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An Original Man

There is no possible way for me, alone to sum up the life of a loved one. You would have to assemble and interview family members, living and passed on, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and so many more to get a full and proper picture of anyone.

For who wonder, I learned this morning my eldest brother Mark had passed in a hospital in Vermont. This was not a surprise; he had been hospitalized for several weeks with a number of interconnected health problems, and they eventually got the better of him.

That in itself is not uncommon. The hard part is to write something about a brother that, it seems, I didn't really know all that well, and yet I remember seeing, hearing, and understanding enough (I thought) to have a picture of him.

There again, is no way for me to get the full picture. So I'll try and give you mine.

Now Mark was first and foremost a Rolling Stones fan, and we'll talk about that in a bit, but the only tune that crossed my mind in recent days, was this one:

Gonna bet you've never heard that one...this was actually written for their original frontman, Keith Relf, but the words just fit. I can't think of what I could write, beyond this.

That said, our parents and each of us siblings I think could say each of us was an original, and you'd say the same about yours.

Mark lived 70 years and a few days; that makes him 15 years older than me. The four of us were spread out a few years. My recollections are not exactly specific, due to my own memory issues, and I suppose, not wanting to go to some others.

I remember Mark as being a good big brother, patient with a younger sibling who didn't have much attention span, and who didn't know left from right very well. I'm not going to say my relationship with my siblings was perfect, because it was not.

Mark and David both introduced me at a very young age to music. The Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, CCR, the Doors, and later I had my intro to the blues with Johnny Winter. Most parents would probably freak out knowing I knew the lyrics to "19th Nervous Breakdown" at age three--right up there with "Sesame Street" songs...the former had more of an influence on me, needless to say.

I did not feel the sibling rivalry as strongly until I grew into adolescence. I also just have really vague memories of Mark. Living in the farm house, also living in Morrisville, VT, about 15 miles away. I remember an amazingly talented musician, a fixer, a mechanic, someone who could take things apart and put them back together again.

I have hazy recollections of his cars, a huge white Dodge, the wreckage of which ended up in a ravine near our house (it is still there, I believe). Of course, the one that I think is still on the farm, the 1954 Studebaker, which I remember as a very young child riding in, a monster of a machine. The last project, he didn't get to.

He also raced cars--yes, that car is what you think it is. It originally belonged to David--Mark tore it up, painted it black and put a succession of engines in it and raced the damn thing! Eat your fuckin' heart out, Wayne and Garth...

Another thing, too--Mark was intelligent, as well as smart. All of us have these odd storehouses of information, experience and knowledge we picked up. Mark could speak on a lot of subjects; when you look at the discussions he had on Facebook at times, you were like, "Where did he learn that?"

We do have to talk about the darker sides of him. It is no secret Mark battled alcohol and drug problems most of his life. I was only slightly aware of these issues at first, but I also saw enough to know what not to be.

Eventually, he did bottom out, and had related issues. There's no point in leaving this out--it happened, instead of sweeping it under the rug, now, we are finally starting to see addiction as illness, as it should be. As someone who has battled his own dark side (not demons, I don't believe that's the right term), I know what it is like, but I cannot know the actual fight that went on inside him.

Over time, we also must look at what else he did. Mark married twice, father two daughters, and did the best he could (I hope) under the circumstances to be the father Sara and Hanna required.

He gave up music for a very long time. I recall when I started playing, he would not even look at me while I was playing, or listen. Mark wasn't ready for that yet.

When he did, he dug into his repertoire, and produced over 200 pieces, many instrumentals, but layered tracks on tracks, and also proved he could write good lyrics. My former bandmates said, they wanted to play with him--could we get him to Pennsylvania?!?

So sad we didn't. I got one chance to play with him, in 2009. We sat down in the farm house, I played a few of my songs, and some covers, and I was amazed at how he just fit himself into every damn song, and most of them he didn't know.

Listening to the Stones now; I think we could agree the older stuff was a bit better, but I'm sure he appreciated the later work, as I do. Funny, I don't know this one, from Exile on Main Street. "Following the River" was added to the reissue; Mark said that song moved him to tears. reason for writing this is to say that while incomplete, my memories of Mark are largely good. Yes, there's some bad, there's some indifferent, and some incomprehensible. As with all brothers, there were times I loved him, times I hated him, and times where I could have cared less. At heart, he is still my brother, and that is that.

Here is another thing: my spiritual meanderings do not consider that Mark has died. He has merely left his body; it was no longer of use to him, and the time came to move on to the next thing, whatever that is. Don't ask me, because I do not know--none of us know for sure, until we arrive.

Forgive me for misspellings, skipped words or failed recall, but I just wrote this, not for nothing, I had to get my own thoughts out there. In this world, we can all do that.

If he is reading this, I would say to Mark, thank you. Thank you for being my brother, for putting up with me, and letting me know in your own way when I needed to learn something. You inspired me, as have each of our siblings.

Safe passage to the Summerland, bro...hopefully I'll see you.

Blessed Be.


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