Mark Lipman: Songs as Shared Clothing
 

Singer/songwriter Mark Lipman sees a connection between songs and clothing. In fact, in Mark’s mind, songs are clothes. “I feel like songs are costumes. A song is something that people try on, and see how it fits. If you apply it to your own life, you’re sort of wearing it the way you want to wear it.”

Songs then, are shared clothing. The quality of the garment dictates how long it will last, and how many different people will be able to wear it. “If it’s made well — with good fabric and craftsmanship — it lasts longer. You could be wearing your grandmother’s clothes because they’re well made. Same as you could be singing songs from previous generations because they’re well crafted.”

Mark remembers trying on his own grandmother’s clothing as a child. “I loved dressing up. I remember once finding all of my grandmother’s old dresses that she kept in this closet in the basement. Me and my cousin, who also is gay, we tried everything on. It was really fun.”

“I had two sisters and all the babysitters were female. I was always around women. They were the people that I engaged with when I was a kid. Which was good, because I think it brought out a lot of strengths for me. And supportive ideas about how I wanted to express myself.”

Lately Mark has been thinking about how much of himself he expresses in his songs. “I’ve spent a long time not saying who I am. Not talking about it. I just feel like I’m not connecting with the audience the way I want to. There’s no reason for them to remain connected to me if I’m not being honest and open and authentic about who I am.”

This hesitation to be completely open stemmed from a belief that being successful in music required being something that people could easily understand. “I’ve spent a long time trying to be easily categorized because of how I’ve witnessed successful Boston acts — I feel like there is something easily categorizable about them. I always thought appearing to fit in would help me get noticed in the music scene. But limiting my self-expression has not got me what I thought it would, and it hasn’t made me feel more connected to people."

 
 

While Mark tried to make his music easy to place, he avoided being labeled according to other aspects of his identity and experience. Take sexual desire, and his long-term relationship with a man, as an example. “I’m very particular about when I make it known in the open, because I don’t think it should matter. I think my tactic has been getting people to hear me, and then if they stick around, they’ll see. There are times in performances where I do talk about being with a man, or being gay, but they are few and far between, and have never been something I’ve thoughtfully planned out.”

Revealing his queer identity selectively results in uncertainty about whether he is fully seen. “I just don’t know if people know. There’s a part of me that wishes people knew. I want to be free to have the desires that I have. We sometimes feel like our desires are being policed. That part of us gets kind of repressed and suffocated and held back. It’s illness on a cultural level. On a personal level too, I’m not making myself healthier by silencing myself in a way.”

“My hope is to feel more comfortable and confident in my desires. I don’t think that me having attraction to men needs to have a name. It’s an energy. It’s where my energy goes. It’s a part of the amazingness of being a human being. This desire is a way of engaging in the world in an authentic way, and in a powerful way, and in a meaningful way.”

Mark’s fashion choices signal to his audience about who he is, without putting too fine a point on it. “I like wearing makeup because I think it just accentuates something about myself that I don’t have to then say. I’m not categorizing myself, I’m not putting a word to it. It turns the tables a little bit. It gives me a little bit more power in terms of introducing the idea that I can’t be categorized in a way, or that I’m something else, visibly.”

He also likes to wear things that have meaning to him — objects that are connected to important experiences or relationships. A jade ring was a gift from his boyfriend Nate, who wears a matching ring. Another favorite is a shark tooth necklace. “Years ago when I had a spiritual awakening I got a shark tooth necklace that has a lot of meaning for me, for my power, so I wear that.”

 
 

Mark is considering using fashion to accentuate something else that he has not discussed publicly in the past: a rare condition in his left leg that surfaced when he was three years old, and necessitated fifteen major surgeries by the time he was fifteen years old. “I was in and out of school every year with surgeries. I was always getting infections which were really dangerous because it could easily get out of control very quickly with my leg.”

Mark’s mother became his primary caretaker, going to appointments and surgeries, and staying overnight in the hospital while Mark recovered. “My sisters all of a sudden didn’t have their mom around. It just really took a huge toll on everyone, myself included.”

“I feel like my sexual development was delayed because of having to focus so much on my leg. Being afraid that something was going to happen, feeling like it made me unattractive. I didn’t know how exactly to trust people with it — with the information, with my health. It was a lot of trauma that I was carrying around with me.”

Mark spent years addressing the physical and psychological trauma of the illness, and its impact on the already very difficult process of growing up and coming out. While learning to navigate his health, Mark was simultaneously exploring other aspects of his self and life. He studied Psychology and Queer Theory as an undergrad, and earned a Masters degree in Expressive Therapy, which he has been practicing as a licensed mental health clinician for 10 years. He started dating Nate, who he has been with for 8 years and shares a home with. He performed in numerous musical, theatre, and film projects. Last year he produced his first studio album, Goodbye Copilot.

Now Mark wants to talk about his experiences with his condition, and celebrate his resilience and body. “My two legs aren’t the same shape. But then I was thinking, what if I had something that really accentuated my left leg? What if I created this thing to slip over my leg that had all of these ruffled fabrics and bright fabrics, so it’s totally out there and you can’t miss my left leg? What if I wore that to a show and incorporated that into an outfit? How would that feel?”

A year ago, Mark took another kind of risk at a show in New York City. He revealed to an audience at Rockwood Music Hall that the show marked the 11-year anniversary of a suicide attempt. Sharing his story of survival and healing was a public enactment of Mark’s personal ritual. “Every year since then I have tried to do something that is celebrating my life. Something for myself. On that day I really have the motivation to do what I need to do for me — whatever that is.”

The audience responded with warmth and appreciation for Mark’s openness. The experience only fueled his desire to tell his story, at live performances, and in his writing. “The album that I want to make is going to be very autobiographical and open and out there with these sorts of topics: sexual desire, having a physical disability, having mental health issues, having tried to commit suicide. Why not? This is my story. Why would I not write songs about it and share it? I think that’s what it’s about for me.”

On April 2nd Mark will be performing again at Rockwood Music Hall, marking the new one-year anniversary of sharing his story of survival and grown openly with his listeners. He plans to approach the upcoming show in the same manner as he did a year ago. “I want to connect with people on a more authentic level, invite them into my story and, in doing so, invite them into the sharing of their own. I want to get more comfortable being vulnerable up there.”

For information and tickets, visit the Facebook event, or Rockwood Music Hall website. You can listen to Mark’s music on his website or Bandcamp, and follow him on Facebook to stay in touch.

Photography by Anna Rae

Anna Rae writes about the lives and fashion of queer artists and performers. She created and produces the inclusive multimedia event series All Together Now, and is a member of the poprock band, Hemway.