THE MAN WHO CAPTIVATED CLARK
AND ROLLED WITH THE STONES
By Eric Lefcowitz
"Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste"
Gil Markle is a man possessed with the Midas touch. Consider this: he has two PhD's; he is president and chief operating officer of Long View Farm, where the Rolling Stones are currently fenced in; he is the co-founder and executive director of a multi-million dollar travel business; and he is a former tenured associate professor at Clark University.
A former professor at Clark is hanging out with the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards? Is it possible? If so, then why haven't we seen the Markle Memorial?
Oddly enough, in a school that canonizes a brief visit by an out-of-vogue psychologist, the Markle legacy is reduced to a faint echo of the not-so-distant past. Yet, as one gathers up the bits of trivia, the "remember whens," surrounding his brief tenure at Clark, it becomes apparent that the traces of Markle's legend live on.
Let his colleagues do the talking: "He was the most popular professor that ever taught at Clark," Gary Overvold, a professor of philosophy, contends.
Another Philosophy Department colleague, Walter Wright, now Dean of the college, says, "there's no question that by his presence and by his teaching he exerted an enormous influence on a whole generation of students."
One-word descriptions of Markle read like a sappy Rex Reed Movie critique: "a visionary," "a mentor," "a showman," "a performer," "dynamic," "charismatic." Summing it up in one encompassing understatement, Wright says, "Markle was a phenomenon."
To really understand the man they called "Sparkle Markle" you must go back and trace the chapters of his riches-to-richer saga. Markle's gradual evolution into the entertainment field is not altogether incongruous with his past. His father, Gil Markle, Sr., was an NBC Chief Engineer for 25 years. Mother Markle – Connie Gates – also had an inkling for the spotlight, stinting as a singer with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
Not much else is known about his past beyond blank statistics. Birthdate: July 7, 1940. Birthplace: Tenafly, New Jersey. Markle denies any pervasive childhood influences, neither entertainers nor philosophers. What is known is that philosophy was not the initial tract of his education; physics was.
In 1961, Markle graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York with an B.S. Honors in Physics. He went on to the University of Paris on a Fulbright Study Grant, and eventually copped his first PhD in 1963 in philosophy of science. Once was not enough, however, as Markle enrolled at Yale University and worked towards his second PhD, this time in pure philosophy.
The year now was 1966 and America was in the throes of civil discontent. The restless strains of Vietnam were tugging at the soul of a worn-torn nation. Revolutionary sentiments were particularly felt on college campuses throughout the country. Clark was different – students wore rebellion like a badge, participating in several sit-ins and protests.
Enter Gilbert Scott Markle, 26, accomplished scholar. From the start there was something different about him. In a time where "us versus them" and "generation gap" were common themes between rebellious youth and their elders, Markle seemed to be on the "us" side.
"He had a stylish way about him," Overvold explains. "It was in tune with the times."
Dennis Allen, a student at Clark during Markle's time, remembers, "He had his XKE Jaguar Convertible and suitably faded jeans. He dressed the period. There was no question of authenticity. He was very legitimately a part of the scene, as much as the students."
Whether the image was the man or the myth is debatable. A clue to Markle's oft-times puzzling persona can be found in his ambitions upon entering Clark: "I wanted to be a great, young, popular teacher." And like most mountains he chooses to conquer, Markle accomplished his goals at Clark without breaking a sweat.
The Philosophy Department at Clark in 1966 consisted of two professors, Robert Beck, the Chairman, and Jeff White. It would not be fair to say the department was languishing, but it certainly was not bubbling over with popularity either. Markle's emergence changed all that.
Within no time, Markle was packing Atwood Hall with his unique and charismatic approach to lecturing. Not coincidentally, philosophy enrollments skyrocketed, "Gil was more responsible than anyone else in building a really broad based interest in the Philosophy Department and its programs. He was the gate attraction," Wright contends. "I think if one did an enrollment study of the Philosophy Department he would find that the peak philosophy enrollment coincides with Gil's presence."
Markle's popularity resulted in the expansion of the Philosophy Department. Courses in philosophy were facing unprecedented enrollments; Overvold claims that the student-teacher ratio was nearly 200-1 in those days, almost twice that of its closest rival department. To ease the burden, Wright was hired in 1968 and Overvold followed in 1969.
Just how Markle, the intellectual pied piper, enticed his students to the sea of enlightenment is no question: he wowed them. "It wasn't a lecture," Markle admits, "it was more of a show. It was designed to motivate, to get people excited, to get people happy."
And a good show it was. Markle attracted such large crowds to his lectures that he consistently packed Atwood Hall or Old Library 320. More impressive was the fact that he was drawing these crowds to Problems of Philosophy and History of Modern Philosophy, courses generally regarded as seminars in slumber. "Markle understood what Plato meant about education as an erotic process," Wright says.
Markle rejected the tried-and-true methods of feeding the students information only to have them chew it up and spit it back. In his paper, A Media-Theoretical Look at Teaching, he writes, "the traditionalist in regard to teaching is not likely to be a good teacher. The web he weaves is closed and tight, and looks only for the blind affirmation of its beholder and never for any help from them." Later in the paper he writes, "If in doubt, educators have been inclined to fill blackboards first, and hearts only later."
Basing his theories on Marshall McLuhan, Markle described his technique for successful teaching: "A good teacher is thus something of an artist, an actor, psychologist and salesman. He regards his task as a 'no-holds barred' enterprise." Markle viewed the means of educating as important as the end. "Teaching, then, is to be viewed as a medium. The form of this medium is the way it gets done; e.g., lectures, discussions, reading assignments, movies, slides, cassette tape-players, psychoanalysis, shock-treatment, or the ingestion of certain drugs."
Although Markle never used psychoanalysis or shock treatment to motivate his students, he did employ video and sound into his lectures. This was well before the acceptance of media in academic circles as a viable educational tool. Dennis Allen, the Supervisor of Corporate Video Communications at the Norton Company, was among the students with whom Markle established media at Clark. "He took a visionary approach," Allen says. "Many people considered media to be a lot of gadgetry and playtoys, nothing of academic significance. But he saw beyond the levers, dials and knobs."
Markle held firmly to the notion that media could enhance the give-and-take function of education. "I started using tape, playing things for people, creating displays for the music and using sound and slide machines to increase the dramatic effect of the presentation," Markle remembers. His curiosity gave birth to concrete results. Markle and several others planned the projection booth in OL 320 that is now primarily used by the Clark University Film Society. Initially, the project called for state-of-the-art electronic equipment to be utilized for lectures.
One such lecture that gained notoriety was the "Mr. Mind" presentation which included a dazzling multi-media slide show. Charles Slatkin, then a film student and now a professor at Clark, worked with Markle on the presentation. "It was quite a show," Slatkin recalls. "It involved the latest media gear to articulate Sartre's concepts for the masses. It would fill whatever auditorium it was shown in. But it wasn't any hodgepodge 60s lightshow either."
Markle acknowledges, however, that his lecture-shows were vulnerable to criticism. "Of course there was inevitably the suspicion that I was pandering to wishes of adolescents by entertaining them rather than instructing them." Yet, despite possible in-house criticism, by all accounts Markle's presentations were an unabashed success. "He mesmerized his students," Nancy Wilcox, a Clark graduate of 1974, recalls.
Beyond Markle's style, however, was substance. "He started many many people on their thinking careers," Wilcox says. Wilcox, who later had two children with Markle, was also instrumental in the genesis of Long View Farm. She views Markle as a mentor: "He held the beautiful ideas together as we cruised through the halls of ivy."
Markle faced the challenge of making dry philosophical theories digestible. "It was basically ridding the discipline of philosophy of its image that I conceived as my primary burden as a teacher of an introductory course in philosophy," Markle explains. "And philosophy has always gotten a lot of bad press."
Markle accomplished this by relating to his students and the times. First, he dressed the part – his attractive, youthful looks certainly did nothing to damage his contemporary image. More importantly he appealed to students by remaining in touch not only with the world of academia but the ebb and flow of modern times.
Allen recalls: "Gil's image combined a very energetic and inquisitive mind with a certain personal savvy. He was in touch with what was happening. Scholarship tends to remove someone from the mainstream of everyday thought, but Gil was very successful in integrating philosophy and grounding it in current thought."
The hot topic, of course, was Vietnam. In 1970, students boycotted the last weeks of the Spring semester in protest over America's participation in the war. Surprisingly, however, Markle did not advocate student protest. "I did not excuse students from my lectures in order that they attend a rally outside. I was never in favor of the boycott."
It turns out that the man who offered a radical alternative in education was not as radical in his personal politics. "I was never an anti-establishment professor," Markle maintains. "On the contrary I was conservative. I was always impatient with the radicals and activists."
Yet upon investigation it becomes apparent that Markle did occasionally dabble in politics. Gale Nigrosh, a French and Linguistics professor at Clark, who remains Markle's close friend and one of his few ties to the University today, recalls how "we were really on very, very opposite sides. When eighteen of us went out on strike during the Cambodian invasion, it was Gil who bought the ad in the paper." And what did the ad say: "Can't you see what's going on? Stop the war, now!"
"There were some Vietnam scams we participated in," Markle admits, "but it was more symptomatic of an interest in creating opinion and controlling opinion by using a full-page ad in the newspaper to do so."
Creating and controlling opinion is a major theme throughout Markle's teaching career all the way to his present business successes. Protesting Vietnam was just one of many vehicles Markle would use to elicit the responses he desired. By any other name this is called manipulation.
"Gil can be a manipulative person. He was comfortable with the avenues he uses to promote what he promotes," Allen explains. Nigrosh says it in a more evocative manner: "Gil is a charismatic slave driver."
Markle not only preaches about the power of media hype, he practices it. Beyond his Clark lectures, Markle has remained in the media spotlight as usual through shrewd strategy. In 1976, for example, he made headlines by throwing a party out of bounds at Long View Farm for Stevie Wonder.
Wonder had just completed his critically acclaimed album, Songs In The Key of Life, and Motown Records was looking for spectacular way to launch its release. Markle volunteered (at a $30,000 clip) to host a press party at Long View Farm to celebrate the event. Never known for moderation, Markle turned the party into a beggar's banquet. Over 100 journalists and assorted big-wigs from the likes of Time, Newsweek, and Rolling Stone were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of booze and good eats, a hayride through the confines and a preview of the album.
Next week Newsweek ran a picture of Markle sitting next to Mr. Wonder, himself, in the Long View studio control room. The Worcester Telegram ran a headline proclaiming "$30,000 Day of 'Pure Decadence in N. Brookfield." What started out as a simple press party had turned into a full blown media event. Markle was on the map.
To his students and colleagues, Markle's subsequent business successes beyond Clark have been of little surprise. When he arrived at Clark in 1966, Markle already had a keen mind for business. Having traveled abroad on a Fulbright scholarship that took him to France, Markle had seen a growing need for educational package tours of Europe.
In 1966, Markle and two fellow Yale graduate classmates, John Hyland and Theodore Voelkel, incorporated the American Leadership Study Groups. Initially working out of an adjacent room to his University office, Markle employed several Clark students in coordinating packaged tours for ALSG.
The rapid growth of ALSG coincided with the student travel boom of the late sixties and early seventies. Soon the company grew too big for the tiny Clark campus. "The sums of money involved were annually substantial by comparison to the total revenues of the University," Markle recalls.
Consequently, ALSG moved to the Worcester Airport where it still operates today. Just another example of the Markle magic: what started out as a small business venture in educational travel had blossomed into a multi-million dollar agency. ALSG now boasts an office staff of 40 in its Worcester headquarters and 10 in its European headquarters in London.
Just as Markle was adding another jewel to his crown, he decided to abdicate his throne; he was outgrowing Clark. The financial reward of ALSG allowed him to dabble in his varied interests: including recording. During his sabbatical in 1973 (he was tenured in 1972), Markle immersed himself in the field of communications and media. By the end of his sabbatical leave he decided to leave Clark for greener pastures, in the form of Long View Farm.
In his resignation letter to Dr. Alan Guskin, Acting President of Clark, Markle expressed his new inclinations away from the lectern: "I want to do philosophy in non-print." Non-print meant the communications field to Markle, who could barely disguise his excitement over the emergence of media in his letter to Guskin: "It's Noah's Ark all over again, except this time we have conceptual disciplines on our hands instead of animals, and it's raining technology instead of water."
Markle explained in his letter to Guskin that to make the necessary commitment and financial investment in media he had to go beyond Clark, which could not bankroll his plans. "The equipment is very expensive, and my financial risk as an individual is 'very high," Markle wrote. "However the recording installation which will result from this investment will allow us to demonstrate the concept of educational non-print, and may strongly condition the ways in which new money will flow in this area. Everyone is waiting for someone to do it first. I intend to."
He did. Markle built his ark in North Brookfield and has steered it in the direction of prosperity. The seed that gave birth to Long View Farm was sown long ago at Clark. Overvold remembers how Markle began experimenting in recording in his rented house in Paxton. "He bought a tape recorder and we used to mess around with it in Paxton. Then he bought a small mixer. Then he bought a large mixer. It became obvious that his Paxton home was too small for his designs," Overvold explains.
A close encounter with the Glimmer Twins, Jagger and Richards, convinced Markle that the recording business was the way to go. Gary Wright, of "Dream Weaver" fame, an old acquaintance of Markle's, introduced him to the Rolling Stone's producer Jimmy Miller. The Stones were currently recording their one-and-only double-album, Exile on Main Street, when Markle sat in on the session that produced Sweet Virginia. It was a turning point in Markle's life: "It solidified in my mind that I would have some involvement in the professional end of making music."
Initially Long View Farm was intended not as a recording studio but as a private residence for Markle. In 1973, Markle laid down $125,000 and bought up the 145 acre ranch in North Brookfield for him and Wilcox to raise a family. Markle's obsession with electronics led him and two carpenter-musician friends to renovate the farmhouse into a state-of-the-art recording studio, however.
Soon after, another studio was added to a large barn, and the main house was converted into a guesthouse. Although the ranch was slowly metamorphosing into a luxurious retreat, it remained a functioning farm. Cows, goats, and chicken still roam the territory and various fruits and vegetables are grown.
Gradually the farm gained notoriety as several renowned musicians made the trek to North Brookfield for the three R's: rest, relaxation and recording. The list of visitors speaks for itself – Aerosmith, Cat Stevens, John Winter, Pat Metheny, Gary Wright, Don McLean, Pete Seeger, Tim Curry, Rupert Holmes to name a few. The J. Geils Band are frequent visitors, cutting their last two gold albums, Sanctuary and Love Stinks there. Even John Belushi dropped in for a few weeks to do some vocal takes for a Blues Brothers album and to lose a few pounds. And, of course, now the Rolling Stones are getting satisfaction there.
Part of the appeal, no doubt, of Long View is not just the advanced recording facilities but the lure of a paradise found. In a sense, Long View is a haven of hedonism. Included with the accommodations are gourmet meals prepared by a staff of eight live-ins and a whole host of diverting activities. For outdoor recreation there are riding stables, hiking and a swimming hole. Inside is a game-room complete with a bar, pinball machine and a large-screen television. And to soothe those tender rock egos are a sauna and Jacuzzi. It's the good life.
Of course, paradise does have its price tag. Studio A (the farmhouse) which includes a 16-24 track recording and mix-down, MCI console, Studer and Scully tape machines and many other toys for $1670 to $190 per hour, depending on how many tracks you choose. Maximum charge is $1,900 per day, meals and drinks included. If Studio A is a little too ritzy for your taste you can opt for the Holiday Inn quickie: Studio B (the barn). For a 16-track recording and mixing, minimum of three hours, you pay only $100 an hour, drinks not included.
Although Long View must clear over $1,000 a day to break even, it has, nevertheless, been a commercial success, easily ranking in the top ten studios in the country. And now Markle's latest coup– the Rolling Stones – has brought Long View to the forefront of national recognition.
According to Markle it was the Stones who approached him, not the other way around. Either way, the excitement and publicity generated by the Stones visit has assured Long View and Markle a stable future in the recording business for a long time coming.
Sitting in his plush executive office in the Worcester Airport, Markle can barely conceal the glow. He exudes an air of triumph and unguarded confidence, like a man who has hit his number after years of gambling. The phone calls pour in from journalists, industry heavies and friends who have recently rediscovered their friendship with Markle.
But unlike your average entrepreneur, Markle is still a philosopher. Beyond merely reveling in his glory, Markle can put the present in perspective. He is relieved, "We had a desire to achieve a higher and higher posture in the professional recording and entertainment community -- which generally translated to the need to bring bigger and better bands to Long View Farm," Markle admits. "I'm less worried about that now. In a sense, this event has made us free, which to me constitutes an end to a chapter."
Markle likes to think in terms of chapters: each sequence involves the institution and conquering of a goal. He does not attempt to deny that Clark played a role, a significant role, in this saga: "It was a chapter, a very important chapter, a chapter which was approximately the length and duration and importance as the Long View experience."
Markle recalls a "great sense of melancholy" over his decision to leave Clark. And what does he miss the most about Clark? "The hordes, the hordes of adoring faces, that's what I miss the most." And the least – "My attendance at faculty meetings, which I abhorred."
Markle looks back at Clark with jaded gratitude. The University, in essence, as a soapbox for his sermons. The climate of the late sixties was conducive to his ingratiating style and the Clark community embraced him with open arms. But he pulled out, Markle-style, to stay in step and begin a new chapter.
"The style of teaching I was wedded to was more the theatrical, showmanship style. But it was like any good show; how long does a good show play before it gets a little worn around the edges? I got tired of the show," Markle explains.
And yet, paradoxically, he misses the adoring faces. His professional colleagues, one senses, are not missed as much. "There were some who resented the fact that I had more students in one class than they had in several years of theirs," Markle says. "It's understandable that they should feel a bit funny about that."
But what about the transition from an academic social milieu to that of world famous musicians and media hotshots? "There was no transition involved. I just no longer had to relate falsely to my professional colleagues. I was relieved of that burden," Markle states bluntly.
Instead, Markle finds world beaters better suited to his social fancy. "I find Jagger and Richards very plausible, open and entertaining, pleasant people to be around. I think it's because of the degree of self confidence they have. They're not worried any longer about impressing people." Neither should Gil Markle.
In a sense, Markle is a truly Faustian character, striving insatiably for knowledge and mastery. He might gladly sell his soul to Satan, as Faust did, in exchange for material gain and worldly experience. And although it's hard to feel sympathy for the devil, it's more difficult to ignore him.
I collect the trash at Long View.
I can always tell you when there's somebody famous in the studio.
First off, there's more trash.
And it's funny trash. Lots of empty wine bottles. With labels in
French, half of 'em. Newspapers from L.A. that nobody even
bothered to read. Worn-out roses. You name it.
It ain't so busy sometimes, and then they go to the dump
themselves, and don't laugh so much.
"Trashman" ad, Billboard Magazine, 1979. George Osteguy, deceased. Photo by Nancy Wilcox.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.