Jokes and pokes

Feb 19, 2003 at 12:00 am

Forget the vagina rock. Carolyn Mark sings songs about after-bar parties and fuzzy slippers. No room for existential questions or grand laments on the human condition. More to the point, Mark didn’t get laid last night, and she thinks that’s kinda funny.

While writing country tunes that provide the perfect accompaniment to life’s fleeting moments — those instances when we shake our heads in private embarrassment — Mark is the perfect mixture of a trashy Peggy Lee and a heartbroken Patsy Cline.

Mark, who hails from frigid British Columbia, is calling via pay phone from Albuquerque, N.M. She’s on tour with indie godhead Neko Case and Cathy Irwin. Rather than using the cell phone on which the phone interview was originally intended to be conducted, she plugs her $1.25 worth of change into the old-fangled relic and explains the situation:

“I was in a yuppie restaurant, [the cell phone] made me feel bad. I had to come find a pay phone.”

The natural quipster talks about the fun, the tour, the friends, her obsession with porcelain vegetables and the silver ukulele that she has been playing in the car in between stops.

“You know [Cathy Irwin]? She’s my new best friend,” Mark says with the smallest hint of a quaint Canadian accent. “The first night I met her, I strained my voice staying up all night smoking Camels.”

Throughout the conversation, Mark comes off like a homespun gal, self-deprecating and witty. After only a few minutes of banter, she’s like someone you’ve known for ages.

What’s more, it’s apparent that Mark is having fun, which may come as a surprise since she’s been doing this touring thing for a while. Her music career started in 1990 with an all-girl band called the Vinaigrettes. And word is she’s winning people over in every town on this tour.

“[Touring with Neko] is such a great way to be introduced to new fans,” she says.

Humor is a big part of the deal too, both on record and when it comes to touring with her backup band, the Room-mates. “It’s not like I went to clown school or anything,” Mark explains. “But I think it is an important thing.”

Self-jesting floats throughout Mark’s latest — her third — record, the wonderfully sassy Terrible Hostess. On “Chumpville,” she comes clean about her personal choices with tongue firmly planted in cheek: Cast in the role of the butt of the joke / Lonesome and broke / never laid never paid / I’m back in Chumpville again.

It would be easy and lazy to dismiss Mark as a simple nightclub comic. The reality is her songs have a sardonic appeal and she has a firm grip on the soul of country music, life and all of its disappointments.

She even lives the life of a country song. “I am unemployable in all other fields,” she readily admits. “I love doing this, and until I don’t, I will keep on doing it.”

For Mark, it’s about making the audience — those who took the time out to see her play, to purchase her music — happy.

“Most [performers] when they get off stage, will remark about ‘Oh, I missed that note, or I didn’t play that song very well.’ Me? I am bummed when I feel like I didn’t have anything good to say to the audience.”

When asked what attracted her to this genre of music she says simply “the singing. It is all about the singing and the music. Plus, I don’t know many diminished chords.”


Carolyn Mark and the Room-mates will be opening for Neko Case and Catherine Irwin on Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit). Call 313-833-9700 for more info.

Check out this week's feature on Neko Case

Eve Doster is the Metro Times listings editor. E-mail [email protected]