Mother love

The way I like to think of it is that they love us like a mother, begins Mr. T Experience founder/guitarist/singer/depressed guy Dr. Frank. "No matter how much we drool all over ourselves, no matter how many things we knock over and break, no matter how many embarrassing things we blurt out in front of company, and no matter how many bad records we make, Lookout are still going to let us make another record. I don't think David Geffen would feel the same way!"

Dr. Frank may be full of self-deprecating humor--both on and off his group's seven discs (on various labels with varying lineups)--but he's no fool. He just plays one in a band. But what a band. It's virtually impossible to talk about decade-od San Fran-East Bay prank-pop-punksters MTX without mentioning Green Day, who MTX are touring with in Europe. And it's a pretty safe bet that Green Day wouldn't exist without the Mr. T Experience, who first bombarded the airwaves with 1986's Everyone's Entitled to Their Own Opinion, featuring the single "Danny Partridge Got Busted."

MTX have played with their homies before, but as Dr. Frank notes, "not since they turned into this big, real band, and we stayed a dumb little band. ['Dumb Little Band' being one of the amusing, biting cuts off MTX's latest 16-song opus, Love Is Dead.] Back in '89 we brought them into our homes--the pizza place, the laundromat, the living room...they're bringing us into their arena! As long as we don't misbehave and track mud all over the place, they'll sort of tolerate us!"

While Dr. Frank revels in his alleged depression, he's as articulate, amusing and energetic as his music, and clearly pleased that MTX, who nearly faded into nothingness several years ago, is rejuvenated. And it's thanks to 18-year-old bassist Joel Reader, who, at the age of 17, met Dr. Frank at the Gilman Street punk club in Berkeley. A longtime fan of MTX--he even knew all the songs--Reader cajoled the singer into letting him play with Frank and drummer Jym. "I was just gonna try to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and do something else," recalls Dr. Frank with dramatic humor, "but this was one of those crazy things that you'd see in the movies."

The result is Love Is Dead, a disc possessed of a lyrical eloquence that comes easily to Dr. Frank, who chronicles the foibles of love with a canny, stylistic ease coupled with the neurotic humor of Seinfeld. But MTX's happy/sad songs don't always sit well with the group's detractors.

"I think everybody, especially the sort-of punk rock spokesmodel' people, was wishing we would go away and wither and die," believes Dr. Frank. "I think it took those people a long time to really grasp what, if anything, was cool about this whole endeavor. Especially a lot of the 'uncool' and 'geeky' aspects of it, which are deliberate. Maybe it was the lack of 'pseudo-angst' and anger and all that."

Maybe. It's true that MTX's peppy, smart, amusing songs about sad subjects contain poignant, serious moments overlooked in the trio's musically infectious punk power. As in "I Just Wanna Do It With You," in which Dr. Frank playfully laments, "I'm not a cool dude/I don't have a tattoo or a big Cadillac or a backwards baseball hat/I'm not too tall and I can't play basketball/ I can't do much at all, but still you wanna touch it all... It's not just the Prozac talking/ I'm just a simple man who you could do much better than/ Still I ask respectfully, will you waste your life with me?" Ah, romance.

He not-so-grudgingly admits that Love Is Dead is "the best record yet]. I've been disappointed in almost all the other ones; severely disappointed. It's like varying degrees of remorse. I like this one quite a bit. It comes closest to being a proper execution of the concept that I was trying to do al along."

So, is big-timey success in the wings? Not for "the glass is half-empty and filled with poison" Dr. Frank. "There was a review of something that predicted that I was going to die lonely and insane like Van Gogh. I don't know what my preference would be," he muses, almost brightly. "I think insane, but not lonely is what I'm going to shoot for. That will be progress. I'll be doin' better than Van Gogh!"