I'm sitting in a Tempe Starbucks with Abby and Mark Covert, the former owners of defunct rock club Nita's Hideaway, discussing Mark's need for a liver transplant, when Abby hands me a folder that contains, among articles about liver disease, an excerpt of her diary of Mark's illness.
"He hallucinates voices, people, and entire activities," a fall 2004 entry reads. "Once I found him in the kitchen with food spread out on the counter top, the refrigerator door wide open, and sleeping upright. When I woke him he explained that he was fixing pancakes for the Boy Scout troop in the kitchen with him.
"He sprinkled the carpet with a gallon of milk, apparently thinking he was watering the lawn."
I quote those particular excerpts because they have a small element of humor, and you don't want to hear the truly sad parts of a wife's chronicle of her husband's deterioration.
My connection to Mark Covert is that I watched him run one of the greatest venues I've enjoyed in my 10-plus years here, at the old Nita's Hideaway on Rio Salado Drive in Tempe, and the later venue he opened at Price and Baseline roads. The newer venue was never quite the same, but the original club was host to some of the best shows I've seen in my life, whether it was aging country troubadour Ralph Stanley in the parking lot, Modest Mouse multiple times inside and outside the place, Ozomatli stomping around inside the venue, or DJ Shadow making an "unannounced" (except in a column by yours truly) appearance.
I wish I was writing this particular column to let everyone know that Nita's owners, Abby and Mark Covert, were opening a new venue and we should all hold hands and sing fucking "Kum Ba Yah." Unfortunately, I'm writing this because the local music community has come together to throw a benefit show to help the Coverts fight Mark's liver disease.
Mark Covert was a behind-the-scenes operator, but nonetheless one of the kindest, most true lovers of music who has ever worked in this town. His éclat is evident in the lauded local lineup that's scheduled to rock his benefit show on Friday, August 4: Jimmy Eat World, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, Less Pain Forever vs. Peachcake, Dead Hot Workshop, Flathead, Gloritone, The Minibosses, The Necronauts, Colorstore, and DJs Tige, Smite, and Johnny D.
Since the "new" Nita's Hideaway shuttered its doors in January of 2004, I've been waiting and hoping that Mark would find a new building to turn into a club. I'd known he was ill with hepatitis C before the club closed (he contracted the disease way back in 1968), but at the time, not even he nor his wife Abby realized exactly how sick he was.
A few months after the club's closing, I'd written a column on Bright Eyes, who'd played Nita's several times, and Abby mailed me a Bright Eyes tee shirt afterward with a nice complimentary note. I e-mailed her to thank her and asked how Mark was doing, and she replied, "It's a terrible thing to watch the person you love waste away right before your eyes."
When I met up with Abby and Mark last week for coffee, I was startled by how spry and talkative Mark was. At this stage in his liver disease, which has progressed to cirrhosis, his doctors have him on 23 medicines, which are preventing episodes like the ones Abby describes in her diary.
Mark speaks to me with his usual N'Awlins eloquence, punctuated by curse words but tempered by a calmness that contrasts with Abby's worried commentary.
Mark waited on UCLA's liver transplant list for two years, until recently, when he qualified for Medicare, and was able to explore different medical centers' options for treatment and a transplant. Strangely enough, your geographical location can determine whether you get the organ transplant you need or whether you die.
In the strange world of transplant-land, there are 58 transplant territories in the United States. Each has its own demand for transplants and supply from deceased donors. That means some territories are relatively donor-rich, while others primarily major metropolitan centers like New York, Los Angeles, and, yes, Phoenix have long waiting lists and a high demand.
So Abby and Mark went to North Carolina, where the consultations and treatment contrasted sharply with what they felt was impersonal, take-a-number treatment at UCLA.
And the treatment's working. "I'm not having any real bad episodes," Mark told me at the coffee shop. "I'm waiting for a donor, and as long as this drug continues to keep me stable, the risk of the transplant is greater than the risk of not being transplanted, because I'm stable now."
But not stable financially, which is why a consortium of his friends in the music business has come together to put on what they're calling Scottie-Stock 3. The first Scottie-Stock was assembled to help local musician Scott Moore of The Piersons with medical expenses after he was hit by a car, and was held at the old Nita's; the second, also at Nita's, was to benefit Paul Cardone, a.k.a. PC, who's been in a hundred different bands over the years, most recently Los Guys, PC and the Bad Ass Motherfuckers, and Chocolate Fountain. PC needed a liver transplant as well, received one, and is currently the picture of health. Mark Covert owned the venue for each of the Scottie-Stocks until now, and now the music community is giving back.
"Fund-raising was always part of the Nita's tradition, raising money and putting it right into the hands of people who need it," Mark tells me as he sips his coffee. "They've been offering this to me for quite a while. I didn't want to do it until I thought it would be reasonably sensible for me to do it, and understand what it is I was gonna do. Now we know. We'll raise some money, and put it someplace. We have a financial adviser, and we'll let it sit and earn some until it's necessary. At that point, it'll go to cover our end of the expenses, which is a true blessing."
Although Mark's sold off much of the equipment he had previously been holding onto in the hope of installing it in a new venue, his hopes aren't dashed that he'll run a club again. Personally, as a friend, I just want to see his health return, but all the goddamn better if he can manage to open a club again. It's a business where assholes outnumber the good guys by far, and Mark Covert was one of the best of the good guys.
"I want to do something that I'm passionate about it's always been food, music, and bars. Whether or not I'll build another place, I don't know. But there are other ways of doing it, too," Mark says. "I've certainly toyed with concepts and ideas; to me, it's one foot in front of the other right now. I need to take care of this, then the whole vista opens up again.
"I'm not in any way critical of the music scene here in this town. As usual, there's some people who are doing well and there's some that are not," he continues. "So I always feel that there's room in this community for something along the lines of what I built."
There's no doubt about that. Every artist and player that I know in the music scene here is clamoring to be a part of this benefit, or at least donate all they can. That's what makes this music scene a true community it's hard to recognize that sometimes, but when one of our own needs help, you can truly see what a beautiful thing it is.
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