Back in the 1990s when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I knew a fellow by the name of Mark Klee. Also, better known as Mr. Mark. Mark was nothing less than a straight up genius. He had the Friday afternoon slot on WMUH FM 91.7, and although the station has had its occasional slumps, it has remained the coolest station in the valley for decades. This was, and is, college radio. College radio means sometimes the DJ doesnt show up – at all. When that happened Mr. Mark was there faster than you could say T. Rex. So, careful and dedicated listeners could sometimes here Mr. Mark on the air a dozen or more hours a week.
We will get back to this radio stuff.
Had Mr. Mark only ever done the radio show he would have still been a big fish in the valley art scene. But Mr. Mark was everywhere. He did drawing, painting, watercolors and some sculpted pieces. He fronted a few local bands, including Mr. Mark & the Sizematics, and he worked in local theatre groups doing work in plays by Steve Martin, Karl Capek and T.S. Eliot. He may have also read more books than me, and certainly remembered more of what he had read. As a kid he used to read the Encyclopedia Britannica at the breakfast table. I just loved the guy.
Back to radio.
It was never enough for him to simply give you two hours of great music – and great music it was. Lots of Skinny Puppy and Bauhaus and Screamin Jay Hawkins. Also excerpts of sermons from The Church of the Sub-Genius. On top of all this, he would write his own stuff. This was wonderful stream of consciousness material about spaceships and giant ants and dinosaurs and all kinds of other crazy stuff that seemed like it came postage due from the back half of an old issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Pure Dada-esque lunacy that was always bubbling away on the back burner of his mind. He did this every week. Every show. FOR YEARS AND YEARS.
Now, much of it has been lost. Joe Swanson, the station manager at WMUH 91.7 was able to preserve some of it as manuscripts and tapes and I have a CD of lost” material – but much of it is as forgotten to time as Mark Twains reportage from the Nevada territories.
Every Friday afternoon I used to tune in and listen for the music to fade and for Mr. Mark to say those two magical words – Hey Gang”
You see, Hey Gang” meant that Mark Klee was holding his day-glow pink plastic clipboard in his left hand and was riding the WMUH microphone down the Mark Klee rabbit hole to lunacy and the ultra-absurd. I lived for that shit.
But after more than a decade of living for the same, Mr. Mark got tired of it all, and finally put an end to all those trips down the rabbit hole. On May 24th, 2001 Mr. Mark shot himself.
I had been out drinking with him earlier that week. Some of my friends had seen him more recently than that. Some only a few hours earlier. Nobody knows the why of it. The why of it has to be let go.
A lot of us were devastated by this. It was like the gift of grief that kept on giving. A huge gaping hole was left in the local art scene and more than four years later some of us have yet to fully recover.
The same week of the viewing and funeral there was a wake for Mr. Mark at the Theatre Outlet in Allentown. I had been thinking about Mr. Marks terrible parables all week. These were one or two minute bits that were told in the form of a fable or parable except they had no point or the point was absurd or an anti-point” like dont have ideas because it will just give the thought police things to do and wed rather that those skills remain un-honed. Weird stuff like that. But as outré as they were, they had a deep strange sort of consistency.
For instance, they almost always had a dinosaur. Or a spaceship. Or both. Mark LOVED dinosaurs. Once he gave a toast at a wedding and he said, If I had one wish in life, I would wish that these two people stay in love with each other forever. Actually, thats not true. If I had one wish, it would be that I could bring a Brontosaurus back to life and ride it around this grove like a cowboy, but if I had TWO wishes, my second wish would be for these folks to share eternal happiness. You had to know Mark to know both how funny and how true that was.
In any event, this wake was coming up and I was being haunted, for want of a better word. Mr. Mark was born on Halloween – so haunted was not entirely out of the question. I decided instead of a typical testimony I would write a terrible parable in the manner of Mr. Mark. I knew I could do it but I didnt know how it would be received.
As it happened, it wound up more or less being the closing speech and ended up getting a standing ovation. At a wake.
I dont think that speaks to the strength of the piece, so much as that something like 60 of us had been bawling on and off for days and days and needed to do something that didnt require bumming a Kleenex off the person next to us.
Normally, it is bad form to explain” your material but this was a local thing and a Mr. Mark in-joke to boot. So, as a newcomer to Mr. Mark, here is what you should know.
1.] Mr. Mark was born on Halloween and loved dinosaurs and monsters
2.] Mayfair is a lame-ass city of Allentown event that tries to compete with Bethlehems Music Fest and always falls on its ass financially and goes on for too long. Extending it would be evil. Our mayor at the time, Bill Heydt was in a particular do-nothing stagnant point in his administration. Partisan politics aside, the whole town felt like it was frozen in Amber that year.
3.] Mr. Mark loved to draw penguins. He was not tall. He danced like a penguin – and he knew it.
4.] Emma Tropiano was a small minded racist who sat on city council for multiple terms and could piss off people with her these people” remarks about the Latino community faster than anyone I ever met. She is also taking the dirt nap these days. In the unlikely event that the Morning Call or Muhlenberg College ever pick this up they will almost certainly cut that, if only because one is not supposed to speak ill of the dead – lest people ever shut up, but its still true.
5.] Mr. Mark was always incorporating places into his stories like the Allentown Nuclear Power Plant and Allentown Underground Morlock Monorail [actually, I just made that one up, but he would have loved it.] that did not, and could not exist, but really should have. I have been riffing on this joke for years now.
6.] Mr. Mark, like Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard before him, never quite left his home town and it is part of the tragedy of his loss.
So, having said all that – here is the piece I wrote for my friend, Mr. Mark, who we all still miss very much while waiting here underneath the shadow of the Allentown Lighthouse.
[Since you, gentle reader, may never have heard Mr. Marks unique cadence, you need to picture this being read in a voice that combines the grind of William Burroughs with the sing-song contralto of Laurie Anderson. I have thrown a boatload of italics and commas into this version to help the reader find Marks off-beat emphasis. When Mark wrote these for himself it was often one long run-on sentence like Kerouac having a bout of glossalalia, but thats because Mark knew where the emphasis was.
Picture if you will, a town without pity. A town where the roving gangs of Allentown Parking Junta employ telepathic Venusian Brain Bats to follow you around and fine you if you have too many clever bumper-stickers. So you say, Screw this jack, I am so outta here!” and you drive to the edge of town, but you cant leave. Why? Because the edge of town is a real edge, like in that scary Twilight Zone episode. Not the Shatner one, that Other Episode.
So you say, Aha!, Ill use the I-78 bypass to leave!”, but you find out that its not an automotive bypass, but a cultural bypass – shunting all the really cool stuff around the Lehigh Valley and leaving only enough to satisfy the Zombie Cultural Elite.
But you figure you will find a way to foil these Disney Audioanimatrons in their Ivory Tower of Ignorance by building a time machine and going back in time and changing everybodys birth certificate so that all of the citizens of the Valley were born on Halloween. This enrages the evil Lehigh Valley Triad run by the directors of the Allentown Zoo, Allentown Subway System, and Allentown Insane Asylum. In retaliation, the director of the Allentown Insane Asylum invokes a little known PA. Blue Law, and under the guise of eminent domain declares the town an open air free range sort of asylum extending all the way to that murky border on the edge of town. So you go back to your secret Fortress of Solitude and build a giant clunky Frankenstein Robot to teach the children of this dead-end burb the Happy Penguin Dance. This backfires, because all of the children are at MAYFAIR, which has been extended through August by decree of the lame-duck Mayor as a final act of vengeance.
Now, that edge of tiny-town is starting to look pretty good, so you jump into your Super Spy Mobile and drive past the looming shadow of the P.P. & L. building where Giant Pterodactyls stare down at the puny humans below, and past the juice-stand where kids are drinking Emma Tropiano Correct Thought Juice and finally, you pass right under the Giant Billboard with President Charlton Heston, wearing his Planet of the Apes astronaut suit, warning, “When Guns Are Outlawed, Only DADA DJ’s will have them.” and you’re gone Daddy-O, right past the “Here There Be Monsters” sign and out into the fog. But, Hey!, there’s no scary monsters at all – only big friendly Dinosaurs and you tell yourself it’s going to be OK.