Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Please Write a Blog Post about Mark Tarner"

by Maggie Montgomery

“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


Robert Saxton said...

We'll miss that cool afternoon voice, Mark. Happy Trails. Thanks for many, many hours of good lisetning!

Anonymous said...

I have many, many memories of Mark, especially while I was employed as a staff member at KAXE. Maggie said it right -- I'm amazed she remembers all of the details of Mark's life. He's not a warm/fuzzy kind of guy, at least not seemingly to most, but I always felt a respect from him, as well as being my friend. I learned a lot from him, whether it be something newsworthy and consequential or merely perspective.

As a listener, he has introduced to me the music that has become the soundtrack of my adult life. In my humble opinion, Mark IS the master, truly the marquis of music, at least on this planet.

Perhaps MT Head will remain as an on air volunteer in his leisure time?? That would be my hope.

So the day has finally come....Cheers, Mark Tarner!!!

Brenda Greeley

Anonymous said...

Wow! Your 1973 photo reminds me of every man I liked back then. As an avid KAXE fan I can honestly say you will be missed. Thanks Mark. Enjoy.
Melanie Quillin

Eileen Walsh said...

I was a volunteer at KAXE in the late 1990s. I learned so much from Mark! I was new to programming, and new to public radio as anything but a member, and new to lots of genres of music, but as it turned out I was new to lots of older  music, too.  That changed quickly. I loved every minute I spent there at the old studio and got smarter with every show I put together. It got so I was glad to run into people around the listening area who said they enjoyed my shows because it meant I was giving back to the station and not just getting. Mark Tarner was a big part of that.

To this day I impress some of my college students with my interest in and awareness of music across genres. I credit KAXE with nurturing that interest and awareness - everybody there loves music. I really have to hand it to the program director, though. Mark always left notes or jumped up to show me what CDs just came in to the studio, recommended ways of sequencing different artists or genres, and otherwise coached me into being a decent provider of adult eclectic music for the northern community. I thought of him as the original long-haired leaping gnome who also read widely and  smiled broadly. 

Mark was indeed forthright - I recall one afternoon I started to play a song on the air that had a naughty (banned) word in it. Mark roared from the next room, "NOOOO!" But I knew the song and knew I had the timing down perfectly. I was in the groove! I zapped the volume just for that word, and brought the volume back up with only that one beat missing. Mark leaned around the corner to give me a look like, "You were lucky" and I gave him a look like, "I knew exactly what I was doing," and the show went on. 

 I have to credit everyone who worked there at the time with making me feel a welcome and valued volunteer and for not letting me be intimidated by broadcasting. But that includes Mark! I'll miss his dulcet tones when I remember to tune in to Currents (there's a 2-hour time difference for me now). Obviously the shows will go on without him. That's one good thing after another. Peace out, Mark.

Eileen Walsh

Bill said...

Nancy and I have enjoyed your music for so long. We will miss your voice on the radio. Thanks so much for our time, energy and commitment. Good luck in all things.

Bill Wilson

Gord said...

Happy Trails, Mark, in your retirement years!

When Jean and I returned to our native Minnesota 16 years ago for our retirement from the corporate world of mining and electric power, we discovered this radio station with Bonnie the Plant Lady, a Phenologist John Latimer, Gil Quall, Don Boese, Interviewer Scott Hall, and main music man Mark Tarner.

From a temporary home in Brainerd until October 1995, when we moved to Nordland Twp. in Aitkin County, I connected with KAXE as a contributer, music programmer, interviewer, and commentator. I first tried out with Scott in the sound booth by doing a reading, and I received instruction on the sound board from Mark, for a practice shift one hour long.

I liked to mix my LPs, cassettes, and CDs from home with the new releases that Mark had on a shelf in the old Itasca Campus studio.

My highlight on KAXE was interviewing my former Scoutmaster Gov. Elmer L. Andersen on the air when his biography was published, A MAN'S REACH.

When Mark criticized my music selections for not having enough rock and blues, I asked my Son Glenn for some names of bands to feature, and I played his Wash DC rock band on-air, The Oxymorons.

I could never get a regular Centerstage shift during a week or month or during fund drives.

My music was a little different - world music, a lot of folk, POLKAS, Scandinavian and Irish groups. Schwampy (Bob Schwaderer at the Long Lake Conservation Center) used to tune out KAXE at 9 am, even when I tried to play some music on Centerstage that might appeal to him. But after the morning show he was off to MPR-Classical.

I still hang in for the "Mix of Music" that Mark has brought us, though I advocate for more accordians and more polkas.

-Gord Prickett,
listening from Nord Lake

Anonymous said...

SYNCHRONICITY...or....To come across these posts and the photo of Mark and Pete. I was with Mark when we were both 20 years old....He wrote articles on film and music for a company called Mass Media ...JIMI HENDRIX at the Fillmore...The Rolling Stones...What a time to live in North Beach,San Francisco. His gift of writing and his "passion " for music were inspiring "way back when."
Remembering you with Gratitude and Love....What a "Magical Mystery Tour.". May you enjoy all that now awaits you.