THE BOSTON GLOBE
November 11, 1981
HE PLAYED HOST TO THE STONES
Gilbert Markle risked much to build a rock emporium
By Daniel Golden
Special to The Globe
NORTH BROOKFIELD When Gilbert Scott Markle was literary editor of his high school yearbook in Tenafly, N.J., he adapted its theme from Thornton Wilder's drama about an archetypical New Hampshire village, "Our Town." Markle solicited a photograph from Wilder for it, and the playwright later wrote to him, praising that 1957 Tenafly High School "Tenakin" edition.
The episode evokes Markle's lifelong curiosity about celebrities, gratified in spectacular fashion this summer when the Rolling Stones band lived and rehearsed for six weeks at his resort recording studio in the western Massachusetts hills, Long View Farm.
It seems fitting that Markle, who used to lecture on image and perception as a philosophy professor and later risked his savings to create the rock emporium called Long View Farm, should host the world's most glamorous band. The experience cemented his fascination with hype and myth and solidified his position as an impresario-entrepreneur in the opaque world of rock at the age of 41.
He stands to gain in prestige and money, adding to a fortune he gained in the early 1970s by establishing one of the first agencies for student travel and schooling in Europe.
"The psycho-emotional disturbance which hit this area was astonishing," says Markle, who bought Long View in 1973 for $125,000 and remodeled it with friends into a musicians' hideaway complete with sauna, recreation room and 24-hour hotel service.
"The Stones' stay changed lives and friendships," Markle says. "Even three-year-olds and geriatrics knew something was afoot. The Stones screened out the world and projected an image. What existed behind these barriers were Godheads."
Insiders say that the Stones learned of Long View from Peter Wolf, the Boston-based lead singer of the J. Geils Band and ex-husband of Faye Dunaway. Markle says he hurried back from a jazz festival in France on hearing about the mere prospect of landing the group for his studio. Even on a tentative commitment, he built a sound stage for them and only charged them the expenses – which ran into five figures -- of their stay.
At Long View, the five Stones remained oblivious to the outside world: in a typical scene, lead singer Mick Jagger tried on clothes flown in with their designer from Los Angeles on Markle's twin-engine plane as other Stones played pool. It was the harried Markle who hired guards to control groupies milling around the farm's picket fence day and night, and stonewalled reporters asking if the Stones would snub the Hub.
But Markle gained stature as the Stones' host, which he expects to translate into more Long View bookings and clout for himself in the same way that his lavish press party for the release of a Stevie Wonder double album in 1976 put the farm on the music map after several years of struggling and sweet-talking banks into loans.
Markle says that he "exits vertically from each episode of his life. He has risen from controversial professor in the 1960s to millionaire owner of a student travel agency and a unique recording studio in the 1970s, and he says that the Stones' patronage closes another chapter with a "personal triumph."
The son of an NBC electrical engineer and a band singer, and the eldest of three children, Markle grew up in a home cluttered with recording equipment. He was exposed early to wealth and celebrity: Tenafly was a well-off New York suburb, and his parents worked with Joan Crawford and Frank Sinatra.
After high school, Markle won a scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His roommate, Eberhard Fetz, now a University of Washington physiology professor, says Markle listened avidly to rock music, and was a partygoer who dressed to kill and found dates for other fraternity members. "Even then, he was always interested in the best, and he had an enormous ego," Fetz says.
Markle's academic career at Clark University in Worcester spanned from 1967 to 1974. The holder of doctorate degrees from Yale and the Sorbonne, he preached Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan's dictum that "the medium is the message." (A horse at Long View is named McLuhan.)
Long View originated when Markle, returning to Clark University after a sabbatical on Cape Cod in 1972-3, found himself reluctant to take up lecturing again. He envisioned Long View as an experimental educational facility. Limited funds forced him to forget his higher motives and build a professional studio that has been a feast or famine proposition ever since.
Although he rarely published scholarly articles and chafed at faculty meetings, Markle was tenured at Clark because of his extremely popular teaching style. He quit, he says, when lecturing bored him and the university refused to build a multimedia laboratory.
During those years at Clark, Markle also expanded American Leadership Study Groups (ALSG), a travel-and-study-in-Europe program for high school students which he conceived after working as a tour guide for two summers. ALSG was sending 10,000 students a year abroad by 1975.
Markle still runs ALSG and draws half of his annual income from the agency, but his passion for eight years has been Long View, where he runs a staff of 10 and sometimes works as an engineer during recording sessions, mostly for rock bands who pay thousands of dollars in fees to use the facilities. It costs $250,000 to $300,000 annually to maintain Long View, which contains two recording studios – 24 and 16 track. Markle says that the studio has earned a profit in recent years. Among musicians who have recorded there are the J. Geils Band – although their albums are mixed in New York – Arlo Guthrie, Cat Stevens, Aerosmith and the Paul Winter Consort.
Markle also produces songs on the Long View label. Bands can tape for 10 hours in the 16-track studio and receive 1000 records for $1750. This deal resembles a "vanity press" arrangement, but Markle says that little known groups would not obtain a hearing otherwise.
Markle has expensive tastes. He drives a black Cadillac, drinks vintage wine. He owns a home in Truro – a place he calls his retreat – and a plane which he once made available to several Clark professors to fly to the inauguration of a former colleague as president of Queens College in New York City. Last year in New York, he impulsively took his high school English teacher to the Russian Tea Room for caviar.
Perhaps influenced by his many trips to Europe, Markle values politeness and breeding. He condemns poor behavior in others as "a gross breach of taste" or "the kind I had only encountered in soap operas."
Some friends with romantic temperaments view Markle as a Byronic hero, a charismatic sorcerer – the "man of wealth and taste" in the Stones' song, "Sympathy for the Devil." They emphasize his ego, ambition, industry and charm. He is also known for business acumen and skill at delegating authority.
Critics say he is a hustler and manipulator of the press. "He'd send out press releases naming a celebrity who'd been to Long View," says one competitor. "When you looked behind the headlines, the guy stopped in for 35 minutes to see a friend."
Reports complain that Markle, although friendly, is less than straightforward. For example, Springfield Daily News rock critic Chris Hamel wrote that he delayed breaking the story of the impending Stones' visit in July because Markle – afraid that publicity would scare them away – promised him an exclusive interview with Mick Jagger later. It never took place. Markle says he had no authority to guarantee an interview and, in fact, did not.
Markle's lordly manners irritate observers who say that many big-city studios do more business than Long View, "Gil likes to think he's a big wheel, a Colonel Parker-type," says one music reporter airily, referring to the late Elvis Presley's manager. "But he's a pretty small peanut."
Markle's marriage to a hometown sweetheart ended in divorce in 1970, in part, he says, because he met Nancy Wilcox, then his student at Clark. He and Wilcox, while not married, have two children, but he concedes that Long View Farm has strained their relationship. He visits them intermittently in Truro.
Markle now faces the danger that the rock industry's slump will make luxury studios like Long View less attractive to bands. Thomas Crosthwaite, the former general manager of Intermedia, a top Boston studio, says, "Resort studios are obsolete. The days of idealists buying farmhouses and putting studios in have been superseded by economics."
But one Long View asset is Markle's lifelong familiarity with the music business. As a boy, "The conversation he heard was always about bands," says his father, Gilbert Markle, 78, who used to hold his son on his knee at the NBC control panel.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.