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Mark Heard - Hammers & Nails: Biography [2003] Read more about Mark Heard in Hammers & Nails, the full-length biography by Matthew Dickerson. Out of print, but secondhand copies can be found on Amazon.

John Mark Heard
~ Poet to the Poets ~

Mark Heard

These days
We put on cars like shoes
And walk faster
We form lines and remain mute
Almost unaware of the walkers around us
As we transcend space
We put on wings like a coat
And spend morning and evening in separate worlds
Instant schizophrenia
As we transcend time

Maps hide cities
Cities hide houses
Houses hide faces
Faces hide hearts
But hearts still beat quietly
Few feel even their own pulse
But hearts are made to beat
We can drown them out with more accessible rhythms
But they continue the counterpoint
Hearts are made to beat
Our souls are still within us
Our Creator waits for us to notice
As our geographical boundaries
Are chased around the sun by time
Decaying in a fashion some call normal

[from Mark Heard's journal]

~ ~ ~

Mark was a poet. He was a man who felt the weight of the world. A man who saw both beauty and ugliness, and he realized that we must see both if we see them all. Mark was a man who not only refused to be blind to the world around him, but who saw that with a clarity, wisdom, and insight that is very rare these days ...

From the deep South of Macon, Georgia, to a rare and quaint village of Los Angeles, Mark was throwing his muse/recording his experience since the 70s. Mark's songs, at once visceral and philosophical to a degree uncommon in contemporary music, consistently integrated the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the humane and provided nourishment in a way so few others ever have. Although revered by many of his songwriting peers as simply one of the best, Mark's music, in his lifetime, never caught the attention of a large music-buying public - Mark was an artist more concerned with telling the truth than selling the truth.

When Mark passed away in August 1992 at the age of 40, he left behind a musical legacy that is staggering in scope, vision and volume. Having released 16 records in less than as many years, Mark was equally involved in supporting, producing and collaborating with many other artists such as Sam Phillips, Pierce Pettis, Phil Keaggy, Vigilantes of Love (Mark Heard and Peter Buck of REM co-produced VOL's album Killing Floor) and Michael Been of The Call. Mark's body of work has been praised by artists such as Victoria Williams, Buddy and Julie Miller, T Bone Burnett and Bruce Cockburn, who has even claimed Mark to be his favorite songwriter. Mark garnered a loyal following by penning untinted reflections on a life influenced equally by big ideas as by the small day-to-day issues with which any man, husband, father, or human has to wrestle.

~ ~ ~

On July 4, 1992, Mark was playing at the Cornerstone Festival, outside Chicago. He had a minor heart attack on stage, but finished the set. Afterwards, he went to a hospital. Mark was released from the hospital one week after being admitted. He wanted to get home before undergoing treatment for 2 blocked arteries. The doctors collectively decided he could make it home. The afternoon after being released, Mark had a cardiac arrest and died. After he got to the hospital, a doctor was able to bring him back to life and performed a successful bypass operation. Mark's heart recovered well, but because his brain was without oxygen from the time he died until he was revived, he never came out of the coma.

Mark with family
Mark, Janet, Rebecca and Mark's sister Susan

In an ironic turn of events, Mark had just been included on the Legacy II sampler from Windham Hill's High Street label, and was just on the verge of signing a mainstream contract with Canada's True North Records (Bruce Cockburn's label), to release an album compiling the best of his recent Fingerprint releases. There had been some discussions of that same project being distributed in the U.S. through Sony's Columbia label as well.

~ ~ ~

More significant than the amount of work ascribed to Mark was the quality of it, and the level of artistry he achieved on albums like Victims of the Age, Ashes and Light, Tribal Opera (as the one-man-band iDEoLA), and the triumvirate of albums released in the early 90's on his own Fingerprint label - Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand and Satellite Sky. It was on these last three albums released on Fingerprint that his restlessness and longing reach their peak, like a rubber band poised to snap forward.

Fingerprint Records logo

With honesty and self-examination that are both brutal and shockingly familiar, he tells the human story with all its brokenness and fear, leaving the listener battered and bruised and ready to "rise from the ruins" (in Mark's own words from the album Dry Bones Dance). Handling his guitar, accordion and electric mandolin like they were his last hope for redemption, he developed a sound that matched his frenetic lyrics.
Mark, you are deeply missed.

friends of Mark
our love to Janet and Rebecca Heard

"our dear dead dears, if there's anywhere to be, then you must be there ..."
(from the Daniel Amos 1993-album Motorcycle, dedicated to Mark Heard)

Like bees in a bottle we are flying at fate
beating our wings against the walls of this place
unaware that the struggle is the blood of the proof
in choosing to believe the unbelievable truth
They will dig up these ruins
and make flutes of our bones
and blow a hymn to the memory
of the Orphans of God

John Mark Heard 1951-1992
Dormite In Pace Dei

[ A Tribute To Mark Heard ]