MAYBE MARKY MARK SHOULD GET A Grammy for Damage Control. When his latest album, You Gotta Believe, bombed on the charts, he rode along on his reputation as a Calvin Klein underwear model and became more famous than ever. Throughout his brief career, Mark, 21, has strutted a fine line between mischievous and malicious. Speaking of his hard-drinking, street-fighting boyhood in the Dorchester section of Boston, he has said, “I was on the verge of ruining my life. But Mark’s problems are hardly behind him. Last week he was back on the edge, facing charges of racism, homophobia and criminal behavior.
Mark, the brother of New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg, is scheduled to appear in a Boston court on March 2 to answer charges that he broke the jaw of security guard Robert Crehan, 20, in an unprovoked attack at a public tennis court near Mark’s old stomping grounds last summer. But before he could defend himself in that case, the singer had to contend with the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, a New York City-based group that was organizing a rally in Times Square last week to protest an incident from Mark’s lesser-known past.
In the spring of 1988, Mark was charged with assaulting two Vietnamese men on a Dorchester street. According to official records, he beat one with a wooden pole and punched the other in the face, later calling them “slant-eyed gooks.” Mark said his attack was not racially motivated, but rather the act of “a foolish kid” who was trying to steal a case of beer from one of his victims. “I denounce racial violence of all kinds,” Mark said last week in a statement. At the time, though, prosecutors said that the beating “demonstrated a continuing pattern of terrorizing people of color” and noted that two years earlier Mark had gotten in trouble for taunting and throwing rocks at black elementary-school children, shouting. “Kill the niggers!” Ultimately, Mark received a two-year suspended sentence for the 1988 incident and served 45 days in jail.
Mark’s alleged lack of sensitivity is no news to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. GLAAD is demanding a public apology from Mark for his actions last month on a British TV show, The Word. During the program, reggae singer Shabba Ranks denounced gays, saying they deserve to be “crucified.” Mark went on to praise Ranks’s candor and perform a rap song with him.
Mark says he was misunderstood: “I wasn’t defending what he [Ranks] said; I was defending his right to say it.” Donald Suggs of GLAAD says the response was “inappropriate.” The singer, he said, “became famous with the help of gays who bin Calvin Klein briefs. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.” After negotiating with his critics last week, Mark agreed to appear in public service ads against bias crime.
The one incident Mark seems to have no apologies for is the alleged tennis-court assault. “That kid just wants money,” he told the Boston Globe. Alleged victim Crehan, who has refused further comment, claimed that he and some friends were at the Savin Hill courts around midnight last Aug. 30 when Mark and Derek McCall, 20, beat them for no reason. Mark has demanded a jury trial. “I don’t have any problem going to court,” he said. That may be the understatement of his flamboyant career.
S. AVERY BROWN in Boston and ANN GUERIN in New York City