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Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Mass Wonderland

THE WORCESTER TELEGRAM
June 24, 1976

IF STEVIE DOESN'T CHANGE HIS MIND

By Richard D. Carreno

North Brookfield – If Gil Markle who owns the Long View farm here has figured it right, he'll probably throw the biggest, slam-bang party this town of 4,000 country folk has ever seen. Besides, what's $30,000 worth of party between friends, especially if you're not footing the bill?

So if things go as planned – and that includes a chartered jet from New York, breakfast, lunch and dinner, helicopter rides, champagne and a rose petal "shower" – superlatives will be a dime a dozen. After all, with a guest of honor and host like pop singer Stevie Wonder, the nine-time Grammy winner, and invitees like Paul Simon, Leonard Bernstein and B.B. King and a slew of other international music-world celebrities, making local history is just about said as done.

Star-Studded Debut

What it's all about is a star-studded debut of Wonder's latest, yet unreleased album, and surprise! – it's going to happen here.

Why this sleepy burg was selected as the site of Wonder's two-record eighth wonder, Songs in the Key of Life, was because of the 36-year-old Markle and his 145-acre farm. Appearance, you see, belies reality.

Though Long View looks about just as much as it used to when it was known locally as the Stoddard place and before Markle bought the rambling homestead three years ago, inside the old farm house today is one of the most modern commercial recording studios in the country with only one other like it in the United States. What Markle wrought, in short – with the help of financing in "the middle six-figures" – is a "residential" music studio, and for $1,500-a-day, you too, can live at Long View.

Some of the people who have, like jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, rock singer Gary Wright, the Gordon Edwards band, or "Stuff," disco-ist Van McCoy, and the London-based Carmen, came to Long View, naturally, to produce their sounds. That Long View also offered a bucolic setting, besides stereo synthesizers, phasers, digital delay and remote acoustical reverb chambers, is also part of Markle's act in getting the acts to North Brookfield.

So it's like a rock 'n' roll farm, and Markle calls it "recherche."

"Long View is an alternative to the usual city environment where musicians are usually forced to do their music," explained Markle. "Here the musicians have time to play and for flights of fancy."

Relaxed Work Pace

What that also means, added Markle, is the kind of unhurried, relaxed work pace that allows musicians and vocalists to structure their activities as they choose.

If you sleep through the day and work at night, so be it. No more tight schedules in New York and Los Angeles, no more bleak, clutter-strewn sessions in the big city and, simply, no more "cinder block studios."

"We don't talk hours here. You notice there aren't many clocks around," continued Markle.

"Musicians are more interested in preserving their own heads. This is more humane," added Kent Huff, Long View's resident manager.

Long View is also, according to its publicity, the only place like it in the East.

If a musician doesn't want to go to the Caribou ranch in Colorado at $9,000-a-week, excluding food and lodging (as have Elton John, Chicago, Three Dog Night and the Beach Boys), Le Chateau in France or The Manor in England, his only alternative – and its tops, according to Markle – is Long View.

How Long View got that way dates to Markle's 1973 resignation as a full-time assistant professor of philosophy at Clark University. By that time, Markle had already been named to a 1970 "Outstanding Young Man" award by the Greater Worcester Jaycees, a recognition he refused to accept in person because of his opposition to the Vietnam war. By that time, too, Markle, a Yale PhD and a Fulbright scholar, had been successful in establishing the American Leadership Study Groups, a Worcester-based student travel service, and it was time to move on.

The result was a growing interest in retiring to the country and a "personal dwelling" where he could privately indulge his pleasure in recording. "The first impulse was personal and esthetic and still is, as a matter of fact."

But the financial reality of renovating Long View, maintaining the land and livestock, as well as supporting a family, also prompted Markle in short order to recognize that the farm would need to become income producing.

Already familiar with the music scene (his mother was a singer), the residential studio concept seemed like a natural. First by cross-country promotion and later by word-of-mouth, Long View got under way and the idea – getting away from big city production hassles – clicked.

So, one musician who never saw a cow before, saw a cow.

So, another musician who never touched a frog before, touched a frog.

"There's no question about it," said Markle, "The idea is a bucolic atmosphere. It's like a vacation for them (the musicians). These guys are city guys. But they're here like at camp."

But for most of the musicians, it's a busman's holiday. Markle noted that current events hardly ever pass for conversation, and talk most always is music, music and music. "If I bought a New York Times here, it would go unread." Back copies of Rolling Stone and Billboard are devoured.

If he's lucky, Markle's rock 'n' roll farm might also turn a pretty penny. He hopes to eventually gross $500,000 annually and net about $310,000.

But perhaps the biggest break in making that projection a reality can be attributed to Long View's new brochure, and the subsequent interest by Stevie Wonder.

One of the brochures made its way to Wartoke Concern, Inc., the New York public relations company which represent Wonder. The rest – Markle remains guardedly confident – is scheduled to become social history.

The problem, explained Markle, is that the party can't be held until Wonder "submits, by surprise" his album to his record company, Motown. When Wonder will officially submit the album is uncertain, and thus the party hangs in balance.

Not that preparations haven't gotten under way. Wartoke, according to Markle, has arranged for national media coverage, making "a deliberate attempt" to insure news-worthiness. "They believe that this is the equivalent to the Sgt. Pepper album by the Beatles," he said.

Meanwhile, added Markle, the wonder entourage showed up to discuss details, and "Stevie is talking himself into making history."

Press kits have been already prepared, contacts have been made with Worcester dealers for food and liquor, and even Worcester Airport's manager, Charles L. Olson, has been broached for permission to land the chartered DC-8 from New York, a plane which is about 100,000 pounds heavier than most of the aircraft which use Worcester. Olson said okay.

Wartoke has also circulated invitations noting an experience "amid green valleys, ponds, white fences, gentle barnyard animals and sweet smelling hay." That the company got the date wrong, citing sometime last month, was because Wonder never turned over the album to Motown.

So if and when the party takes place – and Markle claims it can be any day now – it'll be "a celebration of life itself." And to insure that nothing is left to the forgetfulness of historians or the sloppy pens of reporters, two Los Angeles-based movie crews are scheduled to be on hand to record the action on film.

As for those rose petals which will be showered on the guests as they depart by limousine, there's a simple explanation of that, too. "The Wonder people like roses," Markle said.





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