Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mark Holcomb - Undertow/Shift part VII


Most, if not all of us grew up hearing stories from our parents about what is was like for them to learn about John F. Kennedy's assassination on that day in November of 1963. Likewise, for our generation, every one of us remembers where we were and what we were doing on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Personally, I was asleep on two couches pushed together in the living room of a bandmate's house in Santa Barbara. He was getting evicted and our band was falling apart. I was awoken by a crusty punk yelling, "It's the new world order! They blew up the World Trade Center! It's the new world order!" I couldn't believe my eyes when we turned on the tv, and there was a cloud of smoke where the Twin Towers once stood. For me, this terrorist attack hit close to home, but to Mark Holcomb, and several million other New York residents, this attack hit home, literally. The after-effects of the devastation are still being played out a decade later, be they in armed struggles overseas, the ever-changing policies on national security, or in the minds of those personally impacted by the day's events. We all have a story. This is Mark's story.

Things are never gonna be the same again. - Ben Merlis, September 11, 2011


Mark with Undertow at The Glasshouse, Pomona CA, 2009, Photo courtesy of: Tom Holcomb

I did want to ask you about that. Tell me exactly what happened on September 11, 2001. YOUR experience on that day. Where were you living? Brooklyn or Manhattan?

I was Manhattan. I was about two and a half miles away.

So what streets were you living on?

I was on 7th Street, next to Thompkins Square Park . . . Saturday night! (laughs) I was on 7th Street between A and B.

Oh. 7th and A. Friends worked the door so we didn't have to pay?

Yeah! I really felt good. I was like, "Fuck, I'm really a New Yorker living in this fucking neighborhood." And I was actually at a doctor's appointment on 14th, Union Square. Do you want me to tell the whole story?

Yeah. The whole story.

I had a doctor's appointment, it was my last doctor's appointment. I broke my hand in a fight.

Mark with Shift in upstate, NY, Photo courtesy of: Shift

Who were you fighting?

It wasn't a . . . you know . . . they had it coming. And I broke my hand and, so the last doctor's appointment, the nurse runs in and was like, "Wow, a plane just hit one of the Trade Towers." Me and the doctor were like, "What kind of plane? What happened?" She's like, "I have no idea. No idea. I just know a plane hit it." And in my mind it's a fucking little Cessna. Not a big deal. Me and the doctor weren't joking about, but it was like, that's fucking weird. We were curious. What the hell's going on? So she's assessing my hand, and 15 minutes later when the doctor appointment was over, the nurse runs in and was like, "Another plane, a jumbo jet just hit the second Trade Tower." And my doctor was like, "You're fine, no more appointments. You're fine. We're going Downtown." And as I'm leaving all the nurses and doctors are getting all their shit together and they're all heading Downtown. And at this point you kind of realize something massive is going on.

Why are they [walking] towards . . .

They're doctors and nurses and they're getting reports that two jumbo jets . . . they know more information than . . .

They're going to help people . . . okay.

Yeah, they need to go Downtown. They're kicking everybody out. I walk out, and for anybody that doesn't know Union Square, it's fucking crowded ALL the time, day and night, 24 hours a day, it's a hub of New York. And I walk outside and it's like a Godzilla movie where there were barely any cars, any traffic. Everything had fucking stopped. Barely anybody is on the street, and this is about 9 am so it should have been packed at this point. But everybody is looking up, and I can see both towers on fire at this point. Everybody's looking up with jaws dropped, and it looked like fucking Godzilla had just hit the Trade Towers. And it was totally this surreal experience. My first impression was, "I wonder what these buildings are going to look like when they put out the fires. Are we going to be able to see all the way through?" And so at that point, I'm married, and I'm about 7 blocks, about 15 minutes away from home, so I rush home, call my wife who is working across town, and was like, "Do you know what's going on?" She's like, "Yeah." She was a manager at Starbucks. She was like, "Well I'm not sure what I can do." And I was like, "Well you should come home as soon as you can." I turned on the news and it's like horrible. Basically my whole day was just chaos, and I saw both towers come down from the roof of my building, and it's about two and a half miles away. Family called, but at that point I kind of knew the phones wouldn't be working, so I just got a hold of my wife and said, "Come home. Don't ride the subways, just fucking walk. I'm going to go buy water and supplies, and we're gonna figure this out." So that was that day. I remember later that day, we walked as far south as we could, and we saw people walking up and they were just covered in dust. And everybody's crying, and we see people's grey faces, just ash all over them - people that had been Downtown. Ash all over them, but you see like their faces clean right here . . .


From crying?

Yeah. Just fucking horrible. Horrible. I imagine it's what it's like seeing somebody get dumped with napalm. You know what's going on. People are getting fucking killed. And the news is telling you all sorts of shit. It was madness. It was really a rough day.

What about the several days and weeks following September 11? What was that like living in Manhattan?

I'll never forget it. I don't know how to put it into terms . . . it was terrifying, but also I can look back at that and say the sense of community was unreal. To see people on the street and everybody had been through the same experience that was terrifying, it was really heartwarming. New Yorkers really came together. I'm sure they did in New Orleans and all these places, but this is the only thing that I have. My own experience was that it was just wonderful to see people out, but it was terrifying at the same time when you smelled the city burning for MONTHS. A good three months you'd walk outside and it smelled like a campfire, with Downtown burning. The days immediately after it was just smoggy and crazy, but you saw businesses opening and people trying to go out and live their normal lives, but things they don't talk about were it was constant rumors that on Halloween they're going to gas or bomb the subways - don't ride the subways. That's a terrifying feeling that Halloween, Thanksgiving, Ramadan, any of the Jewish holidays, Christmas, for a good year, it was, "They're going to bomb the subways," which to me made sense because they do it in London with the IRA all through the years. It wouldn't be a big deal to fucking toss a bomb.

It happened in Japan.

Yeah, it fucking happens, and I'm surprised it hasn't happened to this day, because it happened in London. It fucking happens [six days after this interview was conducted, Moscow subways were bombed, killing 39 - Ben]. It was pretty terrifying to . . .

Ride the subway?

I mean rationally, you're like, "The odds of this happening to me are not that high." Manhattan's an island, so if you were to fucking bomb either of the tunnels or the five bridges that are leaving Manhattan, all the food that can't come in, all this other stuff that can't come in, you're trapped. And we're supposed to walk the bridge to Brooklyn? It was sort of apocalyptic in a way.

Shift at Rennes Rock Festival, 1997, France, Photo courtesy of: Shift

You said you'd walk by fire stations and you'd see missing person signs?

Oh my god, that brings back so many memories. That was personally really, really upsetting to me. I don't think I walked by a fire station or a police house, and I knew where they all were, for a good four to five months, because there was just a bed of flowers, probably half a block. A lot of lower Manhattan, you'd walk by just xeroxed copies at Kinko's of peoples' faces "MISSING." And at this point they just didn't know. They estimated 3,000 people upwards to 7,000. The first day I think they said there were 30,000 people that could have been in the building. It was terrifying and also everyday you're walking by any chain link fence, I mean Manhattan's covered with the posters right? It was just covered with "MISSING." "MISSING." You know? You don't know, and at a certain point, everything was on the news, and you can't really watch a sitcom or anything else to take you away from this, so it was just a good two or three months of solid . . . I don't think I was normal for quite a while, but especially walking by fire stations, or the hospital, or a police station. These were the places where people went. "MISSING - PLEASE CALL . . ." a photo of someone you don't know, but still they haven't found them in two months, they're gone. They're gone. It would be new flyers as well. I swear to god it would be a block long of people papering, "MISSING." It was like, fuck.

There was a huge patriotic fervor that happened right after that. Were you swept up in that, or what was your attitude towards, "Let's get the guys who did this!" Did you have that kind of attitude?

Well I thought that if we could find the guys who did this, yes. But there's no country to attack. I knew there needed to be a response. And I think at that time I was comfortable of there needing to be response, but I wanted it to be an educated response.

Do you think there WAS an educated response?

Well I really don't have a problem with them GOING into Afghanistan. I don't really necessarily think we need to be there, because it seems like the plan is, "Let's build permanent bases there." I don't think that's appropriate. If we need to go out and drop bombs on people that are trying to kill me, then yeah. I'm okay with that. But looking back at it, I think it was an isolated incident of 2,000 people who wanted to destroy my way of living. And I don't think that dropping bombs on somebody who wants to go to school and is farming goats is an appropriate response. If you can find those 2,000 lunatics, and suppress that, I'm okay with that. If you're trying to kill me, then yeah, I'm okay with someone killing you first. I have no problem with that. I understand what they did. I think going into Afghanistan, I'm okay with that. I don't think going into Iraq was a good idea from the start, and I don't think staying in Afghanistan as an idea that we're suppressing terrorism is a good idea. It seemed to me that the U.S. was liked before, and now we're a lot worse off. I agreed with the immediate response.


The invasion of Afghanistan?

Yeah, I mean there are camps there, this country [Afghanistan] is allowing these camps, these camps will do more, because they did shit before. I mean they bombed the Trade Towers in '93 I think it was.

That was someone else, but, yeah, the fanatic Muslims . . .

But I can't say the U.S. doesn't do this shit. The U.S. is in control, so if they see somebody they think might be a threat maybe they'll go fucking drop a thousand 500 pound bombs on a fucking village, then innocent people are being killed. But war has been going on forever. If somebody puts a gun to my head, and I have an opportunity to shoot at them, I will. It's uneducated. It's a very emotional response. I don't like the U.S. involvement in outside countries at all right now. At all. And the fact that the U.S. had no plan . . . if they were going to go and be like, "We're gonna fuck up the dudes that did this to us," then yeah, I have no problem with that. But we're going to stay there and never leave? That's fucked up.

How did 9/11 affect your personal life?

My personal life before that was in transition. I wasn't happy in the marriage and I think anybody you talk to from '90 to 2000 would say that I was a very fucking angry dude, and stressed out all the time, and unhappy. For me, 9/11 was kind of a wake up call: "Have you done everything in your life you thought you would?" And I hadn't, but I think I was already leaning . . . I mean we're coming to the question of being straight edge.


Right? I mean if you want to talk about that.

Samantha and Mark with Shift in Washington DC, 1998, Photo: Mike Dubin

I mean yeah. Yeah, I was going to ask you that.

So I think I was unhappy with marriage, unhappy with my life, and then September 11 happened, and for the first time I faced, not that a plane was gonna land in the East Village, but kind of faced with the fact that someday you're gonna die, and am I living the life I want to? And those next two months were definitely . . . I did a fucking 180 with my life, and was like, "Okay, I'm gonna live my life like it was my last day," because according to all the rumors, on Thanksgiving we're gonna be fucking killed on a subway.

Retrospectively, do you think that was a smart thing to do? Living your life like it was going to be your last day?

Not necessarily. I'm not sure, but I don't know if I'd go back and change anything, because I've met so many people and had such great experiences, and bad experiences, but I feel like I've kind of lived a fuller life since then. And it's not all good. I don't want to give that perception.

When did you start drinking?

It was about two months later, but I think I had been leaning towards that a bit earlier. I remember being really unhappy July 4, and the reason I remember this is I went to my friend's wedding. I was just feeling incredibly unhappy. I think I had been leaning towards a lot of shit that I hadn't experienced, and was feeling very stagnant in my lifestyle. September 11 kind of gave me cause to experience other things, for better or for worse. If this is related to being straight edge, I don't think I wore X's after age 21. And for me it was a very personal thing. I kind of reached the point where I didn't think it was all that important to not experience other things.

I noticed just from having lived in the same apartment as you, when every September 11 comes around, you get really bummed out for that whole week. Why is that?

The fall is always kind of a rough time - a lot of birthdays and deaths, and September 11. It seems to be week after week there is a date that I remember that was important to me in my life. From about August 14 'til October 2, I would say there is not a week that goes by where I don't know somebody's birthday, somebody who died, September 11. Even going back to high school, going back to school. September sucks. Everything is getting cold again, it's just shitty. So there's more than just September 11 involved. There's ex-wives' birthdays, wedding anniversaries, ex-girlfriend's birthdays, deaths. It's just a cavalcade of bad memories.



Anonymous said...

I saw Undertow,Shift and dozen of other HC bands back in the days.I even went on my own to see NFAA/mean season.
But now I can tell You I was bullshited with all of it. Thats crap.
You can not even say straight and loud what you think about 9/11 . Telling everyone that arabs did it.
Are you afraid to be a laughingstock.
Once and for all. They didn't do it. Are you blind ? All of Y O U .
HC my ass. Cowards.

Ben Edge said...

If anyone knows what the hell Anonymous is talking about, please chime in.

Doug Seymor said...

I do believe Anonymous is retarded.

Justin Suburban said...

the wedding Mark references were he said he was so unhappy with his marriage, was my wedding. July 7, 2001.... I thought everyone had a good time! Hell, I fired a cannon from the revolutionary war at it!

Ibid. said...

"I kind of reached the point where I didn't think it was all that important to not experience other things."

If anyone knows what the hell Mark is talking about, please chime in.

Anonymous said...

It's simple
punk/hc equals bolshevism.
ideology of marx,lenin and stalin
its like a hobby nothing more.
spoiled brats.
don't help each other

ShayKM said...

Hey Ben,

Good job on the interview. It has definitely gone in unusual directions. The question that stills seems most relevant to me is how being SE seemed to lose value as Mark got older. This is the basic theme of so many in HC who drop the edge: Age+Boredom+Hardship+etc... = Drinking/Drugs. You get the point, and I'm sure you've seen it dozens of times. So, where are the hard questions for Mark? It seems like a cop out to just link 9/11 to a serious change in lifestyle/philosophy and leave it at that. I mean no disrespect to him, I just want to see some clear thought on that point. After all, this is one of the longest fucking interviews I have ever read!

PS, just ignore the conspiracy theory garbage posted by anonymous.

Ben Edge said...


Thanks for staying with the interview. What "hard questions" should I have asked Mark? Be as specific as possible.

I tried to keep the questions open ended, and not charged, so I wouldn't steer the subject into talking about whatever I wanted him to say. If I ask someone, "Why did you start drinking?" and he/she gives me an answer that you perceive as a cop out, there's only so far I can push the issue before it becomes redundant and stale.

I think Mark was really clear about saying that he felt like he was headed in that direction well before 9/11. He made certain choices in his life based on his own rationale that may not make sense to you or me, but not everyone arrives at the same conclusions in life. That's what makes us all different. I just tried to give him ground to speak his mind.

If I said, "Come on man! That's just a ridiculous reason to start drinking," or "That makes no sense," then the interview ceases to be about him, and it turns into an argument between me and him. A lot of things make no sense to me and are ridiculous to me, but I think it's still important to document them.

XLooseXChangeX said...

This part is sooo unnecessary.
And The first Anonymous refers to no Plane Theory and such things, where, as someone who claims to be hardcorepunk, all of you should at least rethink and reconsider.
So many lyrics, shouting and screaming against the media bul*shit and lies, and on 9/11 issue seems like everyone is believing it, without questioning. Just go watch September Clues etc...
And Undertow and Shift were great bands, interesting and everything, just not this much interesting....

Scott T. said...

This is a great interview.

Regardless of Undertow's standing in terms of HC history, this is well done and an interesting read.

Booked a show or two for Undertow when Seth and James were in the band (their high point, in my opinion.) They were always super solid dudes. Played with them in WI on tour one year, and again, I was stoked to see them.

Anyway, great job with the interview.

ShayKM said...

Ben, good points all around. Yes, a good interviewer doesn't need to dominate an interview and prevent people from following their own take on what matters in a band's/person's history. However, this is a SEHC site, not Rolling Stone, and I guess as one of many readers here who is straight-edge (and still into HC, not mainstream rock) and was before Mark, and definitey after Mark, it matters to have former SE band members talk about that point. I wouldn't push the issue with HC bands who never fell into that category. However with former SE folks this point of growing up and moving on meaning drinking/drugs etc... I just don't buy it. This gets right back to that key issue in SE: a rejection of drugs/alcohol as part of the 'life package'. Outside of SEHC adulthood is commonly defined as being about socializing through booze, about real men (pardon me ladies)growing up and getting loaded. So what the fuck, where is the SEHC attitude here?

Anyways, just rambling at this point. As I always tell my kid, "I'm old and straight and alert", and disappointed that other old-timers aren't keeping up the edge. It still matters!
Good job on the interview. I hope to see more from you on DCXX.

Anonymous said...

lousy & very dumb interview concerning 9/11.

just another proof how dumb the ordinary american citizen is.

poor america.

keep on believing your governments lies. bush, obama it's all the same.... all the same.

fuck the usa!

Anonymous said...

Boys and girls of hardcore hobby scouts groups all around the world.
Seems that you are simple don't have any knowledge of physics,chemistry and math. If you still believe in 9/11 Commission Report do yourself a favour go back and enrol to you local primary school again.
You still have a chance to learn something
9/11 WAS NUCLEAR DEMOLITION and there is no question about it.Period!

Anonymous said...

I don't know how many of You are following
Cro-Mags on facebook. John Joseph posted two links on 9/11 and after some interesting comments done by few people he removed the links.
quote "What happened to that link? Did you pull it...and if so, why? It was getting pretty hot in there...good stuff!"