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Soon after graduating from the U of I in the early '80s, Sarich was back in the metro east, playing lead guitar and singing in a new-wave band called the Heels.
In 1988 his father died of cancer and Sarich inherited the building that now houses the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, as well as a rickety residential structure next door. The property, which had been in the family since 1930, was being leased to a convenience store, but when the store moved out, Sarich got an occupancy permit for the residential space and moved in. After attempting unsuccessfully to lure a coffeehouse tenant to the commercial space, Sarich began the arduous process of rehabilitating it himself. In 1995 he held his first free-jazz show, followed by poetry readings, neighborhood meetings and the formal christening of the arts center in 1997. The Lemp is recognized as a not-for-profit entity by the state of Missouri, and Sarich and the arts center's directors are currently in the process of applying for federal nonprofit status.
"Making money is not the object here; making music is," says Sarich, who draws no salary for his efforts, relying on his teaching gigs at Forest Park and Meramec community colleges and Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville to put food on the table, and on the center's modest door take to cover expenses, utilities and take-home pay for the bands he and his board book. (Sarich guarantees every touring band a minimum of $40 per night, with crowd capacity in the ballpark of 100. On all-local bills, Sarich divides 60 percent of the door among them and deposits the rest in the Lemp's operating kitty.)
As he was rehabbing the joint, Sarich discovered an old laxative sign bleeding through the Ritz Soda advertisement painted on the structure's exterior. He could make out the image of a bottle label with the letters "t" and "z," and what was left of the word "Constipation."
Now the label on the bottle says "Artz," and the center features a north façade that reads: "Art Relieves Social Constipation."
At least everyone dug the big, gold gong.
Mark Sarich, clad in trademark navy blazer and tattered loafers, had his class at Forest Park Community College take a field trip to his hard-rock venue the previous Monday, and the consensus is that Khanate (pronounced con-eight), a critically lauded New York City noise trio, blew ass, more or less.
"I couldn't understand what the guy was screaming," one student complains.
"I gave up on that years ago," replies Sarich, who's wearing his hair tied back in a short ponytail and sporting a yellow lapel button that reads, "Dance Fuckers Dance!"
Khanate's set was undeniably excruciating to sit through. Playing what might best be described as sludge metal cranked to eleven, the band is so loud that one's eyelids flap involuntarily with every smack of the percussionist's snare.
"He was holding back," Sarich says of the drummer, who smashed the aforementioned gong sporadically during each of the band's three twenty-minute songs. "Generally, when they play, things fall from the ceiling. They're obviously trying to conjure up images of warriors and leave a pool of blood wherever they go -- just like any good metal band."
Sarich is no fan of mainstream metal. But that doesn't stop him from booking quirky, radio-unfriendly, quasi-metal bands at the Lemp.
"The bands I end up liking the most are bands that take metal and turn it into something," he tells his class of six, adding that his favorite local manipulators are a combo called Sine Nomine. "I hate metal. When Metallica came out, I was looking for the barf bag."
Khanate's pre-show demands darn near made Sarich chunder, too.
"I had to sign a contract with them," he says. "I never sign contracts. And they had a list of requirements that included organic hummus and bottled Perrier. Oh yeah, that's rock."
Let the record show that Khanate backed off their pita-spread demand and set to the task of challenging the Lemp crowd with a peculiar brand of noise that, from the vantage point of the listener, is tantamount to standing naked in front of a wood chipper as it spits bark below belt level. To Sarich, that's exactly as it should be.
"It was so oppressive in how slow it was going that it was effective," he concludes. "The question is: Should rock & roll notbe disturbing?"
For Sarich and the Lemp's regulars, it most certainly should. Music is life, and should therefore encompass all mood swings. As the late Professor Brün might hypothesize, whether one likes what he is hearing is irrelevant. All listening is required listening.
"I've had enough music training to know when I don't like it and it's good," says Sarich. "I also know when I like it and it's bad. You anticipate where people could get to with a little coaxing."
Leave it to Sarich, then, to find profound social value in glam rock, which is the focus of his three-hour Monday survey of rock seminar at Forest Park.
"I don't think it's trivial that [David] Bowie produced this before Stonewall," he lectures as The Artist Formerly Known as Ziggy Stardust's "Queen Bitch" plays on the classroom's tiny white Bose speakers. "One of the things that pisses me off about this guy is that he's essentially negated everything he did in his early career."