The moment I set eyes on Mark Keds for the first time was the moment I knew categorically that I was not a lesbian. I was fifteen years old and saw this picture of his band, the Senseless Things, in the NME. Mark Keds, standing with the sun in his face and the wind in his hair, wearing a Soul Asylum t-shirt and a single hoop earring, with the most perfect facial features, hollow, searching eyes and the widest grin. He was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I cut out the picture, coated it in sellotape and stuck it to the chest of drawers by my bed, so the last thing I saw when I went to bed at night and the first thing I saw when I woke up in the morning was Mark Keds.
I was already a fan of the Things’ music, but I mysteriously started taking a bit more interest. I first saw them live at the Town and Country club in on 13th March 1993 and from then on I saw them wherever I could. I went all the way to fucking Slough to get a ticket for a gig a grubby pub in Windsor (because I didn’t have a credit card and if I asked my mother to lend me hers she’d realise I was going to Windsor on at the age of 15 despite not having the faintest clue where it was). I went to festivals and froze my arse off sleeping in a lousy tent just to catch a thirty minute set at 2pm. I spent my last pound on a poster at a gig at the Camden Palace and then had to beg money from strangers to get a nightbus back to Bromley. The absolute happiest day of my life was when my friend Clair managed to blag backstage passes to the 1993 Reading Festival and I met Mark and got him to pose for this photo. I don’t remember what I said to him but it was probably very high pitched and probably made me sound like a complete idiot. I remember he was very good natured and pleasant and made me glad to have made an exception to the mantra “never meet your heroes”. I framed that photo.
The Senseless Things were the soundtrack to my mid-teens. I loved everything about them, the energy, the basslines, the way the different personalities of the band complimented each other (long before the Spice Girls had the same idea), the way they wrote songs which were utterly relevant to my sixteen year old life: songs about boys who don’t phone when they say they will, relationships that fail to get off the ground, snogging, acne and er, shoplifting from major supermarket chains. (To be fair, the latter was more the domain of my best friend, Felicity. I was too chicken. They also had a song about that.) But most of all I loved Mark Keds. The way his hair was always in suspended animation in gig photos. The way he jumped. The way he could pull off an inch of stubble, hair that hadn’t been brushed for a month, eyeliner and a Hello Kitty hairgrip. The way his lyrics had a random word missing here and there to make them fit the melody and yet made perfect sense. The way someone with such feminine features could still ooze masculinity. His energy, the way he moved, his immaculate face. I spent hours sketching his face, trying to capture that perfect face, committing his angles and colours to my memory, trying to do him justice.
After the Senseless Things split (a very black day in my life) my obsession waned a little and I moved into the goth world and gradually accepted the fact that in fact Mark Keds would never even know who I am and that in all likelihood we would never get married. But he still kept a very special place in my heart. And I kept that photo, in a blue sparkly frame in my bedroom.
I remember hearing that Mark had developed a serious problem with drugs. I know his close friends don’t like him to be remembered for this, and I hope if any of them end up reading this they will forgive me for mentioning it, but it is relevant to what I want to say about him despite being far from the most important thing about his life. When I saw a photo of Mark performing with his new band, I was shocked by the way he looked. He looked so ill, and older than his forty-something years. When I heard the Senseless Things were reforming for a one off gig in 2017, twenty-four years after the first time I’d seen them play, there was a part of me that didn’t even want to go because Mark Keds didn’t look like Mark Keds any more. But of course I did go and I am so thankful that I did. Because although Mark Keds looked different, he moved the same way and sounded the same and was still that same beautiful person who had captivated my teenage self.
That turned out to be the last time anyone would ever see the Senseless Things play, because Mark’s health deteriorated after this and this Monday he died. He was fifty years old. He had written extensively about his breathing-related health problems on his blog and his frustration at receiving inadequate medical help. In his last post he seemed very depressed and yet full of determination to survive and get better. He wrote to one friend that he had a “life wish” (the opposite of a death wish) and had given up smoking, gone vegetarian and bought a Nutribullet. His former bandmate, Ben, implied that Mark’s earlier drug taking was the cause of his poor health and this upset some people who said that Mark had been clean for ten years and should not be remembered for his past.
What I wanted to say, but didn’t, was that whether or not Mark’s previous habit was a factor in his death didn’t change the way I respected him one little bit. Addiction is a terrible disease, it is not a character flaw. In fact if anything I respect him even more for getting and staying clean. Any idiot can avoid taking drugs in the first place, but it takes real strength of character to beat an addiction and especially not to backslide when you realise it has caused you permanent physical damage. And I think all of us have been addicted to something at some time (running, toxic relationships, jelly beans) and are in no position to judge. If you are reading this blog, it’s probably running.
The death of Mark Keds has hit me harder than the death of any other famous person. I just can’t seem to pull myself together and have taken to watching YouTube videos from the 90s on repeat, just like I did with my VCR in the 90s. When I wrote about him on Facebook several people (clearly not former 90s indie kids) assumed I was writing about a personal friend and I didn’t have the heart to correct them because he couldn’t have meant more to me if he was. It is not just the loss of such an extraordinary person to the world but the thought of him suffering in his last weeks and the growing realisation that the world we get back after the pandemic will not be the one we left behind. Some people will be gone forever and never know the after.
A friend of Mark’s posted a photo of Mark standing, smiling, holding a coffee and squinting into the sun at the Shadwell Basin the other day. They mentioned that Mark used to like to walk there, and along the Thames. Mark’s instagram has a few pictures taken along the ornamental canal and around Tower Bridge. So of course I chose this route for my run this morning, stopping to recreate the photo at the Shadwell Basin. I only meant to run for an hour, but ended up running for three. “Too Much Kissing” came on when I was two kilometres from home and I had to bite back the tears. Keep running, and you will be too exhausted to feel, I keep telling myself. We all have our addictions.