A vibrato chord. A splash of cymbal. And then a drum beat and bass introduce a spooky voice with a warning: The malicious gossip and envious backbiting of “normal” life, sings Mark Star, is but the tip of human darkness; just beneath this lie horrors such as the murders and mass ethnic expulsions now taking place in Kosovo.
“I was trying to express a sense of how close to the surface, even in the midst of daily life, we encounter the tragedies and cruelties” that lead to atrocities such as in Kosovo, Rwanda and Sarajevo, says Star, explaining part of the message behind his new CD single, “Kosovo.” Star, otherwise known as Mark Cohen, is communications director of the Orthodox women’s group Amit by day.
But outside work hours, the longtime musician and singer is now seeking radio play and distribution for his just-recorded, self-produced song. With its lead and rhythm guitar, piano and organ, and a rhythm section backing Star’s quavering, occasionally Dylanesque voice, the tune evokes a definite ’60s sensibility. Its lead guitarist, Jim Satten, earlier played with rock ‘n’ roll legend Bo Diddley.
The singer himself invokes Kosovo, Rwanda, Cambodia and Sarajevo, and interweaves mention of those killing fields with snatches of lives plagued by supposedly more prosaic evils and fears coming not from strangers, but from those around you. The last verse, notes Star, comes from an anecdote in the book “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without A Number,” by the Argentinian political prisoner Jacobo Timmerman.
Sitting in a coffee shop after being freed one day, he saw his former torturer leisurely strolling down the street, at ease, in a totally different setting. Star, who recorded two albums on Folkways Records some years ago, has updated the tune from one he recorded in 1993, entitled “Sarajevo,” written as atrocities stalked that city.
“During the ’84 Winter Olympics, Sarajevo was this model city,” recalls Star, who is expected to perform at the Bottom Line later this year. “It was highlighted how many different cultures and religions were able to live [there]. But in just a few years it would all unravel in a murderous way. It was already lurking under the surface.”