March 2014 Archives

When the Rainbow Starts to Pay: The Triumph of Marques Bovre

    Strictly Discs on Monroe Street in Madison, Wisconsin, occupies a deceptively small corner location in a residential business district.  Inside, and especially on its basement level, aisles filled with bins of audio treasures, both vinyl and CD, stretch out in almost dream-like plenitude.  From a mounted wall rack I'd pulled a CD intriguingly titled Ghost Stories from Lonesome County, by a once popular Madison rock band by the name of Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins. 
    Gripped by complex emotions, I studied the black and white cover photo:  double-exposed against the severely plain doorway of what was evidently a weathered wooden country building, a church perhaps, four young men faced the camera with a manifest seriousness utterly lacking in rock-star attitude.  Second from the right, possibly the most unglamorous of the lot, and certainly the shortest, stood the author of the songs on the CD, Marques Bovre.  A subdued smile gave him a slight though definite proprietary look, as was only appropriate:  Singer, songwriter, guitarist, Marques Bovre, with his band, had regularly topped annual readers' polls in the local alternative weekly The Isthmus in the mid-90s when Ghost Stories from Lonesome County was released.  He was clearly the center of this little constellation.
    I knew that Marques Bovre had died just a half year ago, on February 11, birthday of both my wife and one of my brothers.  I had in fact attended one of Marques's gigs around the turn of the Millennium and briefly spoken with the artist.  While that exchange remained vivid in my memory all these years later, I had yet to hear any of his recordings.
    Feeling the weight of unfinished business, as well as a certain karmic fatedness, I took the CD to the checkout counter.

    *     *     *

    Flash back to Monday, April 3rd, 2000 at the Club Tavern in Middleton, Wisconsin.
    My wife Krista and I had driven from across the state that weekend with the express purpose of catching a rare small-venue appearance by the alternate country duo Buddy and Julie Miller.  Buddy Miller, at that time Emmylou Harris's regular touring guitarist, wasn't hard to find on the circuit, but this was an opportunity to hear Buddy with his more retiring, fibromyalgia-suffering wife Julie perform their own superb repertoire, a chance not to be passed up.
    The flier I carefully peeled off a kiosk on State Street near the University of Wisconsin in Madison noted that Buddy and Julie Miller would be accompanied by a "full band."  Smaller type at the bottom further announced "with Marques Bovre (solo acoustic)." 
    Many of the couple hundred lucky souls crowded into the Club Tavern that early spring night no doubt already knew of Marques Bovre.  I, however, had never heard of him.  As is often the case on such occasions, I prepared to receive whatever this opening act had to offer while curbing my anticipation for the headliners.
    The man who strode onto the stage was compact, neatly dressed, and, I thought, a tad nervous.  Earlier I'd seen him pass through the crowd, wearing a sort of coverall, now exchanged for vaguely rockabilly-looking stage clothes.  But his severely close-cropped hair made him look as much punk as country.  His shiny, somewhat round face reminded me a little of Phil Alvin of the Blasters.  Accordingly, my expectations was set for some sort of rockabilly-punk hybrid.
    I wish I could remember more about his songs, but at this distance in time I'm left with impressions, not specifics.  Ignorant of Marques Bovre's then already considerable body of recorded work with the Evil Twins, I enjoyed the set sans retention.  The singer's crisp, often twangy vocal tone I thought invited comparison with Steve Earle.  I could tell at once that the songs were extremely well-crafted, the execution confident and professional.  Marques Bovre marshaled a compelling intensity and focus, embodying the archetype of the lone, perhaps lonely troubadour, successfully capturing and holding the attention of those scores of Millers fans packing the Club Tavern.
    Marques Bovre's music sufficiently moved me to thank him when he came offstage from his set.  Thus my one and only interaction with Marques Bovre took place.  It went something like this:
    Me:  I really enjoyed your songs.
    Marques:  Thanks.  Did you want to buy a CD?
    Me:  Uh, maybe later . . . Can I find them in Madison?
    Marques:  But I'm here now.
    Truth to tell, I was playing it close to the vest financially.  The travel to Madison had already taken a bite out of a limited budget.  I thought Marques Bovre looked generally disappointed at the non-buying crowd that evening, and his plaintive rejoinder registered to my ear as a minor-key protest.  Feeling embarrassed, I edged away then and put it out of my mind -- not hard to do when the Millers came on a few minutes later to great gusts of welcoming applause.
    Meanwhile, I noticed Marques Bovre, in his coveralls again, making his exit.  Apparently he had to leave before the main set.  Fleetingly, I felt a little sad to think that he was missing the Millers' performance, a melancholy that merged with mild, though complicated regret over our brief conversation, which I've remembered with surprising frequency over the years.  I'd seen enough satisfied listeners leave after my poetry readings without buying my books to know how it felt when an audience member declined to take a chance on an artist they had professed to appreciate.
*     *    *

    Back home from Madison in July 2013, I was eager to finally sample Marques Bovre's recorded output.  Everything about the package of Ghost Stories from Lonesome County suggested substance, from its sturdy jewel case to liner notes with lyrics printed on heavy, glossy stock.
    As did the music.  The first song, the eponymous "Lonesome County," kicked in with its ominous, sinuous opening guitar riff and throbbing bass line, signaling an immediate seriousness.  In a muscular R&B mood reminiscent of Eric Burdon's 60s work with the Animals, the singer swiftly located the action of this album in the physically and spiritually decimated rural landscape of the American heartland:

     You got your dead train tracks
     This used to be a railroad town.
     You got your river runnin' muddy
     It eats away at solid ground.

From there on to its conclusion a full hour later, Ghost Stories mapped that hard-hit terrain as skillfully and knowingly as more famous heartland rockers like John Mellencamp and Steve Earle have done, both of whom came to my mind on first listening.  Rich with incident involving often tragicomic small-town characters, Ghost Stories told its frequently grim tale with the honesty and humor of which only a reflective, self-aware artist is capable.
    Clear to me upon that revelatory first listening was a second theme embedded in the 13 songs of Ghost Stories, the peculiarly American struggle to reconcile the carnal excitement of the rock medium with a cultural religious tradition at best suspicious of the body and its sensual ecstasies.  Nowhere is this struggle more evident than on a seven-minute epic called "Ballad of the Evil Twins," the dramatic peak of Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.
    "Ballad of the Evil Twins" must be heard to be believed.  The "evil twins" of this piece of over-the-top musical theater are cousins Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis, who actually were, as Marques notes, "raised as brothers."  The first half of this long track (reminiscent of the Hendrix "All Along the Watchtower") dramatizes in conventional if impressionistic fashion the tension between the preacher inveighing against sin versus the rock 'n roller incorrigibly wedded to what has often been denounced in the South as "the devil's music."  The formal verses then give way to a barrage of "speaking in tongues" gibberish, which I've since learned is Marques's own uncannily convincing approximation.  Like a rain squall temporarily clearing, this incoherence then segues into what one could be forgiven for assuming is a verbatim clip from a Swaggart sermon but is in fact another remarkable piece of audio impersonation by the vocally agile Bovre.  Railing against rock and roll in particular and electricity in general, this faux-Swaggart lapses briefly back into "tongues" and is then overwhelmed and finally drowned out altogether by staggeringly chaotic guitar feedback, seeming to establish that in the song at least, and maybe in the singer's ambivalent allegiances as well, the "devil's music" is hands-down winner.  Given the mad flavor of the recitation (sample:  "Above all these, most egregious in the eyes of the Lord is the electricity that powers electrified guitars in the hands of young people"), which cousin is more possessed and which of the two possessions is finally the more demonic?  "The Ballad of the Evil Twins" is ultimately a devilishly clever defense of rock and roll against those body-haters who would defame it as satanic.
    From that bacchanalian abandon, the singer regroups for a home stretch of three more measured meditations on faith, each sublime in its way.  Yet even after the final gorgeous lead guitar figure of the serene closer, "Judgement Day," dies away, the listener is left to conjecture that the matter is by no means settled.  As a "concept" album, Ghost Stories from Lonesome County brilliantly states an internal conversation or struggle between the "evil twins" who are active parts of Bovre's own psyche.
    Most apparent from this initial venture into the Marques Bovre catalog was the wit and intelligence of the singer-songwriter.  In his literate and slyly humorous lyrics he betrayed a sardonic self-knowledge and a full readiness to turn his biting satiric sensibility on himself when warranted.  Also abundantly evident was the excellence of his band, the Evil Twins--actually three in number:  Eric Dummer on drums, Doug Meihsner on bass, and Linus (Brian Bauhs) on lead guitar.  In the creative variety of their arrangements, this highly capable and versatile unit afforded their leader a wonderfully broad musical palette with which to render his vision.
    I felt as though I had stumbled on a lost classic of American roots rock.  After many listenings, I still feel that way about Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.  Now that I'd started, I knew I'd have to dig deeper.  Something had gotten under my skin with my first unsettling encounter with the artist in 2000, and had never quite left me.  Questions now began to proliferate.  At the Club Tavern, Marques Bovre had told me, "But I'm here now."  Since that was sadly no longer true on this earthly plane, I would have to try to get my questions answered some other way.

*     *    *

    Setting out on Marques Bovre's trail, I found ample traces of the comet-like arc of his life and music.  First there was the memorial web site, a cornucopia of information about the man and his music, lovingly maintained by dedicated friends, including his long-time bandmate, bass player Doug Meihsner.  A glance at established the range of the artist's achievement, nearly twenty albums worth of material spanning roughly 25 years.
    I decided to continue my exploration of the Bovre oeuvre with Flyover Land, the 1995 release immediately following Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.  The title track, I had gleaned from Internet sources, was widely considered MBET's (Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins') signature song.  Though some of Marques's best albums are unfortunately out of print, including Flyover Land, I easily located a used copy online.  (For those so inclined, MP3's of almost everything Marques recorded are available from iTunes.)  Knowing nothing at the time of the song's context in the history of MBET, I heard a good-naturedly defiant declaration of Midwestern identity, through which a note of complaint, though not yet resignation, rang out:

     We built up a sound
     And nobody come,
     I said, Hey!  Listen!

I understood the hooky appeal of this high-spirited anthem voicing the universal cry of the deserving but neglected regional artist.  Flyover Land wasn't quite up to the stellar standard set by Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.  Still I was impressed that an artist and band could produce two albums of the combined quality of Ghost Stories and Flyover Land within a year or so of each other.  Undoubtedly there was a lot more musical gold to be panned in the Marques Bovre opus.
    My continuing foray into Marques's music necessarily entailed learning more about the life and the personality of which the music was an expression.  In this I was aided immeasurably by Doug Meihsner, who took pains to thoroughly answer my many questions with articulate insight, giving liberally of his time to satisfy a new fan's curiosity.  Thus I was able to piece together the biographical trajectory along which Marques's songs fall, and make some sort of sense of how it all unfolded.
    Marques Bovre was born in 1962 in Paoli, Wisconsin, a little town outside Madison.  Given his first guitar by supportive parents at age 7, Marques seems to have been blessed with an early sense of his musical calling, and began writing songs as a teenager.  In a note on his 2012 Nashville Dandelion CD, Marques cites as early influences voices as diverse as Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, and Roger Miller, all of whom, I think, left discernible marks on the mature artist.
    After a few earlier attempts, Marques formed his most popular and most potent band, the Evil Twins, in the fall of 1987.  The "classic" configuration, which included Doug Meihsner on bass, Eric Dummer on drums, and the rather whimsically nicknamed Linus on lead guitar, powered many of Marques's most accomplished performances.
    Not well known during MBET's heyday was the fact that Marques suffered from a rare form of osteoarthritis, which often left him in pain, depleting energy reserves needed for the arduous life of a road musician.  Thus the reach of MBET was necessarily limited by Marques's endurance, which diminished over the years.  In the liner notes for Angels, Bones & Clocks, the last album with the Evil Twins before dissolving the band, Marques thanks his surgeon for "four new joints."  Since the album was released in 2000, that means that the sturdy-looking 38-year-old I saw on stage at the Club Tavern had already had both hips and shoulders replaced.  The growing physical stress of maintaining the band was undoubtedly a factor leading to the dissolution of MBET in 2003.  A couple of years later, with singer Maggie Weiser and bassist Ken Stevenson, Marques formed SoDangYang, a trio more suited to managing the increasing demands on his health.
    Marques continued gigging around the Madison area and recorded a few songs with SoDangYang (some featuring guitarist Jim Schwall of Siegel-Schwall Band fame), and continued to be held in high esteem locally.  Then in August 2011, at the age of 49, Marques was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He fought valiantly the tumor he personalized as "the Hob Goblin" and completed one brilliant CD in his final year, along with a respectable reunion set with his old comrades in the Evil Twins.  On February 11, 2013, with Terese, his wife of 20 years, by his side, Marques left this world.
    Of course this "flyover" thumbnail of outward events can't do justice to the richness and complexity of Marques's prodigiously creative inner life.  Luckily, abundant evidence of Marques's thought, humor, and spiritual wisdom waits to be discovered by new listeners to the couple of hundred tunes he recorded in his quarter-century career.
    Having now surveyed most of that recorded body of work, I'm of the opinion that Marques Bovre made an uncommon number of good and very good records and three flat-out great albums, those three being Ghost Stories from Lonesome County (1994) and C'est la Vie (1997), both with the Evil Twins, and Nashville Dandelion (2012), accompanied by a group of studio musicians based in Tennessee.
    I've already discussed the earliest of these, Ghost Stories from Lonesome CountyGhost Stories exposes Marques's small town Midwestern roots perhaps more thoroughly and deeply than any other single collection of his songs.  As mentioned earlier, an evident ambivalence lies at the heart of this album, brought into acid-etched focus in the monumental "Ballad of the Evil Twins."  An inner tension no doubt already present in seed form in the 7-year-old with his first guitar comes to full dramatic expression in the symbolic battle between the cousins, one the sinner, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the other the dubious would-be saint, Jimmy Swaggart.  In fact, Marques is determined to have both God and rock and roll:  His music with the Evil Twins is robust, vital, generous, sometimes rowdy, and has an appealing advantage over the more judgmental religiosity of which he was a persistent critic.  (On the whole, Marques is unusually nonjudgmental -- his catalog overflows with songs that get inside suffering "sinners" with uncommon empathy.)
    On the concluding track of Ghost Stories Marques expresses confidence that "All will be well on the Judgment Day."  Given Marques's abbreviated span of years, the last verse of the song, addressed to an unspecified lover, is especially poignant:

     And when I am old and gray,
     When time brings my body and dreams to decay,
     I pray I'll be by your side
     On the Judgment Day.

    While struggle is often manifest in one way or another in Marques's work, on 1997's C'est la Vie the singer sounds less conflicted, more steady in his spiritual grounding.  Perhaps he has become more confident in his music as a vehicle for moral expression.  The singer's emphasis has shifted away from himself somewhat toward concern for others, especially women.  Three of the best songs on C'est la Vie are in fact about women:  "Ixonia" is a paean to a sexy Cub Scout den mother, while "She's All Gone" and "Beautiful Girl" both lament, in different ways, beloved female figures from Marques's past who have disastrously, even tragically fallen on hard times.
    Though Marques is at his peak here as songwriter, what really stands out on C'est la Vie is a sheer delight in music-making.  By their fifth or sixth album together, MBET have achieved a comfort level and facility in the studio that lifts their playing--marked by that peculiar telepathy that grows between musicians who've arrived at a thorough knowledge of each others' abilities and personalities over time--to new, and subsequently unequaled heights of synchronous joy.  In addition to the mastery each musician has individually achieved with his instrument within the well-oiled collective, this elevated esprit is audible in the seamless, soaring harmonies that vocally distinguish such tracks as "Died 4 U" and "Sam's Song."  The latter in particular distills all the elements of MBET's sound, you'll pardon the alliteration, into one irresistible elixir of exhilaration for the ear.  It also features a kind of arrangement at which MBET excelled, in which verse and chorus alternate with exuberant bursts of instrumental jamming, a fine democratic balance struck between band leader and band.  On the epic "Died 4 U," the most explicitly religious song on C'est la Vie, Linus solos with an escalating sense of excitement and release that rockets the listener straight into the guitar-glory Empyrean.  Overall, C'est la Vie is a direct, coordinated hit to the musical pleasure centers of the brain.
    This is arguably MBET's best album.  If forced to choose only one of Marques's CDs for my collection, I'd be mightily torn between C'est la Vie and Nashville Dandelion, which I'll consider next.  C'est la Vie is another "lost" classic of heartland rock, able to stand up to the better efforts of John Mellencamp and Steve Earle, whom Marques sometimes resembles.  (More than these, though, I hear in Marques's voice of this period the high, sharp twang of Arlo Guthrie.  By the time of Nashville Dandelion 15 years later, this, along with much else, will have changed dramatically.)
    It's hard not to think of 2012's Nashville Dandelion as Marques's summation and even swan song.  Nashville Dandelion creates a warm, country-inflected acoustic ambiance to showcase some of Marques's wisest and most profound meditations on life and, inevitably, death.  "I've been living and so I've been dying," he sings in "Mystery."  "I'm trying to be alive while I'm still alive," he tells us in "Let It Drain."  Remarkably, these recordings were begun in 2011 before Marques's brain cancer was detected (some songs, in fact, predate the recording sessions by several years).  There's always the possibility that Marques intuited what medical science would later reveal, though in any event he was acutely aware of his mortality at an age when most of us are not.  Whatever Marques knew or didn't know subconsciously, he'd developed the ability by this time in his life to look at even death with a disarming good humor and apparent absence of debilitating fear.
    In Nashville Dandelion, spirituality, which has been a consistent thread in the artist's work, again comes to the fore as central thematic concern, unsurprising, when you think of it, for a man nearing his ultimate challenge.  Marques's approach to religion generally combines a refreshing irreverence with a genuine devotion to core Christianity, shed of the hucksterism of socially conservative corporate "big box" religion, which Marques gleefully skewers again and again.  In Nashville Dandelion's "Cloudy Day," Marques takes a swing at the fundamentalist longing for "the rapture":

     . . . when the rapture comes
     We'll let the righteous have their fun, when the rapture comes.
     And with the righteous gone there might be room for everyone.

Clearly Marques doesn't think "the righteous" are all that righteous.   He throws in his lot with the riff raff, the ordinary people Jesus invited to the wedding at Cana, which in "Dandelion" inspires another of Marques's warm-heartedly inclusive tropes:

     Dandelion wine at the wedding feast,
     And from many fleshes, one.
     Eat, dance and drink and I gotta think,
     There will be room for everyone.

    Despite his jabs at organized religion, Marques was no stranger to church participation.  In Madison he'd been active in campus ministry efforts and in 2007 became artist in residence at Lake Edge United Church of Christ, an involvement he would maintain until no longer physically able to do so.  Lake Edge became a testing ground for some of his more explicitly and adventurously religious songs.  I may be wrong, but I sense in the decade from 1997 to 2007 a shift in Marques's musical focus related to a scaling down of his ambitions in the music industry.  Still his spiritual and artistic aspirations clearly remained constant even after his most successful band became history.
    I should mention here that Nashville Dandelion's spiritual emphasis was foreshadowed by a 2003 solo album, Full Frontal Confession, Marques's only straight-out religious collection.  Those songs seem to have been developed for performance at Lake Edge, acknowledged in the notes.  Full Frontal Confession is very beautiful, contemporary sacred music that is neither doctrinaire nor bland.  2003 in fact represents something of a high water mark in Marques's productivity, giving us not only Full Frontal Confession but another album, Yarn:  The Great Unraveling, which revisits some of the social and political themes of Ghost Stories updated for the George W. Bush era.  The two albums couldn't be more different, with the tender and sincere devotional serenity of the one and the bemused, sometimes angry turbulence of the other.  Both sets are accompanied largely by MBET alumni, but more as studio musicians than as full band members.  Marques was known to write in inspired bursts, and in 2003 he also laid down some gorgeous solo acoustic tracks, posthumously collected as Pure Marques:  A Songwriter's Demo, which will eventually be made available via the memorial web site.  A very fertile year for Marques Bovre, after which we have two SoDangYang EP's but no full-length album until Nashville Dandelion.
    Interestingly, the Marques Bovre voice of the final recordings (which include The Soul You Save, recorded with the Evil Twins in 2012) differs significantly from the voice of a decade earlier.  Deeper, huskier, and with more gravitas, this Marques is more Johnny Cash than Arlo Guthrie.  One can't help imagining what the elder statesman of American country music, the Man in Black, might have done with "Mystery" with its incisive refrain:

     Telescopes and microscopes and Scopes v. Tennessee
     Trying to blow the lid right off of every earthly mystery
     And though we burn it down and we boil it down,
     There is still this mystery of you in me.

    In this late Nashville harvest, Marques consistently fixes his sights on the aspect of divinity that manifests in flawed human beings.  There's a grand tradition running from the Mideastern Sufis through the southern European Troubadours that blurs the distinctions between the human beloved and God, which we hear echoed in "Blaze":

     I love her as I love you
     I love you as I love her.
     Seems to be a sacred simile,
     My sweetest lover and my Lover/Creator.

    Listening to Nashville Dandelion, I am repeatedly struck by the courage and true faithfulness of an artist no more than a couple of years away from his death and who on some level probably intuits it.  Marques indeed was dying as he was living (as are we all), and indeed succeeded richly in living while he was "still alive."  What was perhaps intended to be a return to form thus became a kind of musical epitaph.  Awareness of death shadows many of Marques's earlier efforts, to be sure, yet never becomes a morbid preoccupation.  The many surgeries required by his osteoarthritis would certainly have heightened Marques's sense of the tenuousness of his physical existence.  Yet he seems never to have given in to those limitations in a spirit-shrinking way, no matter how they constricted his sphere of worldly actions.
    We find perhaps the purest distillation of his hard-won knowledge of living in "Let It Drain," in which he concludes:

    Well there's only two things that you can do with your pain,
    You can pass it along or you can sing in the rain.

"Let it drain" is his good advice.  Words to live by.  "Let it wash across the world like holy rain."
    We all know what can follow a good rainstorm -- a rainbow.  The rainbow's promise duly makes its appearance on Nashville Dandelion in the aforementioned "Cloudy Day," in which the prideful "righteous" make their rapturous exit, leaving "room for everyone."  In one of his most intriguing lines, Marques says, "I wanna be here when the rainbow starts to pay."  In living --and dying--in sustaining faith, hope, and love, Marques Bovre indeed was "here" for the rainbow's full yield.  Mystics like Kabir and Swedenborg say that what we find now in this life is what we'll find, in a different way, in the next.  In his long fidelity, through pain, disappointment, limitation, and compassionate response to the sorrows of the world, I think there must always have been a divine rainbow giving it up for Marques Bovre.

    *     *     *

    Shortly after our return from Madison in early April, 2000, my souvenir Buddy and Julie Miller flier went up to join various other memorabilia on the walls of my writing study, where I've seen it most days for the past 14 years.  Nor have I failed, during that flier's long occupancy on my wall, to take note of the line "with Marques Bovre (solo acoustic)."  So in an odd way, Marques Bovre, however removed in time and geography, became a part of my life and world all those years ago.
    This has given my recent journey into his music that strangely fated quality I mentioned at the beginning of this appreciation.  It's evident to me that our brief interaction at the Club Tavern lodged and grew in my soul into the present encounter and reckoning with what has turned out to be one of the ghosts of my own interior "lonesome county."  Put another way, I could say that something about Marques touched me in a way that thereafter caused me subtle, largely unconscious regret at not having followed that inner prompting with a more active interest in the man's music.
    I'm well aware that certain outward signs which others may dismiss as accidental, random or simply trivial sometimes instruct us to pay closer attention to our moment of passage through this mysterious world or--to borrow Keats's phrase--"vale of soul-making."  Learning that Marques Bovre had died on my wife's and brother's birthday made me at last sit up and take notice.  (And so, for that matter, did the discovery that my old friend and bandmate Mark Annett had contributed backing vocals to one of the songs on Ghost Stories from Lonesome County, "Drunk and Disgusting."  Another connection I couldn't ignore.)
    Though I traded no more than a handful of words with him, I've come to feel a personal connection with Marques Bovre.  Marques wrote in his notes to Nashville Dandelion, "Remember, just because we never met doesn't mean we aren't friends."  I believe he intended those words as much for posterity as for the present moment in which he wrote them, as much for those who would hear him after he was gone as for his faithful audience of regular listeners.  When I met Marques that one time, I didn't know we were friends, but maybe he did. 
    I now recognize Marques as one of the rare awake people who are sensitive and creatively responsive to the currents of life flowing around them, of which we are all a part.  Being "here" was what Marques was all about.  "But I'm here now," he told me, and I believe he knew a lot more about the simple value of just being here than I did at the time.  The rainbow richly pays those who make being here their discipline, joy, and burden, despite (as he put it in one of his last and best songs with the Evil Twins, "The Soul You Save") the "grit and shit and sorrow."
    In the liner notes to Flyover Land, Marques wrote, "I don't believe in a judgement day when the wicked explode in a fireball.  Maybe we'll all just have to say, 'I'm sorry.'"  This piece of particularly forgiving theology has a special ring of truth for me.  In the my past year's rewarding exploration of Marques's music, I've felt sorry that I didn't really take a chance on him back then, and thus did not carry the comfort and challenge of his music along with me for the past decade or so.  (I consider it an equal loss not to have heard him gig with the fantastic Evil Twins.)
    But late as I've come around to his music, I have not come too late.  As I enjoy and absorb the many delicious songs Marques dropped for hungry wayfarers along the path of his too-short but very fruitful life, the regret I felt at the outset increasingly gives way to gratitude for the body of heart-gladdening, spiritually probing, emotionally satisfying songs which will stand as Marques's legacy.  For this belatedly declared fan in western Wisconsin, where (as in many other places) Marques Bovre is virtually unknown, those songs have become something of a secret garden I've known I would have to share with others.

(Note:  All lyrics quoted in this essay are protected by copyright and used with permission.  You can buy all of the songs and albums mentioned here and more at  Thanks to Mark Gardiner, an early reader, for encouraging this essay to say what it meant to say.  And above all, gratitude to Doug Meihsner for his invaluable input, patiently and generously dispensed over the course of a long, taxing winter.  This essay would have been much the poorer without his help.  In his energetic advocacy through the official web site, he has worked hard to keep Marques Bovre's music and memory alive.  No artist, I think, has had a more faithful friend.)