A Man



October interview with Mark Cool

With a name like Mark Cool, you just know he’s going to be destined for the arts! Mark Cool and the Folk Stars have a new CD out, and it’s very, very cool! It’s a unique blend of folk and rock, as the CD’s title ironically infers.

Cool’s early upbringing exposed him to folk artists like Holly Near, Chris Williamson, and more notably Pete Seeger.

In the 90’s, Cool eschewed his folksy roots and trekked from New York to Los Angeles to play in a band called “Hip Hip Goliath.” The singer/song writer immersed himself in the LA music scene and played in multpile bands at venues like The Mint, King King, and CB GB’s.

Cool said he took a break from music shortly after moving to North Carolina “in an effort to save my failing marriage, but to no avail.”

His music has its own niche. I wasn’t sure what I was listening to when I first heard the songs on the CD. It grew on me quickly, however. I especially liked “Hole in my Heart” and did a YouTube video with it. [LINK]

“Most of my stuff comes from an emotionally charged place,” he began. “Poetry and music has always been an outlet for my intense emotion it’s a release in a way for me. My music also reflects on my experience with life and my perceptions of other people, and the environment around me. Music allows me to express my perceptions of the women and men I meet – at a gas station, or a homeless person on the street.”

I asked Cool how his creative process works with songwriting:

“There’s two parts to what I do, I have the music with the guitar, and the writing of the lyrics. I’ve heard a lot of writers will start by writing musical parts; I usually go the other way - I come up with an idea, or a feeling, or a phrase, or something I will hear someone say in a passing conversation that will kick off a song for me.”

On occasion, that creative muse will work “both ends against the middle” said Cool, and he will churn something out in only five minutes. He said those can be the very best songs.

“I’ve heard a lot of writers describe that creative process where they believe, ‘I’m just a vessel. ‘Tonic and Gin’ was written that way – it came out in one fell swoop!”

So, Mark … what do we do with men who say that are NOT creative?

“Yeah, I hear that a lot from people … when I hear that it makes me feel sad. Everyone is an artist, creative in their own way; it’s a matter of finding it, finding what works for you and expressing it.”

Yeah, but not everyone believes they can express themselves through music or creative writing.

I asked Cool what he'd suggest for people who want to get on a creative path, what has worked for him.

“Get a journal out and write three pages, and let it just come out. Don’t judge it. Let it flow. I think that’s a good jumping off point to develop writing skills. I’m always collecting stuff around me, a snippet of conversation overheard, a glimpse of a sunset, or the sound of a stream when I’m out walking.”

As an example, Cool said he wrote a snippet about a neighbor who rides a bike that seems way too big for her, but everyday she's pedaling around the neighborhood on her too-big purple bike.

I mentioned that Coleman Barks (Rumi translator) told me “shame” is a good way to motivate some people to write.

“A common theme for songwriters is LOVER energy – love songs. This energy is easy to connect with for me. When I’m in love, inspired by a woman as a straight man, the emotions and words flow easily. Although, I’ve tried not to harp on that too much because love songs can get cliché. I connect with anger, sadness … and I’m aware of shame and how that translates into my writing – especially narrative songs. 'Black Gold' is song on the new cd that comes from anger - anger at injustice toward native people. 'Woman at a gas staion' and 'She's a man' have shame and sadness in them.

His comments reminded me of one of my favorite artists, Harry Chapin (“The Cat’s in the Cradle”) and how he used the narrative in his musical work.

“Yeah, I love that song. He really nailed the father-son wound with that one.”

How does an artist follow his dream with the vicissitudes of life?

“In the present, I’ve found a balance with my business, being a part-time single father, and a musician. In some ways it’s easier now than when I was married full time and immersed in family life everyday. Now I have a week guaranteed to spend on my music. Even when the kids are here, I set my time aside to write songs and practice songs that feed me as an artist. For me, there’s a guilt and shame that tells me I’m being selfish and I should spend more time with my kids. I’ve heard men say to me, ‘your kids are going to learn by what you do, not what you say.’ I want them to pursue their dreams. And I think they want me to live my life, too.”

Walking that fine line is not easy, is it?

“I know, for me, when I do take care of myself as an artist … things that feed me like writing … I’m more present when I’m with my children, if not, I become distracted and resentful, and that’s not who I want to be as a father.”

I asked Mark if he was willing to share his personal history.

“I met my ex-wife when I was out in Hollywood going to music school. I was in a band, making song pitches, and was working every angle. She became pregnant and we started a family. She supported my dreams for the first three years. She believed I was going to be a rock star with a big record contract.”

I will not digress here, but Cool is strumming the story of my life … me moving my bride to NYC and convincing her I was destined to be a great playwright. (Hasn’t happened … not yet.)

“What I did was I quit,” he explained. “She told me my guitar was like a mistress and ‘you spend more time with her than me.’ So, I put the guitar down and tried to make this relationship work. I stopped everything, including performing for a couple years. Unfortunately, that didn’t change things in the relationship. It still wasn’t working. Some time during the divorce, I picked up the guitar again and it’s been a renaissance for me confirming ‘I am an artist and I always will be.’ It’s been great! Wonderful … opening up every area of my life I had shut down trying to fit into what my ex-wife wanted.”

Here’s my personal editorial note. I had a second-generation German father who made me take piano lessons for eight years as a child. I hated the entire experience, until I quit and discovered my own style of playing music. Now, it is one of the great saviors of my life. Music is very important to me.

“Music is a great channel,” Cool noted, “but not the only one. Men's work is invaluable to me, to stay clear, be connected with others, and continue to peel off layers of my own personal onion - emotionally and psychologically, and be the man I want to be. The more I do my own personal work, the better I am able to connect with other people. My goal is to distill my own experience down to core truths, and share my experience through my songs. If I stay true to my vision for my life, my mission, then I’m helping people, to heal and inspire them – that’s what I want to do as an artist.”

I personally like the “story telling” feel of Mark Cool’s music.

“What makes me unique with my gifts … is that I’m very clear … clear in my expression. I express things in a simple, everyday language.”

I know Mark. He’s in my community in North Carolina and I’ve been on NWTA weekends with him. He’s a man who walks his honest everyday talk – or his song. I think that takes his Warrior energy in there to balance the creative Lover.

“I think you’re right about the connection between the Lover and Warrior. The Warrior is definitely needed when it comes to practicing and working on gaining a degree of mastery over the craft. The Lover wants to whine and say I’m tired and I want to quit. It’s the Warrior energy that shows up to do the work, no matter how I feel.”

Cool credited Martin Brossman for helping him set musical goals. Also, New Warrior Gregory Blaine plays on the new CD.

And where does the King show up? (Cool is producer of his newest CD.)

“My King energy says I can be leader and have a vision. If I’m the band leader and the head liner at a show … it’s my vision. I’m saying to the others, ‘I’m going to be your leader, trust me.’ My Magician helps me inter-relate with the band and the alchemy of mixing emotions with the technical aspects. And then, my Lover is supported by the other quadrants to make that connection with the audience.”

Cool honored every man who finds the creative juices flowing through him, either as a performer or as a listener.

“Creative dabbling is fine if that’s your goal,” he stated, “but I knew that if I wanted to do something more with my music than play local bars, I had to feel a ton of doubt, fear, and shame. I’d have to work through it. No matter how I’m feeling on any particular night in a club, it’s the Warrior who gets me up and out there in front of the audience.”

For me, Mark Cool and the Folk Stars is music that is well-grounded, even earthy and gritty in its texture. Yet, it moves forward in an upbeat dynamic way that finds its mark straight to the heart. I trust his words and the authenticity of the music. The combination is uniquely crafted to make a soulful impact on the listener. I highly recommend it to you.

“Whatever you are doing creatively in your life,” Cool concluded. “I think you’ve got some universal soulful energy to tap into … something common to us all.”

"I judge that the more we all tap in to our creativity and what our personal gifts are, and live from that place, sharing who we truly are, the richer the world becomes." Cool concluded. “If I can do that, and inspire someone else, then I'm successful as a musician and an artist."

Contact info: Folk Star Recordings, PO Box 60291, Durham, NC 27715 or E-Mail or 919.730.8466 or 919.672.4949 or myspace.com/markcool1. Cd's available online at cdbaby.com

© 2007 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.

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