NOTE: Appeared in accordionist Geoff Berner‘s newsletter, thought is a sizzling piece of writing so posting/sharing here so i don’t lose it.
Also worth noting, saw Mr. Berner with Ms. Mark and their pal Kris Constable in Victoria at Copper Owl a few years after this dispatch… might have a photo somewhere. Oh and Carolyn Mark also does songs with NQ Arbuckle, another quirky, interesting songmaker.
“A Short Treatise on Miss Carolyn Mark”
Carolyn Mark’s wit is legendary. I’m not talking about scripted, tested yuck-fodder. I mean spontaneous, off-the-cuff, whip-smart wit. I once saw her at a summer festival, and some white hippies approached the stage before she began her set. They wanted to know if she minded if they “jammed along” with her on their African djembe drums. She leaned into the mic and earnestly explained to them that she loved “jamming”, but she wouldn’t be able to jam with the djembes, because “both my parents were actually killed by hand drums. So they’re very traumatic for me.”
Carolyn Mark is not dead. But I think people ought to be paying tribute to her now, while she’s around to feel embarrassed about it. And people should be covering her songs. Say you’re a musician. Say you’re making an album. Are you absolutely sure that you could not possibly cut one of the 10-15 songs of yours that you’re thinking of putting on there, and replace it with a Carolyn Mark song? A Carolyn Mark song adds Vim, Cleverness and Betterness to any recording—guaran-goddamn-teed! Or your money refunded.
Her work is best described with a phrase that another genius, Sheila Gostick, once used on her own gig poster: ”Funnier than comedy, sadder than music.”
Here are some samples of her cleverly heartbreaking lyrics,
“Don’t you worry, it’s not over, it’s just that after last night, I thought I’d take a break from being president of your fan club.”
“I’m too lazy to beat myself up over being too lazy to, you know, beat myself up.”
“Read my lips you fucker: chew that gum again, we’re through.”
Or this classic—
“Don’t come over, baby. You’re not invited. Love is so much better when it’s un-requited. So go to Hell, leave me alone, and please don’t answer, baby, when I call you on the phone.”
And my fellow musicians, no one I know couldn’t identify with Back in Chumpville:
“Just when I think that I’m through with that town, thinking I’m up just to find that I’m down. I’m back in Chumpville again.”
One time Carolyn and I had a day off in Bergen, Norway. We decided to try to stay out of trouble by lurking in at Jörgen from Bergen’s house. Carolyn has a lyric from “Port Moody”: ”It’s the nights without shows that get me in trouble, restlessness grows, and appetites double.”
Jörgen had a video copy of “Hardcore Logo”. It’s a movie about a fictional Canadian punk band. In the movie they make a big deal about how this tough bunch of crusty punk tough guys are gonna take the long hard road across western Canada in their van, in the wintertime!
As the Toronto actors were hyping up the toughness of their western road-warriorness, I looked over at Carolyn, immaculately dishevelled in polka dot pyjamas, sipping red wine. It occurred to me that the manly fancy-pants fake punkers in the movie were moaning and groaning about doing something that Carolyn had cheerfully done at least twice a year for the majority of her adult life. And stayed up till at least 5 am each night of each show, partying with her local pals, before the 800 km drive each day, laughing and telling dirty jokes along the way. For crying out loud. I promise you that If Chuck Norris tried to live Carolyn Mark’s lifestyle, he’d be weeping like a baby and begging to be taken to a Swiss sanitarium inside 5 days.
Not everyone likes Carolyn. She is not polished and laquered to a sheen, like the Robot Horror People of New Country. She’s been “shushed” for talking (loud) in all the finest venues in North America and Europe. Like love itself, or a hurricane, Carolyn respects no boundaries. It’s just how she’s built.
Once, in London, Ontario, I watched as she and DD determinedly brought their red wine glasses out to the fire escape to smoke, retreating back inside each time the manager lady came out to scold them about bringing alcohol outside, which you can’t do in Canada, because if you did, society would collapse. Time and again, as soon as the lady was gone, DD and Carolyn exchanged a solemn look, lit up, and stepped back out with their wine. Finally, the exasperated lady came out and shouted at them, “Do you two just think that the normal rules of human behaviour just DON’T APPLY TO YOU??!!!!!” DD and Carolyn responded by solemnly looking at each other again, looking at the lady, looking back to each other and collapsing in a fit of helpless laughter. The manager lady told them that they should go home. This of course caused greater laughter to ensue.
That total lack of respect for all the rules about everything is what makes a Carolyn Mark show a True Experience. It is not like watching television, or even Youtube. It is spontaneous, unpredictable, full of humour and rueful truth. And the songs are deceptively, expertly crafted missiles of equal parts nasty observation and strange comfort. The world would do better to hear them. So before you go out there and sing bloody bloody “Hallelujah” one more time, think about singing “Edmonton” instead. ”Hey, do you remember me? Oh yes, we’ve met before. I’d like to ride your coat-tails, or just nail them to the floor.”