“You and Scott have known him longer than the rest of us,” Travis Ryder said. “We should post a blog about Mark for his retirement.”
|Mark and his son Pete, 1973|
It’s true. I think I met Mark in 1977, shortly after moving to northern Minnesota. At the time he was working with Harmony Food Co-op in Bemidji as a founder and manager. He went by Mark Strand back then. The rumor was that he had adopted a pseudonym to escape something, maybe punishment for avoiding the draft, or maybe something else. He lived in a granary in Debs, had been vegetarian his entire adult life, and didn’t allow forks in his house because they were symbols of western imperialism (chopsticks only, please).
Whenever there were big battles and disagreements at the co-op, Mark was right in the middle, fighting for his principles. He was famous for holding grudges—to the point even of “shunning” people sometimes—and had an intellect and command of the language that could “zing” someone so badly and so incisively that they never forgot it.
Mark is one of the most radical people I’ve ever met. He buys absolutely nothing if he can help it, wearing only the clothing that is given to him and furnishing his “cave” with cast-offs. This is, of course, intentional and in line with his rejection of consumerism, corporatism, or just about anything typical, including middle-classism.
Mark does not suffer fools, works from principles that he has developed over time, and has a deep appreciation for art and literature. He does not like to waste anything, including effort, so his principles are sometimes set aside in the name of expediency (expediency being, after all, just another principle). Mark grew up in the Baptist church. His father was an accountant.
All this is to say that Mark is hard for anyone to really know. He can be congenial and fun and really, really creative, but also off-putting and prickly.
Mark consented to working at KAXE in the mid-80s (believe me, it was consent. Mark wouldn’t work for anything he didn’t believe in). Then-manager Michael Goldberg hired him for his honesty and talent, in spite of (or maybe because of?) his admission that he had not held a “real job” in a long time. He was laid off for a period in the 1990s. I hired him back as program director in 1995 because he was the best music programmer I had ever heard. He said he had been studying program direction and knew just what to do. Intellectually, I knew Mark could do anything he put his mind to.
You know the rest, more or less. Over time, some people have taken exception with Mark for one thing or another, but he has also created the present-day musical “sound” of KAXE, a sound that is backed up by strong programming principles.
Here are some of the other things I know about Mark: He is the Sultan of Soup (“It all comes down to soup in the end”); he is the Marquis; he invented Neoepicureanism (“Life is one long meal. Corollary: everything between meals is preparation for the next meal”); he believes in sonic connections to create musical flow; he avidly consumes film and literature, reads New Yorker magazine, watches the stock market, and follows the news; he looks for “synchronicities” in life; he finds things to sometimes be “post-ironic.” He does not particularly like to be called either Brevity Boy (although he has taught all of KAXE’s volunteers to read shorthand-coded email) or Mr. Status Quo (even though he believes the program schedule should be so consistent that is almost never changes). Mark Tarner backwards is Kram Renrat. He is also MT Head.
I remember him reading a long, hilarious excerpt from Roget’s Thesaurus for a KAXE mosquito season opener show (the word was “displeasure,” and the reading was accompanied by a mosquito/kazoo chorus). I laughed so hard at his conversations with chickens during KAXE fundraisers that I cried. It is hard to be his “straight man” on the air without cracking up. When he disapproves of something in a staff meeting, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. He rolls his eyes and looks like he just ate a persimmon.
In 2005, when KAXE made the change to the “On the River” music format, one irritated listener actually called him a “corporate weenie” (which makes Mark laugh anytime anyone brings it up). But the incident speaks to the demands of the job.
The other day Mark said he could feel the weight of his position as program director slipping away. He said it was liberating. It felt good. This must be what retirement is all about.
I’ll miss you at KAXE, Mark, but I guess I’ll see you around. What a ride, eh? You done good. Thx! --Maggie