife’s voice, and they got me to the OR and put a real pacemaker in.
What did you learn from your out-of-body experience? That the thing that stifles us as human beings is debt consciousness. Babies that come into our world owe nothing to anyone. But as they gradually start learning the language, then crawling and walking, they’re in a world that is debt-laden. So when we accept anyone’s expectations as a debt upon us, then we are broken from our true identity. Even churches are heaping more debt on people — we’re so full of debt anyway, it’s like, “Here — have a little bit from Jesus!”
How do you behave differently now? I ask the spirit to help me identify the debt that’s holding me back in my life. And another thing I learned when I came back to the bone suit was I could play slide guitar when I couldn’t before. I put a little pinky slide on one day, and I just started playing it, so it’s part of the repertoire now. It’s feeding my soul.
And you rely heavily on Cherokee teachings, right? It’s Mother Earth, its preservation, and our relationship to it. And when you have Native blood in you, it’s your strong suit. Period. Especially after watching my wife, who’s Chippewa, react to our son being paralyzed, sleeping next to his bed at the University of Michigan for months, in a chair, and not coming home. That mama-bear level of devotion was the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed.