Monday, April 11, 2022

Rest in Power Mark

Mark Desrosiers Obituary | Star Tribune

He was "very kind, compassionate, and he cared deeply for equality for all," said one U of M Libraries co-worker. Others described him as a "great advocate for students," and someone who "knew how to use his voice for things that mattered." Said another: "I will miss his sense of humor and the care and concern he had for everyone. He was a huge advocate and not afraid to fight the good fight, even if it caused a bit of conflict."

" ... [E]ven if it caused a bit of conflict." I chuckled through tears at that bit. Mark could get under your skin, for sure. My experience though was that when he caused conflict, when he made us gnash our teeth and take umbrage, if we sat with it for minute, it was because he was right and the brutal self-examination required to see that he was right hurt. And, if we blamed him for that hurt, he was big-hearted enough to take the blame and love us anyways. (Look, I'm not saying it was necessarily always that way, but even once was enough to make it so that when a position he took on something came with arguments like cutting barbs, even if it wasn't readily apparent, one grudgingly gave him the benefit of the doubt expecting he might be right in a way we just weren't ready to see yet.)

Mark was hard to keep up with. Not the least when trying to go shot-for-shot with him. Know some history? I don't know if there was a single topic I wouldn't have had to read, and re-read, volumes on to be prepared to argue with him about. He wasn't merely one of these trivia memorizers with a trove of names, dates, and data points filed away to no purpose other than the ability to put someone else in their place, though he certainly had that sort of knowledge, but it was all in service of a defiant worldview encompassing a fierce insistence on justice for the downtrodden. 

Know your music and pop culture pretty well? There's a better than fair chance Mark knew more by and about your favorite band than you ever did and could place their music in a context that, by introducing you to the work of other artists that presaged it, or contemporaneously exceeded it, blow your mind open. For me, it's The Fall -- the manifestation of Mark E. Smith's demons -- that he taught me to appreciate; breaking through the relatively narrow band of musical styles I could take in and groove on before my head was expanded.

Think you know about the Supreme Court? Well, let me tell you Mark could school you about the biographies of the justices and critique their jurisprudence as well as -- or even more effectively than -- a professor of the philosophy of law could, in my experience. 

There's a litany of topics I could plug into the, "You think you know about x? Well, let me tell you Mark would ..." format and we'd still not have talked about how his dancing would make you laugh and also want to dance shamelessly yourself. That may not be the most important thing ... but it was a thing ... and perhaps weirdly it mattered a lot to me. 

We grew up in different neighborhoods, didn't meet until high school, didn't become close friends until college, but there the fact we were both bookish, nerdy, obsessives cynical about the world in general in a way probably common to kids raised, if not poor, then close to it, in a certain type of family common to unspectacular suburbs of lesser cities in the hardscrabble 1970s probably made our friendship all but inevitable, despite some incompatibilities and points of contention. We were shaped in different ways by our parents' experience of the 1960s culture wars and our own coming of age during the Reagan years, the way everyone's experience is different and plays out on different bundle of neuroses and insecurities, I reckon. For both better and worse those experiences helped us bond once on campus, then off-campus, and for many years of being housemates after college. 

Frankly, I doubt I helped sharpen Mark's analytical framework the way he helped me dodge any number ideological holes I might have fallen down, nor that I was able to help him find those almost spiritual experiences of art he helped me discover. (I think he respected my appreciation of Yo La Tengo more than he shared it, and was happy to let me go on about Kim Stanley Robinson novels and stories so he didn't have to pay them as much mind.) But we went to a bunch of great shows, did a lot of drinking and talking and talking and drinking, and while we went down some negative spirals together I'm sure I'm better for all of it in the end. 

It breaks my heart that I let so much time pass since the last time time we talked. I can't believe he's gone so soon and that we'll never have another drink together, work on a mixtape, discuss what we're reading, or just reminisce. But we were Hornets, Highflowns, and Cryptonauts once upon a time and that'll have to be enough.

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