Mel Grewing says he served two years, seven months and four days in the U.S. Army — “but who’s counting?”
His duty with the 4th Infantry Division in 1969 and 1970 took him to the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. On Tuesday, the 66-year-old Everett man wasn’t telling Vietnam War stories.
He walked into the Northwest Music Hall at Everett Mall carrying his Epiphone electric guitar and an amp. Joining a few new friends in a jam band, he launched into an early ’70s Santana classic. “Got a black magic woman,” he sang, then quipped “just call me Melvis.”
The jam band, which practices two days a week, is part of the Snohomish County Music Project’s music therapy program for veterans and other adults older than 55. Grewing, along with Adam Buchanan, 57, of Edmonds and Mukilteo’s Scott Alexander, 58, were practicing Tuesday for their first public performance. Buchanan plays guitar, while Alexander is a drummer who was keeping the beat on an electronic drum kit. Unlike Grewing, they aren’t veterans, but said they have anxiety and stress issues.
Later this month, the band will play classic rock hits at an artist reception for Steven Markussen, also a Vietnam veteran. Markussen, 64, created an exhibit titled “Veteran,” which is on display through the end of the month in the lobby of the Northwest Music Hall.
The reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 20 at the music hall. It’s free, but donations will support programs of the nonprofit music project, which offers music therapy for veterans and at-risk teens, and runs the Casino Road Keyboard Orchestra for children in south Everett.
As garage-band versions of Led Zeppelin, John Mellencamp and Doobie Brothers tunes boomed in the venue’s music room, Markussen’s artwork in the lobby was a contrast. The abstract art delivers a somber message.
Markussen’s pieces, some crafted from tree trunks and recycled construction materials, are meant to show the effect of going to war. “We are so willing to send soldiers off to fight these wars, but are ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath,” the artist said Monday.
Markussen, who said he served in Vietnam in 1970 and ‘71 with an Army paratrooper unit, went on to a 31-year career in juvenile probation. Retired from Pierce County, he has a fine arts degree from Cornish College of the Arts.
“I have had a really good life, but there are a lot of other people who didn’t,” said Markussen, who was awarded a grant from King County’s 4Culture to complete the “Veteran” display. “The problem is, you come home and everyone thinks you should be the same. But the world can never be the same.”
He was moved to create the works showing that duality after reading a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs report on suicide data. That report, which didn’t include statistics from every state, showed that 22 U.S. military veterans were taking their own lives each day.
One stunning work in his exhibit is simply numbers on two massive boards. Markussen started with the number 1 and wrote them all out, line after line, from 1 to 8,030. That represents 22 suicides per day for 365 days in a year.
“If doctors were committing suicide at that level, what would we do as a country?” Markussen said.
Karla Hawley, a music therapist with the Snohomish County Music Project, said the jam band is meant to be more than fun. “Some of these people have been socially isolated, they’ve had really tough times. The music is this wonderful bond. Guys are making friends,” she said. Hawley sees band members from different backgrounds getting together for coffee.
Markussen said Vietnam veterans didn’t come home to thank-yous. In the post-9/11 era, he said, the fight is ill-defined. “There’s no win,” the artist said. “It’s easy to say go fight this war. It should be easy to give them what they need when they come home.”
Hawley said one of Markussen’s pieces is interactive, with space for veterans to share their names.
“These guys are survivors,” she said. “They need to know their brothers are out there, and have a way of connecting.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Veteran” art at Music Hall
“Veteran,” an art exhibit of works by Steven Markussen, is on view at the Northwest Music Hall through Nov. 30. The Snohomish County Music Project will host an artist reception with Markussen 6-8 p.m. Nov. 20 in the Northwest Music Hall inside the Everett Mall, 1402 SE Everett Mall Way. A jam band, part of the project’s music therapy program, will play at the reception. Event free, but donations welcome. Information: http://scmusicproject.org