Mark Kemp and risk are hardly strangers. More than two decades ago he left the Times-News and moved to New York City with no job and even fewer visible prospects. A kid from rural North Carolina making his way in the wild world.
I know because I was here at the time. It’s neither myth nor legend. Mark, who covered cops and just about anything else that came along during his time in Burlington, did something I would never, ever consider — and made it work. He left his apartment within walking distance of the Times-News — a place we called ‘The Dorm” — and took a chance. I admired the hell out of him for it.
Of course, it was something he had been building toward for quite some time. And as he toiled at the Times-News, he wrote about music off the clock whenever he got the chance. It was his passion. Still is.
Mark’s move to New York was a huge step. He took on freelance work for magazines like Spin while working as a typist for hire, which meant mindlessly entering legal documents into a word processor. He made a stop as a junior editor at Discover magazine, too. Ultimately, though, he landed a job with a five-year-old magazine dedicated to cutting edge music. He moved to California to lead Option through its 90s heyday. After a few years at the helm there, he made the big move to Rolling Stone where he ultimately becane Music Editor — one of the most prestigious posts at the magazine. From there he moved to MTV.
As things do sometimes in the rock world, life got a little out of control for Mark, a costly professional situation he continues to battle. Sometime in there he wrote a well-reviewed book, “Dixie Lullaby” about growing up in the South and loving music. Personally I loved the book, even though I’m not mentioned in it by name. But hey, I got over it. As someone of roughly the same age and upbringing the book hits home for me on multiple levels. I also learned that Mark and I were at a lot of the same rock shows as teenagers, even though it would be years later before we would meet.
For the past few years Mark, an Asheboro native and graduate of ECU, has lived in Charlotte. Once again doing freelance jobs for print and online publications. He even contributes a short album review to Rolling Stone once in awhile.
All of this is preface to the real news, that Mark and some of his friends have revived Option magazine, the publication where he got his start in the 1990s. The online effort was officially launched today. Mark says he intends to continue the mission kicked off by Option 20 years ago — to discover and report about the newest music currently being produced. Here’s his video greeting on the Option website.
Any new venture carries risks but this is something Mark has been building toward his entire life. I wish him well and look forward to reading Option again.
By the way, a writer by the name of Steven Ward of Baton Rouge, La. contacted me some time back. He intereviewed Mark about “Dixie Lullaby” in 2008. He called the interview ”Southern Roots and Healing.” I like the title.