Twice in the past week, I’ve had occasion to share songs by Mark Ettinger with people in totally unrelated contexts, and it occurs to me to write more generally about it.
Backstory: The last social outing I ever had with my ex-spouse J was to go with him and his sister to see the Flying Karamazov Brothers (October 1, 2009) at the Merrimack Rep in Lowell, MA.
I’d seen the FKBs a couple times over the years: I know I saw L’Universe at the Wang Center in Boston back in 2000-2001, and I’m pretty sure there was another in the interim, maybe Life: A Guide for the Perplexed? J, who is a juggler himself, was actually acquainted with one of the guys (Rod, a.k.a. Pavel) from the local juggling shop back in DC. So we had gotten these tickets and, well, despite having just split up, we were certainly still going.
This particular show was called Flings and Eros. It was a riff on Romeo and Juliet (partly a four-man retelling, partly a convoluted and slightly bizarre but charming frame story), and it got some bad press, but I totally loved it. I may have been a little primed for the Shakespearean theme right at that moment. But part of what I dug about it were the songs, which, it turned out, were mostly written by Alexei, a.k.a. Mark, the resident songwriter.
There was a talkback/Q&A after the show, and one of the things I raised my hand to ask was “Are you going to put out the soundtrack?” That got a smile from Mark. “Oh, did you like it? Yeah, we’re totally going to record it… real soon now…”
They never did, of course, but there is some stuff on YouTube courtesy of the Merrimack Rep:
Anyway, so, we ended up hanging around the theater lobby waiting for them all to come out and chat, and among the swag for sale were Mark’s solo CDs. There were two, and Mark himself talked me into taking the newer one, In This World ( Amazon | CDBaby ).
It’s been on my regular rotation ever since. It’s great. A bit folksy, a bit bluesy, a bit James-Taylor-y, a bit silly in places, pensive or tender in others. Lots of great instrumentation, lots of evocative sound pictures. Terrific road-trip music. I was hooked.
Come to find out, I should have also grabbed the older disc (Songbirds of Tralfamador, a Kurt Vonnegut reference) while I had the chance, because it apparently was never actually “released” as such, and now it can’t be obtained for money nor love. Literally. In 2010 and 2011 the FKBs had a long-term gig in NYC, at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the West Village, and one day while on a spring-break visit to my now-partner T, I treated myself to a ticket and went. (March 26, 2011: that was 4PLAY. It was quite awesome.) I stuck around and chatted with Mark afterwards and told him I’d bought In This World 2.5 years previously and was now keen to buy the other album. “Oh,” he said, “I’ll send it to you! Email me!” But I did (with some fangirly* trepidation) and, of course, he never did.
*Fangirl much? Me? Point of evidence: last spring I finally read Dostoyevsky’s actual, factual The Brothers Karamazov, both for general literary exposure and also, I admit, to get the full effect of the “source material”. I have to say it enhanced the effect to keep mentally mapping the FKB to the written characters. :-) But don’t read the cheapo translation by Constance Garnett, spring for the David Macduff from Penguin Classics. You’re welcome.
Mark is actually based here on the UWS (not exactly right in our neighborhood; the other side of the park, over on the Columbia side toward West End), and while Google
stalking research suggests that he’s doing occasional house concerts and the like, his own website is woefully out of date. He’s got a MySpace playlist up with some full-length songs, but no events calendar, no Facebook fan page, no YouTube channel, etc etc. (I apparently need more hobbies, because I’m fighting off the impulse to contact him saying “You need a marketing and social media team! Pick me!”)
In fact, it’s only LinkedIn (of all things) which suggests that he has perhaps ceased touring with the FKB as of last year, and among any other gigs is currently in Seattle through April 14 heading the band The Naked Truth for the Moisture Festival burlesque/variety series. Now there’s something I bet is worth seeing.
Anyway, enough. Go listen. I won’t tell you which 2 tracks are my favorites. — Okay, maybe in comments.