Those of you who were sentient in Boston in the late 1960s and 1970s were likely affected in one way or another by WBCN-FM. It was the "underground" radio station where we first discovered so much of the music and so many of the artists that became woven into the fabric of our lives.
Mark Parenteau was an integral part of WBCN, and he died recently.
Charles Laquidara shared Ken Shelton's account of Mark's final days, and it knocked me sideways this morning:
The Final Crossover with Mark Parenteau.
The last ruminations I'll pass on what I saw in Mark's final hours on "Planet Mark," this place that was his for 66 years. A lifetime for a mortal. A speck of dust in the Sands of Time, a great song by pre Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac that I once segued into......but I digress. Go listen to it on YouTube. I'll take you to his Departure (Moody Blues......I'll try to minimize these "sidetracks," but if you were part of any or all of the 3 generations of WBCN, you know how this happens, your own life soundtrack songs pop up several times a day. Sometimes they're in your head or you hum them all day long) not be too specific on his physical condition in the days leading up to the end, because I think you'll want your mental image of Mark to be closer to him forever leaping out of his studio chair and spinning like a whirling dervish to the Spinners "Rubber Band Man," or stretching out his 6'7" frame to Bob Seger's Rock and Roll Never Forgets." And as my sleep deprived mind wanders, I'm sure some memories of events from our 40 year long friendship/competition will slide in. Then I'll go to sleep. And wake up in time to see the HBO premier of Matt Damon in "The Martian." I'm hoping Mark's Spirit has made it to Mars by then, and through some weird time warp he shows up in a background shot on Mars, in a movie that was made about two years ago.
Sidebar: Track Gals Gayle Fee: SHAME!!!! Mark was your friend for years. He fed you good gossip and stories that made your column the only reason besides sports to pick up that rag that pays your mortgage. And before his body is cold you're turning his entire life into Police Blotter fodder. A few lines about a brilliant career that gave tens of thousands of people millions of smiles and guffaws, and a half page of evil intent dwelling on a big mistake he made for which he paid his debt to society. Paid BIG. I only can hope your kids ignore the love and care you gave them, and only remember the press parties from which you came home sloshed, and puked all over their Teddy Bears. Now I don't know if that really happened, but when you put something in print, it takes on a life of it's own. "It must be true, I read it on the internet......or the Herald." Now after the sports section is read, your alleged paper can go right to the bottom of the bird cage.
Backtrack about 10 days. Ruth and I visited Mark when he was moved from his hospital in Worcester to Mass General. Mark, (and many of us over 50 or 60) can often be heard saying "If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself." Being extra tall puts extra stress on the spine. There are exercises to strengthen the muscles around the spine. Or if you're out clubbing, in the entertainment business, MCing shows and comedy acts, the readily available bar tab makes it easier to just drink away the pain. There were warning signs. There were direct doctors warnings. Mark tried. I'll spare you the details. I think we all know friends in danger. Some meet the challenge. More don't. It takes a strong support team, and the strength to want it
By the time Mark was taken to MGH, his body was saying it had taken enough punishment. MGH is as good as it gets for medical treatment. On our first visit, things looked grim. Ruth and I have socialized with Mark at each others homes over the years, and seen him weaken slowly, but still rise to the occasion and rule the room and the dinner or party every time. I figure, I'm a little achy when I get up from a low sofa or chair. I'm getting up there in years too. I have to think this is just natural, and Mark will get better. Mark spoke in a whisper, slowly, not totally coherent, as he was sedated because of invasive procedures that day. He asked if we could bring him some club soda on our next visit. We assured him we'd be back in a few days and Ruth said she'd pick up a pack of club soda single serves.
Mark always made it look easy. Giant talent can do that. But there were insidious forces always at work against him.
A story that's never been told. I don't think Mark ever heard this: In 1975, my mentor at my first radio job at WBZ-FM, Clark Smidt, was hired by Blair Radio, the owner of Boston's "Easy Listening" WCOZ. His job, turn it into an Album Rock station to compete with WBCN, the legendary Boston Progressive Rock station that had no competition. Clark hired me to do evenings, 7 to midnight, and be the Music Director. Literally hundreds of audition tapes came in, DJs looking for work from all over the country. Most of them recent "Broadcasting School" grads with little or no experience (or talent). Some, small city D.J.'s looking to move up to bigger markets, and some, A.M. D.J.'s trying to change direction to the new style of low key F.M. Announcers. I was still fairly new at it. At WBZ-FM, my voice was pre-recorded on cartridges. If I screwed up, I could stop and start over again. By the time I went live on WCOZ in 1975, I wasn't making mistakes. I grew up in N.Y.C. listening to the best in the country. At night I could pick up clear channel A.M. stations from the whole East Coast. I listened to Bruce Bradley and Dick Summer on WBZ, WKBW in Buffalo, KDKA in Pittsburgh. I knew what the great ones sounded like.
Clark would call me into his cubicle office to zip through 10 or 20 tapes in a half hour. We got good at listening to these "telescoped" cassette tapes. We knew in 30-60 seconds if someone was any good. One day he called me in and had just one tape on his desk. I sat down, saw an incredulous look on his face, and he said "tell me what you think." He clicked on the tape and the most powerful voice I'd ever heard came out, making the speakers rumble. As powerful as Wolfman Jack, but mellifluous, not grating. Ear grabbing, but friendly, knowledgeable and witty as anyone I'd ever heard in an FM rock format. "Let's hold up the next record, I've got John Lennon on the phone......" It was John. The conversation was amazing, Two equals in the world of music talking in a live on air interview Mark did at WABX in Detroit, the Motor City's version of WBCN, only on Hi Octane. I can't imagine the look on my face. If we didn't still have a couple of air shifts open, I would have thought my job was gone.
Who is he? His name is Mark Parenteau. He's from Worcester, went to Detroit and became a star at WABX. He's back home, working for Boston Radio Legend John Garabedian at John's automated daytime AM station WGTR in Natick, recording voice tracks. 'BCN won't hire him, so he wants to work for us. I said "Hire Him. Don't wait. Call Now."
Clark leaned forward, and whispered, one thing........He's gay.... I looked puzzled. "Do we have to blow him???? NO, of course not. It's just that Blair is a big, superconservative company, and I don't know how they'll react. Do they know? No. Is he effeminate, "swishy?" ( Hey, sorry, this was over 40 years ago). Not all all. I say go for it. And Clark hired him. The Legend began. And not just for Mark. He raised the ceiling for us all. But this was a burden that Mark had to dal with. He never discussed it.
We did return a couple of days later, with the club soda. Mark seemed a little bit better. a regular flow of friends started visiting. Carter Alan and his wife Carrie. Lisa Traxler, BCN Utility Man, Larry Bruce. THe Queen of New England Cabaret, Niki Luparelli, one of Mark's best friends, Mark's brother and sister in law, his ex wife, friends from Worcester, Jeff Myerow, and others whose names I'm unintentionally leaving out.
For over a week reports were saying slow but constant improvement. Ruth and I planned a Thursday night visit. Since we expected an improved Mark, Ruth cooked a large batch of one of Mark's favorite dishes, Asian Chicken and Shrimp Noodles. She baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and of course, the 6 pack of club soda. We arrived at MGH at 8:20. Mark had been moved to a different building, Ellison.
We got off the elevator and immediately noticed the erie situation of a hospital floor with about 6 medical personnel per patient. Nurses, doctors and technicians pushing all kinds of unidentifiable (to me) machines. I did recognize an x-ray machine. Mark was being lovingly cared for by nurses Dan and Michele. They tried to explain as clearly as possible what was going on. Mark had a procedure earlier, and had a breathing problem, so they had to insert a breathing tube through his mouth down to his lungs. When the sedatives and pain killers began to wear off he became extremely agitated, and began to pull out the connections to all the fluids going into his body. The doctors had no recourse but to give him meds that immobilized him, Nurse Dan told us his brain was functioning, but deprived him of the ability to control any physical motion. He knew we were there, he heard us, just couldn't react. not even blink. We stood face to face to him. Ruth brushed his hair for a while. I talked softly to him, reminiscing a bit. Telling him of all the love being sent his way by the close friends that knew of his situation.
Ruth asked if there was a fridge where she could keep the Asian Noodles Mark loves so much, so he could have them when the breathing tube was removed. Dan and Michele hemmed and hawed a bit, then told us the breathing tube would be in for at least a couple of days, then his throat would be too sore for solid food for several more days. We offered it to them, and they sheepishly told us, in Mark's ward, when food came out of a patient's room, it had to be disposed of, even if it was never unwrapped or uncovered.
Mark was hearing all this, trapped in his motionless body. Maybe I was projecting my own feelings, but in my heart I was feeling Mark just wanted to be done with this. We stayed a few more minutes. Ruth and I looked at each other, both feeling it was our last visit with Mark. Here anyway. Ruth whispered in Mark's ear as she kissed him, It's OK Mark. Let go if you want to. I knew if he was leaving, he might need a joke at the portal to get in.
"Mark, an 85 year old grandmother is caught speeding on the Mass. Pike. The trooper says 'License and Registration, Maam.'
She hands them over, and attached is a permit to carry a concealed weapon. 'Ma'm, are you carrying a weapon? Why yes officer, I have a Colt .45 in my glove compartment' as she opens it to show him. "Is that the only weapon you're carrying, ma'm?' ' Why no officer , I have a 9mm Glock in the center console,' as she lifts the top of the console to reveal the gun. 'And is that it for weapons, Ma'm?' 'Well except for the Smith & Wesson 38 in my handbag.'
The trooper then says, 'Ma'm, can I ask, what are you afraid of?' The 85 year old lady looks up at him, smiles, and says 'Not a fucking thing.' "
I hope somewhere in his brain. that registered, and there was at least one giggle in his last hours here. Ruth and I thanked the staff and looked back one last time at the funniest D.J. we ever had the pleasure to hear. Ruth's eye makeup was smudged. I had a lump in my throat, but held back any tears until Friday night. I couldn't check FB or call anyone early Friday. Didn't want to deal with verification of what my gut already knew.
Ruth called me from work Friday afternoon. Her boss gave her the weekend off to grieve. He read about Mark's passing in a post from Ernie Boch Jr. Oh great. Mark's dead. Come on Down!!!
Had to take off for a few hours. Let Ruth cry it off. Hugs later. Got in the car, moon roof open, "Pet Sounds" by the Beachboys blasting. It's my "Go To" Life Changes album. Shed a few tears, thought of me, Mark and Bob Seger smoking a fatty in the showers at Boston Garden. Made me smile. Godspeed old Friend. Hoist up the John B sails. You wanna go home. We'll let you Go Home.
Thanks for all the Love from the WBCN Family, those inside the Radio, and All of You on the Outside of the Radio. "The Martian" is just starting on HBO. Look for Mark. I think he's just over the Horizon.....