Mark Heard (1951-1992) was and is one of my favorite artists. He evolved from a James Taylorish folks singer to a Lindsey Buckingham influenced pop-rocker to a fully original Americana songwriter during his too short fourteen years as a performer. Among his admirers are Bono, T-Bone Burnett, and Bruce Cockburn. He was a deep thinker with a poet’s heart and a gift for deeply probing lyrics. From time to time I will highlight one of his songs here so those who remember can be encouraged again, and those who are unfamiliar can, hopefully, become fans as well.
But for starters, here’s one of my fondest Mark Heard stories…
Everyone was standing in an oval, hands clasped, heads bowed. It was that ritual of huddling-up before an event to dedicate the effort and ask God’s favor. These can sometimes devolve from a sincere moment of humility and contrite requests into a one-upsmanship of pious pontification. The latter was bound to happen since this was a major Baptist church in Houston, and the seemingly limitless array of staff pastors had all decided to attend this particular concert.
Alongside those dozen or so ministers were the concert promoter and the two featured artists for the evening: Randy Stonehill and Mark Heard.
In this particular rendition of the circular prayer, the promoter began, and then every person prayed in succession in a clockwise direction. Each subsequent petition seemed to gain in drama and length. As the round moved, the theological accoutrement began to adorn each soliloquy, featuring references to scripture, to hymn lyrics, and even excerpts from various creeds. Five minutes turned to ten, then fifteen.
Finally the sanctified spin made its way to the two final men who were to perform shortly, Mark and Randy. When the Minister of Music for the Post Divorce Recovery Group for Women Aged 32-46 finished his devotional on the implications of David’s dance around the Ark of the Covenant, it fell upon Mark to make the next prayerful oration.
There was a pause.
Followed by a lengthy silence.
Feet slightly shuffled. Soft murmurs of “Yes, Lord,” and “Praise you, Father” were meekly whispered by those somewhat unnerved with the quiet.
Knowing of his friend’s shyness around strangers, Randy decided to give a squeeze to Mark’s left hand to sort of help him along, to give him the nudge to go ahead and share with the group.
There were several more moments of soundless peace.
And then, just when it seemed that Mark would not “enter in,” he puckered his lips and began whistling the jaunty theme to the Andy Griffith Show.
Before he could get to the peppy chorus portion, Randy awkwardly interrupted with an earnest plea for God to be glorified in the concert, for hearts to be touched, and for the joy of the Lord to be manifest that night. He punctuated it with a loud “and everyone said Amen!” Then the two quickly exited to their dressing room, leaving the pious clan to wonder what had just happened.
This, among many other reasons, is why I miss Mark Heard.