Mark Heard's Fingerprints On My Life
I guess the first time I heard about Mark Heard was in CCM magazine in thefall of 1981. Karen Marie Platt reviewed his fourth album, Stop TheDominoes, and wrote a feature article on him. That article painted a picture of a man who was thoughtful, literate, skeptical, articulate, and inlove with his wife. Through twelve albums, over the next eleven years, Ifound that picture to be accurate. His music spoke to me in ways that veryfew other musicians did. Mark passed away on August 16, 1992 inSpringfield, IL. I will miss him deeply. Some random thoughts on what hemeant 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'msorry / I'm sorry / I do not speak your language / I am just a dumb American / Soplease have mercy on me." My wife and I spent Christmas 1983 with friendsin Germany. Before heading overseas, I made buttons for both of us with theGerman lyrics on them. "They just might get us out of trouble so wear itall the time." I told her. Sure enough, I found myself alone on a bus oneday that did not seem to be going where I had planned. Eventually I endedup alone with the bus driver who did not speak a word of English. He lookedat me and said something like, "Und sloppen der bratwurst in spiegelhoppin?" I looked at him with a stupid grin and opened my jacket to revealthe button. He read it and laughed. I showed him a map and pointed towhere I wanted to go. He laughed even harder as he pointed to where weactually were. We were two cities and about 50 miles away. He motioned forme to sit down and kept giggling, "Dummer Amerikaner!" Five hours late, Iarrived at my stop. Saved by a Mark Heard song! Betsy and I still have thebuttons, in case we ever go back.
Real Musicians Do Eat Quiche
In the early 80s, I worked campus ministry with IVCF at the University ofWest Florida in Pensacola, Florida. We sponsored a lot of free concertswith Christian musicians on campus. Usually we worked with a local CCMradio 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 Heardbut 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 hadsome 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 callto 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 ona spinning tape reel a few days before and had not gone to a doctor. He wasstruggling to play well. This was around the time that he recorded Mosaicsand I remember him playing ''Broken Wings'' during the sound check. We got offto a bad start when the sponsors insisted that I introduce Mark by talkingabout the alliance of churches that was sponsoring him. This didn't seem toplease Mark. The audience was probably only about a quarter Christian andhe didn't want to make the others uncomfortable from the start by talkingabout 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 encouragedpeople to reject Christ. "Jesus is knocking but don't let Him in / He mightcome like a thief and steal away your sin." The sponsors were notimpressed. "It didn't bless me," the Christians told me. "He really lovespeople doesn't he," the non-Christians told me.
After the concert, we took Mark and Janet home for a late supper of quicheand salad. I really wanted to sit around and talk art and music with one ofmy idols and some like-minded friends. But, through an odd series ofevents, three absolutely wrong people ended up in our living room. It was adisaster. I've blacked the meal out in my mind and don't remember what wassaid, but it sure wasn't sitting around talking art and music with one of myidols and some like-minded friends. My wife, at least, enjoyed theevening. It turned out that she and Janet were both struggling to havechildren. Betsy and Janet had some comfortable talks while I tried toprotect 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 sorryfor myself in front of Friday Night Videos. Mark liked the quiche and askedme to send him the recipe. I wrote him a letter later and forgot to includethe recipe.
The Best Album Ever Recorded
Second Hand was released around the time of Cornerstone 91. At least that'swhere I first heard it. My friend, Carl, proclaimed it "The Best Album EverRecorded." This year Carl was not able to join me for Cornerstone 92. Twonights before I left for the drive to Bushnell, Carl called me fromJacksonville. He had just picked up Satellite Sky. He had changed hisopinion of Second Hand that day. It was now "The Second Best Album EverRecorded."
Satellite Sky may not be the best album ever recorded but it probably is thebest album Mark ever recorded. However, Ashes and Light remains my favoriteHeard album. In 1983 Mark recorded Mosaics only to be told by his labelthat it was "too scary" to put out unless remixed. In 1984, they told himthat they wouldn't even release a remixed album unless he did anotheracoustic album first. So, in five short weeks, he wrote, recorded, mixed,and mastered the music that became Ashes and Light. A consistent moodyfeel, haunting David Mansfield violins, thoughtful lyrics; this albumremains a classic.
After I put Mark on the plane in 1984 I did not see him for almost eightyears. I ran into him with his sister at the Cockburn/Phillips concert inAtlanta 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'scountry 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 outbecause his father had died from a bad heart. "Weren't you embarrassed tobe wearing his t-shirt while you talked to him?", asked my friend Carl."Didn't you feel like a groupie?"
Dan Kennedy printed my review of the Cockburn/Phillips show in The CuttingEdge. It was the start of a great hobby. Something to take my mind off thepressures of corporate management. I went to Cornerstone 92 with a presspass and a mission to interview artists for TCE. Number one on my list wasMark Heard. I spoke to him before his show and asked if we could gettogether the next day for an interview. He said he was leaving early thenext morning but told me to call Dan Russell and set up a phone interviewthe next week. I expressed my disappointment that Betsy and Janet weren'tthere to compare pictures of our daughters. "Why wait on them?", he said ashe pulled his wallet out. We exchanged pictures and talked about how muchwe 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. Thenew material was impassioned and challenging. His attacks on theghettoization of the Church was downright preachy. Apparently, he had aheart attack during the show. After the show, Pierce came to the microphoneand asked if there was a doctor in the house. I didn't pay much attentionsince I'm such a medical illiterate. A guy walked up to me and asked if Iwas a doctor. "No, but I play one on TV.", I answered. A few minuteslater, I found out that Mark was laying backstage having a heart attack. Isat at my campsite and watched the ambulance take him away. Depression camein like a flood. There's no beer and Friday Night Videos to escape into atCornerstone.
The next day, I wandered in a fog of depression. The rumors were notencouraging. 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 Crossconcert. She gave me the facts on his condition and I gave her a note tolet him know I was praying. Before the show, she gave an update on Mark tothe crowd and asked me to lead the group in prayer for him and for hisfamily. I had wanted to "do something" all day for Mark. It was a healingmoment for me.
How You Can Help
Mark's wife, Janet, and his four year old daughter, Rebecca, have been leftin a tough situation. Mark's music was not commercially successful while hewas 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 inbringing his music to the public. The albums Mark cut for their labels areamong the most valued in my record collection. I have wanted to see his oldalbums released on CD for a long time. But, under the circumstances, Idon't think they should release them. I believe that they should give themaster 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 adistinctly Christian manner to Mark's death. I believe it is important thatyou give Janet the tapes. It is not even enough to release the albums andgive her the profits. She have lost Mark, let her own his work. I realizethat Mark's music was not financially successful. Perhaps you even lostmoney 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 ourFather accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans andwidows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by theworld." I will be praying for you to do the right thing. I encouragereaders of The Cutting Edge to do the same.
Can You Hear Me?
It's amazing. A person I barely know captures his emotions and experiencesand forges them into poetry and music. Because our emotions and experiencesare similar, that music helps me make sense of my own life. Mark capturedthis 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 sureyou find encouragement in the fingerprints and messages that he left frozenin 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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