Mark Heard - Musician, Mentor, FriendI first met Mark at Midtown Light & Trust, a coffee house in the incredible Fox Theater in Atlanta. Mark played there, but was also friends with the people who started ML&T, and he was a patron. Mark was musically all over the map the night I met him, with classical, rock, jazz, folk, serious, silly, and off the wall. 
Just Plain Mark.
Mark had gone to the Clarke County Community Cow College  where he majored in journalism, minoring in electronic media or something (basically, TV). When I met him, he was a full time musician playing gigs part time, and working full time at his part time job at Spinks Co.
When it was time to get a paying job (the coffee house gig was donated time), Mark got me a job at Spinks. This was one of the most bizarre places I had ever worked. I got the job at the interview (as much because of Mark's reputation as anything). The moment I walked out of the interview, Dean (the owner) ran up to Homer (the foreman) and instructed him not to hire me until I cut my hair.
"Well, Dean, you should have told me that before I hired him."
We learned basic shop stuff at Spinks, as well as some machining. We made automatic chicken feeders (which also fed prize-winning hogs and the dogs owned by Ralston-Purina) and orthopedic mattresses, among other things.
And Mark, who hated messing with electricity with a passion, who knew nothing about it except where the plug goes, and "this stuff can kill you!", naturally got to assemble and test the relay boxes, which used both 110 and 220 VAC.
Mark lived near me, and we often rode to Spinks Company together. Once we were rear-ended at the old I-75/North Avenue onramp. Jerry Reed, in the cassette player, was doing a wild banjo solo or something and chortled, "Lawd, what an endin'", and BLAMMO! The car lurched forwards several feet, the seats tilted back farther than their design specs mentioned, and the tape player flew into the back seat. Naturally, Mark didn't even worry about himself - he checked on me and ran to check on the other guy. Mark's car's rear end was hosed so badly that it took him 30 minutes to fill up the gas tank, because of the bends in the filler pipe.
[Mark & I had on shoulder belts. We got off easy. The guy who rammed us wasn't wearing any restraints, and busted the windshield with his forehead, getting lots of tiny glass slivers in his eyes as a reminder. He was unconscious when we got to him, and woozy for a long while after.]
Two days later we were both putting the last, obnoxious bolt onto a Spinks special double hopper job, when someone yelled it was break time. I finished tightening the nut, and realized I could not move from the weird, contorted position you had to get in for that last nut & bolt. Neither could Mark! I finally rocked myself out, fell on the floor, and was mobile again. So I had to drag Mark out and knock him down. Only time I can recall getting thanked for being rough with someone!
Dean was (IMO) penny-wise, but pound-foolish, and we were very short of face masks. As a result, with all the metal & wood dust, chemicals, etc in the air, Mark's voice suffered terribly. He typically had concerts Friday through Sunday nights, but it was Monday morning before he quit hocking up all sorts of nasty stuff and his throat returned to normal. At which point, of course, he had to start breathing all that crud again. He still did a great job of singing.
Pat Terry introduced Mark to Larry Norman after one of Larry's concerts in Atlanta. Mark gave Larry a quick demo tape, and a week or so later was asked for a real demo. Over the next month or so, Mark spent nearly every waking minute away from Spinks Co. at Pat's studio. The net result was inevitably that Mark went to California to make records.
Mark married his long time sweetheart, Janet, and settled into the music business. The problem was that Mark was inherently one of the most real, honest people ever to walk the earth. He could not sacrifice his integrity for sales. He also kept hoping that quality would win people over. He never really came to grips with the fact that the average consumer could care less about quality, especially if the music didn't always make them feel good.
Mark remarked more than once that he loved playing in Europe. People would listen. If they disagreed, they would come up and talk with him afterwards. Here in the States, they either liked him (a few), were bored (too many), or yelled at him when they disagreed.
Mark was, as I noted, incredibly real and honest. His lyrics and music, like his life, were open, and expressed what he felt. He constantly strove to communicate. He sought after Reality and Truth with an amazing zeal. He loved people. He loved God. He wanted to help build the bridge between.
Mark taught me more about reality, about God, about life, in the few months we worked together, than just about every teacher I ever had of any sort, all put together. When his grandfather died, he wrestled to come to terms with it. We talked at length, and I learned the danger of handing Mark a platitude. I learned to hate death also, not just blithely accept it. Through Mark, I came to term with the death of a friend I had let down who committed suicide. Mark was always willing to be there for you.
He built a desk from the wood from his grandfather's house, and wrote many of his later songs there.
Mark played almost anything with strings, as well as other instruments. He did some really great work with acoustic & electric guitar, as well as mandolin. He co-wrote, played, and sang with Keaggy & Stonehill on Keaggy's Sunday's Child. He produced albums for several groups, including Jacob's Trouble's let the truth run wild!, and the Vigilantes of Love's Killing Floor (with Buck of REM). He could pour out emotion from his songs with instruments and vocals like few can do with either alone. He did this on about a dozen albums.
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, where he stayed for a week or so. After being given a clean bill of health, he left, met his wife and 4 year old daughter Rebecca, and went for a walk. A couple of hours later, another heart attack hit, this one fatal. He stayed in a coma for about a month, before they gave up and pulled the plug on August 16. His insurance was grossly inadequate, but fans, friends, and a tribute album all helped, and the bills were eventually paid off.
I didn't take Mark's death gracefully. I spent a lot of time demanding answers from God (the answers I got, of course, were not the answers I demanded, but the ones I needed), some time crying, screaming in rage, and even beating my head against the wall (fortunately Dany's living room had a number of former outside walls, which even my hard head failed to dent).
I was supposed to have been at Cornerstone, but money was too tight. I had really looked forward to seeing Mark there - we had kept up, off and on, via mail but it had been several years since I'd seen him. I was going to surprise him. But he surprised me (and himself, no doubt).
Janet & Rebecca are doing as well as can be.
I don't really know how to end this, except to suggest you get something - anything - that he recorded, and listen. Really listen to what he has to say. Then you will also know Mark a little bit.
I really look forward to seeing him again.
Copyright 1994, 1996, 1997 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved. Miles O'Neal <meo@XYZZY.rru.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514