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MARK HEARD - REMEMBERED



Mark Heard's Fingerprints On My Life

I guess the first time I heard about Mark Heard was in CCM magazine in the fall of 1981. Karen Marie Platt reviewed his fourth album, Stop the Dominoes, and wrote a feature article on him. That article painted a picture of a man who was thoughtful, literate, skeptical, articulate, and in love with his wife. Through twelve albums, over the next eleven years, I found that picture to be accurate. His music spoke to me in ways that very few other musicians did. Mark passed away on August 16, 1992 in Springfield, IL. I will miss him deeply. Some random thoughts on what he meant to me:

Just A Dumb American

In 1980 Mark released the album Fingerprint on the Swiss' Palmfrond label. It included the song "Es Tut Mir Leid." Sung in German, the lyrics were: "I'm sorry / I'm sorry / I do not speak your language / I am just a dumb American / So please have mercy on me." My wife and I spent Christmas 1983 with friends in Germany. Before heading overseas, I made buttons for both of us with the German lyrics on them. "They just might get us out of trouble so wear it all the time." I told her. Sure enough, I found myself alone on a bus one day that did not seem to be going where I had planned. Eventually I ended up alone with the bus driver who did not speak a word of English. He looked at me and said something like, "Und sloppen der bratwurst in spiegelhoppin?" I looked at him with a stupid grin and opened my jacket to reveal the button. He read it and laughed. I showed him a map and pointed to where I wanted to go. He laughed even harder as he pointed to where we actually were. We were two cities and about 50 miles away. He motioned for me to sit down and kept giggling, "Dummer Amerikaner!" Five hours late, I arrived at my stop. Saved by a Mark Heard song! Betsy and I still have the buttons, in case we ever go back.

Real Musicians Do Eat Quiche

In the early 80s, I worked campus ministry with IVCF at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida. We sponsored a lot of free concerts with Christian musicians on campus. Usually we worked with a local CCM radio station, so we mostly had radio-ready groups like Petra and 2ndChapter of Acts. I wanted to bring in folks like Daniel Amos and Mark Heard but we couldn't get the radio station to fund groups that didn't fit the AMCCM format. One day, a group of local churches came to me and said they had some money that they wanted to use to hold some sort of event on the campus. Did I have any ideas on what to do and would I work with them? A quick call to Tim Alderson revealed that their amount would just cover Mark's expenses. We set the date for January 13, 1984. I was ecstatic!

Mark was not in his best form that night. He had seriously cut his hand on a spinning tape reel a few days before and had not gone to a doctor. He was struggling to play well. This was around the time that he recorded Mosaics and I remember him playing "Broken Wings" during the sound check. We got off to a bad start when the sponsors insisted that I introduce Mark by talking about the alliance of churches that was sponsoring him. This didn't seem to please Mark. The audience was probably only about a quarter Christian and he didn't want to make the others uncomfortable from the start by talking about how "Christian" this show was supposed to be. Then, during the show, he only mentioned Jesus once. And that was in the satirical line from "Nothing is Bothering Me" off Victims of the Age that mockingly encouraged people to reject Christ. "Jesus is knocking but don't let Him in / He might come like a thief and steal away your sin." The sponsors were not impressed. "It didn't bless me," the Christians told me. "He really loves people doesn't he," the non-Christians told me.

After the concert, we took Mark and Janet home for a late supper of quiche and salad. I really wanted to sit around and talk art and music with one of my idols and some like-minded friends. But, through an odd series of events, three absolutely wrong people ended up in our living room. It was a disaster. I've blacked the meal out in my mind and don't remember what was said, but it sure wasn't sitting around talking art and music with one of my idols and some like-minded friends. My wife, at least, enjoyed the evening. It turned out that she and Janet were both struggling to have children. Betsy and Janet had some comfortable talks while I tried to protect Mark from the conversation from hell. I ended the evening early, took the Heards to the motel, picked up a six-pack of beer and felt sorry for myself in front of Friday Night Videos. Mark liked the quiche and asked me to send him the recipe. I wrote him a letter later and forgot to include the recipe.

The Best Album Ever Recorded

Second Hand was released around the time of Cornerstone 91. At least that's where I first heard it. My friend, Carl, proclaimed it "The Best Album Ever Recorded." This year Carl was not able to join me for Cornerstone 92. Two nights before I left for the drive to Bushnell, Carl called me from Jacksonville. He had just picked up Satellite Sky. He had changed his opinion of Second Hand that day. It was now "The Second Best Album Ever Recorded."

Satellite Sky may not be the best album ever recorded but it probably is the best album Mark ever recorded. However, Ashes and Light remains my favorite Heard album. In 1983 Mark recorded Mosaics only to be told by his label that it was "too scary" to put out unless remixed. In 1984, they told him that they wouldn't even release a remixed album unless he did another acoustic album first. So, in five short weeks, he wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered the music that became Ashes and Light. A consistent moody feel, haunting David Mansfield violins, thoughtful lyrics; this album remains a classic.

Nice Shirt

After I put Mark on the plane in 1984 I did not see him for almost eight years. I ran into him with his sister at the Cockburn/Phillips concert in Atlanta last December. I was wearing my Second Hand t-shirt that night."Nice shirt." his sister said. We chatted about his new album, Pat Terry's country songwriting career, and the unavailability of his early work on CD. He was supposed to be playing guitar for Sam Phillips but had to drop out because his father had died from a bad heart. "Weren't you embarrassed to be wearing his t-shirt while you talked to him?," asked my friend Carl."Didn't you feel like a groupie?"

Cornerstone 92

Dan Kennedy printed my review of the Cockburn/Phillips show in The Cutting Edge. It was the start of a great hobby. Something to take my mind off the pressures of corporate management. I went to Cornerstone 92 with a press pass and a mission to interview artists for TCE. Number one on my list was Mark Heard. I spoke to him before his show and asked if we could get together the next day for an interview. He said he was leaving early the next morning but told me to call Dan Russell and set up a phone interview the next week. I expressed my disappointment that Betsy and Janet weren't there to compare pictures of our daughters. "Why wait on them?," he said as he pulled his wallet out. We exchanged pictures and talked about how much we loved being fathers for a while.

Mark's performance with Pierce Pettis and Pam Dwinell-Miner was marvelous. His jokes were corny. His guitar playing was a little sloppy at times. The new material was impassioned and challenging. His attacks on the ghettoization of the Church was downright preachy. Apparently, he had a heart attack during the show. After the show, Pierce came to the microphone and asked if there was a doctor in the house. I didn't pay much attention since I'm such a medical illiterate. A guy walked up to me and asked if I was a doctor. "No, but I play one on TV.," I answered. A few minutes later, I found out that Mark was laying backstage having a heart attack. I sat at my campsite and watched the ambulance take him away. Depression came in like a flood. There's no beer and Friday Night Videos to escape into at Cornerstone.

The next day, I wandered in a fog of depression. The rumors were not encouraging. I wanted to talk to somebody who would know how he was doing. That night I spoke to Pam Dwinell-Miner before that At the Foot of the Cross concert. She gave me the facts on his condition and I gave her a note to let him know I was praying. Before the show, she gave an update on Mark to the crowd and asked me to lead the group in prayer for him and for his family. I had wanted to "do something" all day for Mark. It was a healing moment for me.

How You Can Help

Mark's wife, Janet, and his four year old daughter, Rebecca, have been left in a tough situation. Mark's music was not commercially successful while he was alive. Janet and Rebecca will have to go on without even that income. If you can help financially, send your donations to:

Heard Family Fund
c/o New Sound
PO Box 197
Merrimac, MA 01860

How Chris Christian & Larry Norman Can Help

As a longtime fan of Mark's music, I appreciate Chris and Larry's role in bringing his music to the public. The albums Mark cut for their labels are among the most valued in my record collection. I have wanted to see his old albums released on CD for a long time. But, under the circumstances, I don't think they should release them. I believe that they should give the master tapes back to Mark's widow Janet and his four year old daughter Rebecca.

Chris and Larry, each of you has been given the opportunity to respond in a distinctly Christian manner to Mark's death. I believe it is important that you give Janet the tapes. It is not even enough to release the albums and give her the profits. She have lost Mark, let her own his work. I realize that Mark's music was not financially successful. Perhaps you even lost money on his contract. But this not an opportunity to recoup your losses. This is an opportunity to be obedient to James 1:27. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." I will be praying for you to do the right thing. I encourage readers of The Cutting Edge to do the same.

Can You Hear Me?

It's amazing. A person I barely know captures his emotions and experiences and forges them into poetry and music. Because our emotions and experiences are similar, that music helps me make sense of my own life. Mark captured this phenomenon in the song "Remarks To Mr. McLuhan" on the Fingerprint album. If you too are, as Mark put it, "stuck right in the middle," then I'm sure you find encouragement in the fingerprints and messages that he left frozen in his records.


Remarks To Mr. McLuhan

What difference does it make
If this was once upon a time
You supply the stereo
And I'll supply the rhymes
I'm aided by machinery
In hopes to reach your mind
Can you hear me
Can you hear me now

Just a needle scratching ridges
On this one way plastic groove
My vinyl destination
My revolving imputation
I'm singing and I'm playing
But my lips don't have to move
Can you hear me
Can you hear me now

But just as loud and clear
You hear this song come through the air
It's funny, but it's as close as I can come
To really being there

Frozen in this record
Are fingerprints and messages
Can you hear me
Can you hear me now


Joe Kirk ( Cutting Edge, ? )
Copyright by Joe Kirk for Cutting Edge Magazine

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