He comes in early in the project, after the cabinets have been removed and the old walls are exposed. He needs to assess the amount of repair that will be necessary. There will be a lot, but he won’t begin when the small kitchen is bustling with carpenters and electricians. Dana Milner, the general contractor, tells us that Mark Mortinsen prefers to work alone. Mark grins. “Yeah. I don’t play well with others.”
He is a meticulous painter. Much of his work from the early stages of this kitchen remodel will never be seen. But the walls that will be hidden behind cabinets get the same attention as the walls that will show. It’s all part of doing a careful job.
It’s been a while since we have worked with one of Dana’s crews. I ask after the carpenter/musicians who built our porch. They have moved on. “But you know Mark’s a musician,” Dana tells me.
Because I don’t think Mark would have. He comes to our house to paint, and he gives that task his full attention. But he doesn’t mind my curiosity, and he has stories to tell.
This man who doesn’t play well with others during the day has been a fixture in the Bay Area punk music scene for over 20 years, playing very well with bands like Samiam, Screw 32, and most recently The Lean. He is equally skilled with drumsticks as paintbrushes, and cares about both pursuits.
That’s the interesting thing.
He taught himself to play drums as a kid in his Concord garage. He’d play one record over and over until he figured it out, then he’d play another one. He joined the band Samiam in 1988, playing with Green Day at the Gilman Club in Berkeley. He cut a record with Screw 32 in the early ‘90s and they hit the road. “Next thing you know you’re in a van with a bunch of stinky guys seeing the world.” They sold out the 1200-seat Trocadero in San Francisco and played the next night for 30 people in Roy, Utah. It was all part of the experience. “One night you’re a rock star, and the next night? . . . You’re not.” He’s played his music in every state but Alaska and Maine and several European cities.
I ask if I can watch the band rehearse and he says yes. I don’t stay long – it gets very loud very fast – but I see a different side of Mark.
Back in the kitchen we talk about painting. It started as a summer job in college, and became steady work he could schedule around touring. He approached the craft in the same way he approached drumming. “I’d just watch the seasoned guys and see who had it going on. Then I’d ask them a bunch of questions.” And he practiced. Now he knows the little tricks and techniques that come with time.
You might think he’d favor one vocation over the other, but they both fit his philosophy and feed different parts of his temperament. He paints alone so he can quiet his mind and have control over the job, but he still likes to listen to classic rock on his paint-splattered radio.
And performing is just fun. When The Lean played a gig in Oakland about halfway through our kitchen project, Mark let me come backstage and on stage before the show started. Even though I had seen him the day before, I almost didn’t recognize him in the darkness of the club. He decided to shave before this performance. Without his hat and mustache, he looked like a different person. That seemed fitting somehow.
He’s at a phase of life now where touring is less appealing. But his band still practices every week and plays gigs once or twice a month. And he is the only painter Dana works with, because Dana knows the job will be done well and the client will be happy. For Mark it’s not about which one is more glamorous or which one pays the bills. It all comes down to caring. “I don’t do that many things,” he says, “so I want to feel good about what I do.”
~Dorothy Brown Website