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Cover Image for A Letter from the Editor

A Letter from the Editor

Erin Somers

In 1999, a kid at my high school known as Mark the Mormon made a mixtape. He was the only Mormon at school and it was the kind of place—a large public school in Beaufort, South Carolina—that seized on any difference, made it your nickname, never let you forget it.

The tape was called “Mark Punk Tape” and it was initially distributed to my sister and her friends, all a couple years older than me, who ran cross country with Mark. Like Mark, they had counterculture leanings. There weren’t many kids like this in town, and so the few that existed banded together into a single, confusing group consisting of punks, surfers, skaters, hippies, ravers, and so on. Never mind that some of these subcultures had opposing philosophies. The uniting factors were outsider status and an enthusiasm for drugs.

I first heard the tape as a freshman. The first track (or possibly just the most potent) was Minor Threat’s cover of The Standells' "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White". It is a great cover: exuberant, funny, full of fake rage. I loved Ian MacKaye’s delivery of the incredibly silly lines:

Good guys, bad guys. Which is which?
The white-collar worker or the digger in the ditch?

What else was on the tape? I can’t remember much. I remember "Sound System" by Operation Ivy. I remember the whole thing skewed D.C. hardcore.

Pre-“Mark Punk Tape,” I had never heard hardcore music. I had heard punk, but only of the Ramones or pop varieties. The mainstream music of the time was grim, a mix of nu metal and TRL-core. The Strokes had not yet arrived. The popular kids liked country. “Mark Punk Tape” was passed around among those who came and went within the confused group of alternative teens. Acne-d journeymen in black moto jackets and puka shell necklaces and UFO parachute pants and flip flops.

It became a foundational text for a lot of people, eventually achieving mythic status. Mark himself became a sort of sage. Not well-known by anyone, he’d single-handedly delivered punk to a small town in the deep south.

Recently, I tried to get in touch with him to ask if he remembered making the tape and what was on it. No copies of the tape had survived and I had this idea that I’d recreate it. His email address was not hard to find. I have been off Facebook since the 2016 election, but per people I went to high school with, Mark is active there. Not just alive but argumentative. He’s become deeply conservative and apparently gets into it with former classmates about Trump.

In this issue you will find writing about music. The cover image of Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, hanging upside down from a basketball hoop, accompanies a story by Robert Rubsam on Dischord Records. Amy Pedulla’s dispatch about Wire cover band The Ex-Lion Tamers should be a movie. Reed Jackson goes on a quest to find another mythic figure, Sub Pop employee of the month Curtis W. Pitts.

There’s more: You will find essays about classical music (Fran Hoepfner), Broadway (Sophie Stewart), and polka (Colin Dickey on a disappeared underground). Samuel Rutter writes about Charly García, Chantal V. Johnson about Connie Francis. Justin Carroll-Allan is extraordinary on Philip Glass. We didn’t engineer the magazine this way, but I think these essays make a point about corporatized media. Namely, that it sucks. It’s at odds with the experience of listening to music which, if you’re serious about it, is personal, ecstatic, curious, surprising, and, I hesitate to add, profound.

If you’re lucky, you discover music as a kid and it becomes a portal, not just to feeling, but to more music. One album leads to the next. It tells you who you are. Mark didn’t respond to my emails. I’d meant to thank him. Which is weird because I didn’t know him then and I probably wouldn’t like him now. Everyone you lionize just ends up being a real person.

Erin Somers, October 2023