Mark Heard isn't your typical Contemporary Christian musician. A look at his history in the industry will show him oscillating between the tops of the charts one year to relative obscurity the next. Which isn't to say Mark is unstable, or - horrors - unmarketable, it's just that as an artist, he's found more comfort in pursuing a craft than in pursuing a career and more joy in creating art than in creating airplay. Heard even jokes than he has "not yet had the good sense to start selling insurance" in a music career that he claims has remained mostly "bust."
But if you talk to CCM audiophiles, you'll find a less bleak portrait of Mark Heard, the artist. His fan following, though largely underground is enormously loyal, and anxiousty await any new pearls from the Heard pen and guitar. Which makes his newest project, Dry Bones Dance, a most welcome oasis in an over three year long album desert.
The album itself was one of those "almost didn't happen" projects. It actually began as a jam session in a promoter's barn, with Heard and an eclectic gathering of musicians, including Fergus Marsh (Bruce Cockburn Band), David Birmingham and Lou Lilli. Folks like Sam Phillips and Michael Been (of The Call) also lent a hand to the final project. Dry Bones Dance was also one of Heard's first experiences doing an album without record company expectations. "We didn't really consider it a serious record, which really helped because you can get bogged down in those things. We just took an approach of 'we don't know what this is, and we don't know if we're going to-put it out or what.' So for that reason, I think that it maintained a little life, and a little individuality that it probably wouldn't have had if we got too serious about the whole thing and tried to make it into an album."
Luckily for Heard fans, Dry Bones Dance did eventually find its way into album format and the result is nothing short of a Heard classic. Leaving behind the old "Ideola" sound, Heard has found what seems to be a much more comfortable niche (and perhaps a hearkening back to the old days) with some striking blues, bluegrass and folk rock music. And the lyrics...well, as expected, are second to none. Most Heard devotees would agree. Even if he didn't sound good (no chance), the lyric sheet would be worth the price of the album. Mark Heard has truly earned a place among contemporary poets.
Talking about poetry and art has also become trademark Heard fare. His days at Francis Shaeffer's L'Abri retreat are near legendary, and no interview with the man is complete without the standard, "what is good art" question: "Art is real simple - it's just expressing what you know and what you feel, and what you think is important enought to express in whatever form that takes. Art isn't too different from talking - it just takes different forms. A few carefully chosen words can actually say more than a lot of words. A bunch of pigments on a paper can evoke a feeling that would be hard to conjur up just by trying to explain that feeling. To try and describe what art is...I don't know. The term ART itself is too big and there's too much talk about it. You can't supplant art by talking about it, because that defeats the purpose of it. It's like the old Louis Armstrong story, when somebody asked him about jazz, and he said, 'if you have to ask, you don't know'."
All the heavy questions and expectations aside. Mark Heard still maintains a relatively normal lifestyle (though he does pigeonhole himself into that "flaky, irresponsible, unreliable artist" mold). These days he's busy in the studio working with other artists as a producer and contemplating taking Dry Bones out on the road. Beyond that, there's even plans for a new album early next year. The transplanted Georgia native and his wife and daughter live in sunny California and press on in the daily matters of life.
When asked what legacy he would like his art to leave, Mark says simply: "I think that all the mystery in the world, all the wonder in the world, all the tears of happiness, all the tears of sadness, all the truth in the world - they have all been rolled up into a big ball and thrown into a hole and boarded up by society. All I'd like to do is just to punch a peep-hole in that, so that somebody walking by might look in."
Roberta Croteau ( Release, Fall 1990 )
Copyright © 1990 Release
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