October 10, 2011

mark2007 My brother Mark passed away two weeks ago today at the age of 53. He he had struggled with alcohol problems for many years and the disease finally got the best of him, as it does for so many others. One can only hope and pray that in death he’s found the peace he was never able to find in life.

My brother assumed many roles during his life. He was a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a husband, and a father of three boys (now young men). He was beloved son and brother-in-law. As a woodworker, a tree worker, and a carpenter he was respected by everyone he ever worked for because of his capacity and willingness to work hard. As a soldier seeing action in the Gulf War in both Kuwait and Iraq, he was respected for his commitment to his duty. He was an incredibly creative and talented individual – far more talented than either of his brothers could ever hope to be. Whether it be art, drawing, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, even playing the drums (something he did well without any kind of formal lessons), Mark had an innate ability to pick anything he tried quickly and capably.

The Mark I remember most fondly is compressed into a half a dozen years between 1971 and 1977, when we were both in our teens and immersed in music. Because both of us were never anything but “all in” when it came to music, it was a common bond we both shared. After seeing a PBS show on Pink Floyd, then “England’s experimental rock band” in 1971, we became huge fans well before anyone had ever heard of “Dark Side Of The Moon”. When my friend Bob Noftle introduced us to The Beach Boys in 1974, Mark and I so immersed ourselves in their music (primarily their post-Pet Sounds catalog) to the point where Mark even recreated one of their re-release album covers on his bass drumhead when we were in our band, Top Priority.

Once I got my driver’s license we would take drives all over Boston’s North Shore, primarily to the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, or we’d follow Rte. 129 out to where it ended at the Lynn/Nahant seawall, one of our favorite destinations. There we’d just hang and talk about everything and anything going on in our lives while watching the tide come in or go out as planes landed across the water at Boston’s Logan Airport. Mark was a true lover of God’s creation, always in awe of the vastness of the ocean or the majesty of New Hampshire’s White Mountains he loved so much. We’d also go to movies a lot – we once saw “Jaws” so many times (I think it was well over twenty!) we got tossed out of a movie theater once for speaking the movie’s dialog along with the actors.

It was during the band years (1972-76) where we were the closest. Mark was a self-taught drummer, and he worked very hard to learn to play his instrument properly and was good at it. He designed our band’s “light towers” from ordinary materials you would find at any local hardware store, rigging a system of two sets of red, blue, yellow, and green spotlights from wiring and toggle switches incorporated into an empty cassette tape box. That’s how talented and creative he was. Mark had a pretty wacky sense of humor back in those days, and the band was as much for our own warped sense of entertainment as it was a creative undertaking. We never took ourselves too seriously – with Mark that would be impossible – and while we might not have been very good at what we did, we sure came up with some memorable ways to amuse ourselves at the expense of others. Those were fun times.

Given all this, it seems strange to write that, for all intents and purposes, Mark and I were pretty much strangers for the better part of his last 34 years – almost from the moment he enlisted in the Army for the first time back in late 1977. Even upon his very first leave out of basic training there was something different and distant about him. I’m no psychologist so I’m not going to speculate why, but he was different, and from that point on our lives arced in different directions. Sure, there would be the occasional family gatherings around the holidays or special occasions with the usual small-talk, but we never again found the time for the kind of long, deep talks we used to have by the seawall.

There was, however, that one night four years ago when Mark, me, and our Top Priority keyboard player Jerry Palma reunited for a night of reminiscing about the good old days. And for those brief couple of hours it was Mark as I remembered him from those pre-Army days – his wacky sense of humor bringing us to tears as we remembered all the crazy things we did while in Top Priority. He was as much at ease that night as I’d seen him in decades; it’s a nice memory to have.

The late Dennis Wilson was Mark’s favorite Beach Boy. At the time I thought that was simply because he and the Beach Boys’ drummer shared the same musical instrument; I think now it was because he somehow knew they shared the same kind of reckless, addictive personalities that drove their lives both positively and ultimately negatively. With Mark, as with Dennis, there was no middle ground: he was always “all in”, for better or for worse. A perfectionist, there was only one way to do things – the right way – and if he couldn’t commit to something 100% he wouldn’t do it at all. As a father, he loved his children more than anything in the world.

At the funeral service a week ago Saturday, the priest quoted the Easter Gospel where upon arriving at Jesus’ tomb the women are asked by an angel why they were seeking the dead among the living. Mark may not be with us any more physically, but he’s most certainly alive in the fine sons he raised to become young men. Seeing their poise and maturity at his wake and funeral was something I know he would be very proud of. He loved his sons more than anything else, and even with all his problems, they knew how much he loved them.

It’s hard to write about someone whose life was much more than the sliver of time I was actually close to him, but I hope I’ve caught the essence of the kind of person he was. As his oldest brother, I only wish he had been more open and willing to reach out to those he had to know loved him to help him battle the demons he couldn’t conquer or reconcile on his own. All I can think of is the vast unfulfilled talent and potential for greatness he left behind. His passing haunts me.

Dennis’ “Farewell My Friend” from his 1977 album Pacific Ocean Blue was composed following the death of his father-in-law; the song resonates with me because my grandfather died shortly after Dennis’ album came out. The song and its sentiment serves the same purpose now as it did then.

Farewell, indeed my brother. May you rest in peace.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:45 | Comments (2)
  1. Very sorry to hear this, GWS. R.I.P., Mark.

    Comment by Rob — October 10, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  2. Thanks Rob. Appreciate the kind response.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — October 10, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

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