November 5, 1981
By James G. Hershberg
Photos by Jon A. Gordon
…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'
On the Road
Once upon a time, Gil Markle wanted to be king.
It was the early '70s. Officially, he was a budding academic at a small college in Worcester, Mass.; unofficially, he was the Maharajah McLuhan of Clark University, the charismatic guru of sound, light and stage who transformed the gray terrain of introductory philosophy into a psychedelic multi-media landscape which blew some minds, changed many, nonplussed a few — and quickly developed into the top draw on campus. Markle didn't lecture, he performed: sometimes from a podium (no questions; it would interrupt the (show), sometimes from a control booth choreographing Sartrean mind-wrestling to a darkened lecture hall via stereos, slide projectors and live actors). Students lapped Markle up. A bevy of admirers, bright, spellbound, often female, trailed him, and why not? Markle had cool, and he had it made.
He drove a XKE Jaguar Convertible. He wore faded jeans. He had two PhD's. He had tenure. In his spare time, he ran a multi-million dollar student travel business that he started in grad school with two classmates. He was young, rich, handsome, smart, admired, set for life.
Wrong. That was all kid stuff. He was bored. Gil Markle wanted to be king. He daydreamed about taking over a Scottish castle, and dressing up in royal robes.
So in 1973, Markle took a sabbatical from Clark, kissed academia good-bye, and went off to rule this territory. And in time, he did. Only his castle was no musty medieval relic; nor was it in Scotland. Instead, Markle bought a three-building, turn of the century farmhouse smack in the middle of Nowhere, Massachusetts and built a stereophonic retreat and recording studio for rock stars who want to get away from Everything.
Once in a while, even those musicians anointed by a steady stream of fame and fortune, must periodically hunker down to cut the next album. Long View Farm, Markle's castle, is designed to make that task as painless as possible. Set on a 145-acre pasture in North Brookfield, Mass., Long View oozes tranquility and isolation. About as far off the beaten track as one can conveniently get — an hour-and-a-half west of Boston, two hours north of New York City — Long View can be thought of as a nice long backrub for the high-pressure tension of the music industry. It abounds with incentives for relaxation: pinball, large screen-television, video games, omnipresent hi-fis, endless gourmet meals, a sauna and Jacuzzi inside, hiking, horseback riding, swimming outside. When the impulse for work flares, two modern recording studios await, one 16-track ("Studio B"), one 24-track ("A"). With a buzz on the intercom, around the clock, Long View's guests can summon one of the studio's ten staff members to prepare a snack or a studio, run an errand or run a bath.
For eight years, Markle's dream steadily grew. As Long View evolved into one of the country's top recording studios, those who trekked to this rural rock Grossingers included the J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Pete Seeger, Don McLean and John Belushi (for a "Blues Brothers" album). Though he spent his weekdays in the Worcester Airport offices of American Leadership Study Groups, his travel business, Markle devoted his creative energies to Long View. The reward came this summer when the Rolling Stones, seeking a peaceful location to rehearse for their first American tour in three years, dropped by Long View for six weeks, and catapulted Markle back into the spotlight he had missed since he stopped mesmerizing students at Clark.
The Stones' visit seems to have put Long View, never a sure-fire financial proposition, over the top. For six weeks, the phone "never stopped ringing," as a flood of journalists, fans, and industry heavies converged on North Brookfield, attempting to penetrate Markle's carefully constructed barriers and get at his famous guests. "It was the most glorious use of Long View ever," recalls Markle with obvious pleasure. "It was a question of how effectively we could keep the rest of the world at bay — and in contact at the same time."
Last Saturday, Long View has calmed down somewhat. The Stones — and the kids who listened to the muffled sounds of their practices from the fields outside — are gone. Twelve cars — including two Caddys (one pink, one black) — loosely populate the farm's two gravel parking lots. On this crisp, sunny fall afternoon, laziness pervades Long View. Cows munch in the fields, horses clop along the driveway, a couple of dogs yap down by the road.
Markle is inside Studio B, in the "Barn," one of the ranch's three main buildings. The "Farmhouse" holds Studio A, the kitchen, office, and living quarters for Long View staff and guests. Markle has lived in a smaller guest cottage since Mick Jagger took over his bedroom in August. Standing next to Markle is Joanne Barnard, a local folk rock singer featured on the first Long View label release.
Listening to a test version of Barnard's next album, Markle does not cut an imposing figure: average build, unkempt, curly brown hair, soft features on a face that smiles easily and belies a voice that sounds gruff over the phone. His attire today consists of a blue sweat suit, blue sneakers, no socks. He greets two visitors with a handshake and invites them to explore while he works with Barnard.
We're pointed in the direction of the barn's top (third) floor, ultimately navigating a corridor to the loft where the Stones practiced. The only visible residues are a stage hurriedly built to fit the group's specifications, and a set of Stones' albums purchased, Markle would say, because the rusty rockers could not always recall how their songs went.
Wandering downstairs, we run into Kathy Holden, Long View's 35-year-old general manager, just in from horseback-riding. A former high school teacher, Holden spends five days a week at the farm, "doing everything from keeping oil in the furnace to making sure the horses don't get loose"; she introduces the stable's seven occupants, including the two named by Markle, McLuhan and Aergorne (after the horse in Lord of the Rings). She, like other Long View employees, is still trying to regain equilibrium following the stress of the Stones' visit, when Markle's machine ran full-tilt 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "It's not really as relaxed as it looks here," she says. "A lot of people have trouble living another life outside of the Farm."
Julie Hasenfus, our next tour guide, leads to a network of interlocking passageways, hidden rooms, stairways and balconies: an unpredictable blend of Upper East Side chic and Old New England antique. Hasenfus signed up as a Long View gofer three years ago after dropping out of UMass-Amherst, though she hopes to return to school some day. She ticks off landmarks as she goes: "These rooms were named for the J. Geil's band — the Stones were really insulted that we didn't change the names for them… and here's Mick's bedroom…"
Photographs and mementos are scattered about on the walls; a glass frame encloses some tattered yellow newspaper clippings that note the high points in the life of — an oft-repented description of Markle — "an anamoly".
Born August 7, 1940 to Gil Markle Sr., an NBC radio engineer and Connie Gates Markle, a singer; raised in Tenafly, New Jersey, a comfortable suburb a half-hour from New York City; M.S. degree in physics, 1961, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.; Fulbright Scholar, studying "The Philosophy of Time"; Ph.D in physics, University of Paris, 1963; Ph.D. in philosophy, Yale University, 1966; philosophy instructor, Clark University, 1966; co-founder, ALSG, 1967; tenured associate professor of philosophy, Clark University, 1972; former academic, freelance media manipulator, fledgling rock mogul, 1973.
In some more frames, another complicated tale is hinted at: a small boy, a small girl, a woman. After his marriage dissolved on New Year's Day 1971, Markle began living with Nancy Wilcox, than a 19-year-old Clark student. The two soon departed from Markle's suburban home in Paxton for the old Stoddard Farm, re-christened Long View; they produced two children, David, now 3, and Abigail, 5. But the conflict between raising a family and running a ranking rock studio in the same place created a rift between Markle and Wilcox that to this day they are trying to close. Wilcox and the children moved out of Long View, first to a neighboring farm house and then to a home on Cape Cod.
So Markle, who slices and squeezes some oranges as he prepares himself for the first of a succession of screwdrivers, exudes something less than the bubbling enthusiasm an interviewer might expect of a rock promoter who has just scored his crowning success. The conversation that ensues stretches into the evening. We start in the plushy upholstered living room, sitting before one of the house's many fireplaces, then adjourn to Markle's office to escape earsplitting fine-tuning from Studio A.
And now, slowly, gradually, we try to see if Gilbert Scott Markle can be unraveled. He is not, his friends say, an easy person to get to know. Some former members of the Clark circle of students who hovered about Markle in the early '70s remember him as forceful, driven, intensely energetic, a genius, invariably able to communicate an enthusiasm in his latest project — yet also distant when it came to personal matters. "He was not a real laid-back, palsy-walsy kind of guy… I guess I wouldn't call him a people person," says Charles Slatkin, now an assistant professor of communication arts.
One of Markle's closest friends sighs when asked about this, for it is an issue she has hashed out with him many times. "He has about three miles of territorial water around him," says Gale Nigrosh, professor of French and linguistics at Clark, who loves Markle "like family" and in the past has fruitlessly urged him to enter politics because he possesses "the power to move people and manipulate them for whatever the aim."
Markle the showman is never oblivious to any of his performance, Nigrosh says, but "can get so wrapped up in himself that he doesn't see anyone or anything around him… I can't see him taking a secondary role to anyone… he's a perfectionist, and he won't tolerate anything less than his vision of perfection."
Not every Markle associate detects this gulf between Markle and mere mortals. Gary Overvold, one of a crop of young philosophy scholars recruited at Clark at about the same time as Markle. Remembers him as a good friend and colleague, "another guy who had a good sense of humor and was fun to talk to and do things with."
But without exception, Markle's friends and colleagues tag him unique: exceptionally creative and innovative, burning off energy and ideas at breakneck pace. In 41 years, he's already jammed three hugely successful careers into the space usually reserved for, at best, one.
Why did Markle leave his first success — as an academic — just when he appeared to have it made?
"I had just done it all in academia. I was an immensely popular teacher; I had read every fucking thing there was to read… I found that being a faculty member could be boring as hell."
Markle detests planning where he's going, partly because he doesn't have time, partly because he really doesn't want to know. "I've never been a person to figure out where I want to be in five years; I never really decided to be a doctor or professor."
For Markle, it's a question of seizing the moment and following it wherever it goes. "We're all waiting for the next thing," says Wilcox, the person Markle says knows him best, "I don't think he can stop his pace; I think he'd die if he stopped."
Markle rejects the possibility that he's anywhere near stopping. He hopes to expand Long View into the video field, installing a television studio and a satellite ground station; but the possibility that the challenge of Long View may be ebbing into a sure thing, a boring thing, does gnaw at him. How does he top bringing the Stones to Long View? Where does Gil Markle go from here?
Scrunched into a corner of his office couch, Markle pauses. "That's a question that's been haunting me for many years… So far, I've been more or less securing the terrain with the knowledge that when that battle was won, there was still the question of what to do with it all (Long View)… For now, we're still building; I'm not yet at the point of meditating on questions of ultimate use."
With rising enthusiasm, Markle describes one future possibility that might quality for "ultimate use"; the construction of fully electronic alternate universes, "media simulators" which would plug users into a new matrix of perceptions and sensations out of which the user would construct a "real world" which was entirely artificial. Whoever designs such devices, the video games of the future, will have an "awesome responsibility," Markle says.
Of Long View he says, "It's a wonderful machine… the gears are all in place and are working; it won't be dissembled."
But Markle knows, and on Saturday seemed acutely aware, of the costs of putting Long View on the map. Not the financial ones, though they've been substantial. The emotional ones.
Markle says his parents make the appropriate oohs and aahs upon visiting what one reporter described as a "haven of hedonism," but they feel that their son has sacrificed "family values, home and hearth, for some glorious high-flying career."
It is suggested that he's made a special effort to make Long View a cozy, comfortable homey place.
"No," Markle says quietly. "There's really no home or family here, just a lot of props… in the process of building Long View I screwed up my young family… Abigail, David,… their mother is very mad at me… that's the only part of this that hasn't worked out so well…"
Their relationship, Markle said in a phone call several days after the Long View interview, gyrates endlessly between love and pain, "very topsy-turvy but highly energized… It's quite a weird equation."
But one factor seems evident: Long View contributed to the tensions between them. "We'd been living together and Nancy found the farm in 1973," said Markle from Cape Cod, where he had gone to see Wilcox. "I saw a studio; she saw a family. And those are the poles of creative tension that have plagued us ever since."
In Wilcox's view, the effect of having a live-in musical subculture for which she had no particular fondness, made Long View no place to bring up David and Abigail. She didn't think rockers were "the best with children's heads… there are some real big ego levels there… kids get weird when the energy is weird"; also, they eat too much junk food. (Markle, incidentally, does not rave about his customers either: he calls an analogy between keeping rock groups content and doing the same for the farm's livestock "accurate par excellence.") When Wilcox had had enough, she left; it was "a calamity" in her life which "took me years to respond to in a sane way at all."
Despite these problems, Markle and Wilcox say they are devoted to each other. Wilcox, says Markle, is the "foundation of my career"; this week, he sent WBCN a tape cassette of songs which he says are love poems "for Nancy" recorded in 1975. According to Wilcox, "It's up to him… I'm here." Their relationship endures, she says, because both believe in complete freedom for the other. Yet neither see any obvious break in the impasse Long View has helped create.
At one point at Long View, Markle, reflecting on his relationship problems, considered whether Wilcox — or anyone, for that matter — could ever really reach him. In her relationship to him, Markle says, Wilcox found "nothing but a composite of spectacular achievements… (and) couldn't find the man within."
All of which leads back to an old Markle dilemma; when does the performer stop performing, the "arch media manipulator" stop manipulating? Where can you draw the line between the hype artist and the real person?
A long pause. "I haven't considered questions like that for a long time… I don't think the line exists."
My daddy works at Long View.
He's always in one of the control rooms, although I never know
which one. He says he likes it in there because they sound so good.
If I were him I'd spend more time at the pond, or with the horses, or
in the game room down by the sauna.
Lot's of times people come who have kids, and then I get to play
with them. Their daddies make records too.
"Abby" ad, Billboard Magazine, 1979. Abby Markle. Photo by Nancy Wilcox.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.