He was also Corky Neidermayer, bowler and musician who wrote the underground bowling hit “Bowling With You.” He was a member of too many local bands to name here, but the list includes the Motor Morons, Chelsea Graveyard, Glasphalt, Kunigunda, and 700 Lb. Boyfriend. He was a card-carrying pope in the Church of the Subgenius. He was the guy who put Hampden’s Miracle on 34th Street Christmas display. on the web
“He was a freak,” longtime friend Brandon Welch says. “But when I say ‘a freak,’ I mean it in a positive way. He was a smart, talented man with a strange sense of humor who enjoyed making people laugh and entertaining himself.”
At 5:48 a.m. on Christmas Eve, that smart, talented man’s heart stopped and Mark Harp died.
Just a few weeks before Christmas, he fell ill with a ruptured colon and was rushed to Union Memorial Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. He spent the next 21 days in the hospital where, his friend Patricia Mitchell says, “He almost died every minute of every day for three weeks.” His condition improved, and he was taken out of Union Memorial’s intensive-care unit and brought to a rehabilitation hospital, where he stayed for two days surrounded by friends and his sister, Bonnie Linthicum, whom he had not seen in person since about 1999 after he and his family had a falling out. By all accounts, Harp was alert and in good humor during his final hours, looking forward to getting a guitar in his hands again and worried about whether his tracheotomy would affect his singing voice. But hours after his friends and family left the hospital on Dec. 23, his heart failed and he could not be revived.
“The 48 hours before Mark’s death were really, really good,” Mitchell says. “Once he came out of the ICU, it was like a miracle—he was talking and laughing and making jokes, just like Mark, it was so great. . . . It was easy to forget how sick he was. He had two great days, and [I’m] glad he had those two last days, two days of hope and optimism and good, positive feelings surrounded by people he loved.”
Mark Harp was born Mark Linthicum in 1957, the son of the late Robert and Frances Linthicum of Baltimore. His father owned a luncheonette at the intersection of Eastern and Dundalk avenues. He attended military school as a child at McDonough Military Academy (“He was bored in regular school, he was so smart,” Bonnie Linthicum says), and finished school at Patterson High in Baltimore. His first job after graduation was at Bethlehem Steel, where he worked until the plant laid him off along with numerous other workers. After that, he worked at the Maryland Science Center, as a courier, and as a production assistant in the City Paper production department. Bonnie Linthicum says being a courier was probably his favorite job because he could be his own boss, but his real career was always his music, to which he gravitated at an early age.
“He took guitar lessons probably for about a month when he was young, and then he just took off with it,” she says. “He could pick up any musical instrument and play. We gave him my grandfather’s mandolin, he fiddled with it for a minute, and within a few minutes he knew how to play. When he was little he wrote songs. Like ‘The Cockroach Song’: ‘Pardon me, ma’am, but I have never seen a cockroach quite that large.’”
Over the course of 30 years, Harp recorded hundreds of songs, performed with about 30 different bands, wrote music for theater performances, and did sound for several local theater companies, including Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and Impossible Industrial Action Theater, and collected and created thousands of sound recordings that his girlfriend of nearly five years, Kim Rohr, calls “a musical library that I don’t even comprehend.”
“I have CDs with nothing on them but the strangest sound bites,” Rohr says. “There is this Merriam Webster talking dictionary that you can find online. Mark really loved that. He took these songs, like this song from the ’80s, ‘Always Something There to Remind Me.’ Mark was fascinated by taking songs like that and taking this dictionary and making it speak each word. He was fascinated by weird little stuff like that.”
In his public life, she says, Harp was self-deprecating and liked to tell bad jokes that probably amused him more than they did his friends.
“He had a photo of a bottle of Joy dishwashing liquid and another of Pride cleanser in his wallet,” Brandon Welch remembers. “He would say, ‘Hey, have you seen this picture of my Pride and Joy?’ And he would take these pictures out of his wallet, and it was Pride and Joy.”
But in his private life, Rohr says, Harp was less a jokester and more complex than his public persona led people to believe, susceptible to moodiness.
“At home Mark was a really different person,” she says. “He was really, really sensitive, and I mean sensitive to the least little slight. I think a lot of that gruff, grumbly exterior that people saw, the grousing and stuff, a lot of that I think was a cover-up for things people said.”
That moodiness could make relationships complicated.
“His dying did not make him a saint,” Rohr says. “Mark could be a moody, difficult person. It pissed Mark off that the world was not on his terms. I think it pissed him off that the world did not appreciate his music, but I think what I’m finding out now is that a lot more people appreciated his music than he ever knew.”
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