A free spirit who became part of the living scenery of downtown Evergreen, Mark Cairns will be remembered as a gentle soul who had few possessions other than an enduring passion for music.
Cairns got the nickname “Walking Mark” because he never had a car and was always seen around town on foot, sporting a white ponytail, guitar on his back, wearing brown corduroy pants and a gray Irish fisherman sweater.
Cairns died the evening of June 19 of undetermined causes. Sources said he was taking a shower at a friend’s house when he suddenly collapsed.
An autopsy has been performed because authorities could not determine the cause or manner of death. The coroner’s office is still trying to contact relatives, said Katherine Loughrey-Stemp, the Jefferson County coroner. The results of the autopsy will be available in about three months.
About 150 people packed the Ice House on June 25 to pay tribute to Cairns on Open Mic Night, one of his regular venues.
To many in Evergreen, Cairns was something of a throwback to the ‘60s counterculture that valued pursuit of the arts, individuality, kindness, frugality and spirituality.
Before he died, Cairns had found a benefactor who was just about to publish a CD of his original songs, said Mark Anthony King, a downtown gallery owner who was helping him build a presence on MySpace.com (“markcairnsrocks”).
“He represented to me an absolutely free spirit,” said Keith Riker, a local musician. “I don’t want to say he was a hippie, but with his long hair and always being on foot, he showed us an era that is leaving us. It was the ‘60s acceptance, caring for people, peace and love. That’s what he evoked.”
Cairns was one of the first people Riker met when he moved to Evergreen 30 years ago. “I would consider him as a friend. He brought a lot of spirit and energy to this community as somebody who loved music,” Riker said.
“He really wanted a simpler life — kind of the old hippie way,” said John Erlandson, musician and painter. “He didn’t want to buy into the modern way and the conveniences. He never had a driver’s license. He was one of a kind … . Some of us wish he could have knuckled down a little harder.”
King said Cairns refused to take government assistance funds and survived on dishwashing and other odd jobs.
“I don’t know the details,” King said. “At one time he was very involved and doing really well. He got sick and was hospitalized and had to sell everything off to pay the medical bills,” King said.
“Three weeks or a month ago, he came in with a lot of pain. He could hardly talk. I gave him money to go buy medicine, and he seemed to get better,” King said.
“He was down on his luck, but he didn’t like to look at things too negatively. We would talk about focusing on what he needed. I made him put on headphones and listen to the book ‘The Secret,’ about the law of attraction and not thinking about what you don’t have. … Within two months he met someone who had a recording studio. I think he recorded 30-something songs. We were talking about doing a photo shoot and a CD,” King said.
“He was a mentor to the young kids. He would tell me stories about how he had to talk so-and-so into not running away or someone else about suicide. He wanted to stick around because he was on a mission to help the kids,” King said.
Cairns grew up in Roseland, a southwestern Chicago suburb, according to the bio he wrote on MySpace. He was a typical middle-class kid, but seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan changed his life forever.
He came to the mountains when he was 18 years old and worked in a music store in Evergreen.
“I knew I’d be a guitar player for the rest of my life. … It was as far from my parents’ plan for my future as you could get, but in my heart I knew it was my calling and proceeded in secret.”
Cairns learned from Styx, The American Breed, The Grapes of Wrath, The Cryin’ Shames, The Flock and other bands that lived nearby. “I watched many of them rehearse, and I sucked up as much knowledge as I could from them,” he wrote in his bio.
“He was a very intelligent person,” said Andy Schutt at the Tin Star Café, a place Cairns often visited for a chat. “He liked to talk about world history, conspiracy theories, politics,” Schutt said.
“He just wanted to be heard. He had things to say,” Erlandson said. “He wanted people to love each other. … He was trying to get by on as little as he possibly could. … He just wanted to be a philosopher-musician. He challenged our lifestyles, and he challenged our judgmentalism.”
Plans for a physical memorial of some kind are in the works. There was no word as of Monday about a burial service.
Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Walkin Mark” by Keith Riker
don’t need no car cuz I have my feet
I got the top down — the wind in my hair
I’m walkin’ down main street
the passersby — they wave —
And I smile at the faces who know mine
I don’t need no radio cuz I’ve got music in my head
with words that belong to me — from my heart
I once had record deals — they all went South — I coulda been a star
But I got my guitar — she’s my friend — I keep her close
and I keep her dry — sometimes — she rides on my back
some say I play her well
she talks to me and I sing the music she whispers
with words that belonged to me — they were from my heart
words that most will never hear — not from me
‘cuz before the summer days and another winter night
I’ll be on my way
And now I walk with the spirits
cuz I don’t need no car — I have my feet
lifted by the mountain winds
I’ll see you on main street