I woke up to the news that one of my good friends was dead. Before coffee, before the full brunt of the new day had come into focus, before I’d even put on socks I sat in my chair and saw posts on social media from friends and acquaintances talking of a great loss in our part of the universe. My friend, musical brother, and fellow curmudgeonly middle-aged dad Mark Hutchins is gone. No more emails, no more messages, no more shared cups of coffee at Sweetwater Music, and no more collaborations with a man I considered as much a big brother as a friend who happened to be a songwriting genius.
I’ve known Mark for close to 8 years now. Back in 2009 he reached out to me via Myspace(remember that?) We both had music accounts on there, him for his bands Vandolah and New Pale Swimmers, and me for Goodbyewave. Mark knew me from the many CDs I’d sent in to local magazine Whatzup for review. It was a big deal around here to get your DIY-produced album in the pages of Whatzup, and especially when DM Jones gave you a glowing review. DM Jones was the nom de plume of Mark Hutchins when he was in music journalist mode. He’d reviewed four of my CDs from 2006 to 2009, and finally reached out to me with nothing but words of encouragement in the summer of 2009. I was in awe, as I’d heard Vandolah and was blown away by their album Please. Mark was as much a storyteller as a songwriter, and his songs were homes for characters as diverse as stuntmen, lovelorn, and of course the disenfranchised and misunderstood. I think in his heart of hearts Hutchins truly wanted to be a writer of stories, as opposed to a writer of songs. He had a knack for painting these vivid pictures, accompanied by beautifully ornamented music.
Yeah, and this guy was sending me a message telling me he loved my work. Jesus.
This began a long distance friendship and collaboration that continued up to just last year. He asked me if I’d ever want to contribute to his songs. He worked alone at home and would love to have me add some of my musical ideas. I ended up contributing to nearly every album he put out from 2009 to 2016. The first was a song called “First Off The Moon” from his first proper solo album Sleepy Furnace. I played piano on that song. I don’t really know how to play piano, but I played piano just the same. I had an opportunity to collaborate with this mountain of a local music legend and I couldn’t let him down. Mark was pretty open to whatever I’d throw his way and he’d work it in one way or another in the tracks. When I’d write a song of my own he was one of the first people I’d send a file to. I wanted him to like what I was doing. His opinion mattered greatly to me.
Outside of music we became sounding boards to each other for our disenchantment with politics, religion, music trends, and just about everything else that bugged us as middle-aged guys trying to get by in the world. We also bonded over Kurt Vonnegut, Wilco, musical toys, 4-track cassette recording, DIY aesthetics, and being dads. Mark was 6 years older than me, which put him at the same age as my older brother. That age difference, along with my adoration for the guy’s talent and his biting Midwest wit, put him more in line as a long distance big brother than musical peer. I never saw myself even close to his level of ability. I was somewhere on the map. Somewhere in my own little musical world while Mark locked into the earth’s vibrations and connected on some other human level which, I think, may have been eating away at him a little more year by year.
In all the time I’ve known Mark, I’m not sure I ever got to really know him. There always seemed to be an invisible wall that followed him around, keeping folks a safe distance away. He always seemed to be inside his own head even when in conversations(though he was a good conversationalist.) He wasn’t much for social gatherings and chit chat. Despite being a powerhouse behind a mic and an acoustic guitar(and he reveled in putting hecklers in their place), he was a quiet guy and would prefer to keep to himself. I don’t know what it was he struggled with, but I know there was a dark cloud that followed him. He dealt with it the best he could, but not without his share of wounds. Not without his share of hurt.
There’s not much more I can say other than I’m saddened by the passing of my friend. Mark was a musician I admired and will continue to admire. But more than that he was a friend. Someone I could relate to as a working class clock puncher, a father, a guy struggling to make sense of the world, and as a human being. Someone who I could get sound advice from. Someone who could talk Tweedy and Turkel. Vic Chesnutt and Kurt Vonnegut.
You will be greatly missed Mark. So it goes.