I’ll still catch myself checking old conversations and emails between my friend Mark and I. They weren’t as often as I wished they’d been, but what we had were insightful, funny, and I looked forward to them as if they were conversations with a long lost brother. Mark was six years older than me, the same age difference between my biological older brother and I. We would often talk about politics(the ridiculousness of it all), music, books, our kids, and writing songs.
Mark was the first person outside family and friends to show genuine interest in the songs I’d write alone in my basement. It was way back when people used to share music on this dark web site called Myspace. He sent me a message saying he loved my songs. Turned out Mark had been familiar with my writing well before that first message. Mark had been writing local record reviews for years at a Fort Wayne arts and entertainment magazine and had reviewed everything I’d ever sent in there for consideration. He wrote under the nom de plume DM Jones. His words of praise and encouragement, as well as comparisons to Wilco, The Beatles, and Paul McCartney when describing my “style”, meant the world to me. I’d ride on a serious high for days after reading those reviews. Years later he reached out, not as DM, but as Mark Hutchins. He was a local music legend. Grace Engine, Vandolah, New Pale Swimmers, and as he was contacting me he was writing songs for an album under his own name.
We began emailing and talking back and forth about our mutual love of Wilco and the Beatles, and he hipped me to bands like Sparklehorse, The Pernice Brothers, and Vic Chesnutt. He eventually asked me if I’d ever want to contribute to his songs, adding piano and whatever nonsense I could come up with. I was over the moon, and the first song I did contribute to was something called “First Off The Moon”, coincidentally. I nervously sat at the piano in the dining room and picked out some chords on the Wurlitzer console with his demo track playing on my daughter’s little boom box and eventually came up with some half decent parts. He dug what I came up with and that began a working relationship that would last until 2016.
From 2009 to 2016 I would send music files via email to Mark and he would plug them in tunes as he saw fit. Even though our relationship started out as music buds, as time went on I feel it turned to a more personal friendship. Well, as personal as it got with Mark. He could be quite open and affable when he wanted, but he was also a very isolated soul. He could deflect with a self-deprecating barb when it felt things might be getting too close to something that resembled sharing. We’d talk about families, our kids, parenting, work junk, and attempting to find that musical muse when she’d seem to leave town to make some other frustrated songwriter happy. Still, it never got too heavy.
There are people in your life that show up out of nowhere and have an impact on you that is immeasurable, yet you never really get to know them. You think you know, but you only know as much as they want you to. Mark was one of those people for me. He arrived in my life and gave what I called my art legitimacy. He had nothing to gain by reaching out and saying “I like what you do.” It was also Mark who encouraged me to start writing for myself, after he’d read a little piece I’d written about Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born. Because of what he said I decided to start writing regularly and I haven’t looked back since. That encouragement to turn to writing has given me an outlet I so desperately needed. A place to lay things out and express my love for music and life has freed me from a lot of angst I was carrying around. It’s given me a way to express the good, the bad, and the sad.
I don’t know if I was anything like that for my friend Mark. I hope our conversations were helpful to him. I hope our friendship, however long distant it may have been, was a bright spot for him in some way. I never got a chance to let him know what he’d done for me, and for that I’ll always be sad about that.
My friend Mark has been gone for just over a year now and I miss our conversations, collaborations, and the camaraderie we shared as fellow Vonnegut worshipers and humans trying to make the most of it. He was a good soul who couldn’t see the good he possessed in himself. He was a great songwriter, a great friend, and one of the funniest guys I knew. He was also quietly sad and lost, and eventually couldn’t do it anymore.
Do me a favor, head over to Mark’s Bandcamp page and have a listen. I think Sleepy Furnace is one of the best album’s I’ve heard by anyone in years. It’s truly a work of greatness, and his shining moment. I know Mark would love that.
And so on.
Below is the one and only appearance of my band Goodbyewave playing at Wooden Nickel Records in May of 2010. Mark runs into the video late to help out on background vocals. He was always there to lend a hand, or a harmony.