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Mark Shurilla R.I.P

May. 15, 2012
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There wasn't a name for what Mark Shurilla was doing when he started a Milwaukee band called the Electric Assholes in the mid-1970s. A couple of years later when punk rock came to town, Shurilla found a context for his inventive spoofing of cultural figures (he transformed a popular Elvis number into "All Fucked Up"). But he always maintained his own "reality," to use one of his favorite words, and engaged life from a unique angle.

Shurilla died at home on May 14 after being treated in the hospital for a heart attack. He was 64.

Ever the sly subversive, Shurilla changed the Assholes' name to the Blackholes and performed a tribute for baseball legend Warren Spahn at County Stadium in 1979. The single he released in conjunction with the event, "Warren Spahn," represented his aesthetic as well as anything he ever did: powered by '60s roller-rink organ and including a broadcast snippet by sportscaster Earl Gillespie, "Warren Spahn" was steeped in both vintage pop and an only slightly ironic love for Shurilla's homeland, Milwaukee.

Sadly, his brilliant concept for a new musical genre, "power polka," never gathered much steam, but he cultivated a successful career around the Midwest with his Irish band McTavish and his Buddy Holly tribute act. Shurilla became editor of the Express music paper in 1983, several years into its existence, and helped engineer the 1987 merger with the Milwaukee Shepherd creating the weekly Shepherd Express. He wrote a book on music and baseball for local publisher Michael Corenthal and produced recordings, notably last year's excellent CD by Milwaukee's Elvis Thao.

Shurilla was always one of a kind, brimming with ideas, bustling with energy, charting his own eccentric course. He will be missed.


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