The Rensselaer Alumni Bulletin
Gil Markle '61: A Live-Wire Ph.D.
By Wanda F. Fischer
The barn siding rattles when rock stars gather at Long View Farm
Nestled among the rolling hills of central Massachusetts is an old estate that bears the name Long View Farm. Beside the striking fall foliage of a New England autumn, the farm itself is no less impressive: there is a large white main house with four attached stalls that once sheltered horses and now protect automobiles from harsh weather. Off to one side of the main house is a picture-perfect red barn. The scene could easily be, in oil on canvas, of an idyllic fall day in New England's apple country.
Long View's pastoral setting can be deceiving, however. The old farmhouse and barn walls camouflage one of a very few "residential" recording studios in the United States. This one is impressive enough, with its state-of-the-art equipment, to have persuaded the Rolling Stones rock group to use Long View Farm as the starting point for its 1981 U. S. tour.
Gilbert Markle '61 owns Long View Farm. He bought the property in 1972 as a residence. At the time, he was an assistant professor of philosophy at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, about 15 miles from the farm in North Brookfield. Markle found the 150-acre farm appealing both for its seclusion and its easy access to Worcester and other New England cities.
Long View Farm the recording studio began "as a hobby," when Markle and two friends installed some recording equipment. "But then the hobby got out of hand," he says, Markle found he was constantly improving his equipment to keep pace with the commercial recording companies, so he decided to make the facility available on a rental basis. Fortunately, bands responded, and before long Long View had grown into a sought-after recording site for musical artists like Cat Stevens, Arlo Guthrie, and Don McLean.
Then came the Rolling Stones, who added a dimension to Long View Farm that Markle may never have thought possible. Or maybe the Rolling Stones brought Markle just what he wanted: a sense of accomplishment that was important to him even as an undergraduate at RPI.
Dr. Richard DiPrima, professor and then-chairman of RPI's mathematics department, knew Markle well during his RPI days. "I knew Gil would be successful at whatever field he chose, but frankly, I wouldn't have predicted he would choose the fields he's in," DiPrima quips. Markle "had depth in non-academic areas and was brilliant as a student. I expected him to use his academic abilities to become an outstanding scientist."
Instead of pursuing pure science, however, Markle has enjoyed careers in professional teaching, the travel industry, and most recently in show business. This latest interest is almost certainly traceable to his parents. Gil Markle Sr. was once au audio engineer for NBC in New York City. Markle's mother, Connie Gates, used to sing with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey's bands, so young Gil was exposed to the entertainment world from childhood.
Markle grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey and came to RPI in 1957. He chose the school in part because RPI offered him a four-year Union Carbide fellowship. "That was the deciding factor," he says. "Otherwise, I might have gone to Princeton for physics or Brown for English literature.
"As it turned out," he adds, "I feel I made the right choice. Certain professors at RPI made distinct impressions on me that stay to this day. Dick DiPrima, for example, taught me about calculus and about life. He was a young, bombastic, exciting professor whom I consciously emulated when I taught years later at Clark. He was so personable a warm, open, ingenuous sort of guy. From knowing him you knew that there was more to life than the ability to use a slide rule."
Markle's RPI career was characterized by versatility. "I was always interested in the humanities," he says, "and I think I was one of the earliest supporters of a formal humanities school at RPI. I majored in physics but enrolled in all available non-science courses. I suppose people thought of me as something of a resident poet the weirdo who won the McKinney English prize when he wasn't drinking beer.
I always had more than one thing going at any given time," Markle remembers. "I was social chairman of my fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha (PKA), for a while. There wasn't much social life back then except for the fraternities, so we created our own social environment." He adds that he felt like "sort of a renegade," although he liked that distinction. "I drove a 1949 red Plymouth convertible," he recalls. "People knew that car. It got me to and from Saratoga Springs, and it rolled down the hill to Russell Sage pretty well, too."
One of his fraternity brothers, Eb Fetz '61, remembers: "Gil was my alter ego. While I was something of a 'bookworm' an intellectual introvert Gil was always outgoing. He was more socially polished and more sensitive to the humanities than the typical RPI student of those days." Fetz adds that Markle maintained a high academic average despite all those side trips to Skidmore and Sage.
DiPrima describes Markle as "probably the most personable undergraduate student I have ever known at RPI. He was always well dressed and he handled himself very well, whether in a social or an academic situation. One might have thought he was a Harvard Business School student rather than an undergraduate at RPI." It was this polish and social maturity, combined with an outstanding academic record, that led DiPrima to support Markle's application for a Fulbright fellowship.
"My RPI science background helped me win that Fulbright," Markle emphasizes, "but it was also with the help of my family and friends. They made the man who won the scholarship." While in Paris, Markle did a thesis on the philosophy of time and earned a Doctorat d'universite with honors.
In Paris and needing extra money, Markle took American students on tours through France. That experience convinced him that a tour bureau for American high school students in Europe would make a solid business venture. Soon after his return to the U.S. in 1963 he founded the American Leadership Study Groups (ALSG), "I made a fairly small financial investment in ALSG and got lucky," he notes. That small investment began a company that today employs 40 and shows an annual gross income of between $12-15 million. Each summer, well over 10,000 high school teachers and students from all 50 states participate in the company's European travel services.
ALSG remained a sideline for Markle during the late 1960s. Simultaneously, he earned a second
PhD., this time in philosophy from Yale. With that degree, Markle took a job teaching philosophy at Clark. Although he has never published in the "publish-or-perish" world of academia, Markle's enthusiastic teaching style and popularity with students eventually earned him tenure at Clark.
Markle was perhaps more sensitive to student needs while at Clark because of his earlier experiences at RPI. Professor Robert Resnick remembers Markle: "He was at RPI when we were overhauling the entire physics program. It was an exciting time. Students then had very broad interests. It was at about the same time when the Russians launched Sputnik and consequently the space race, so students were interested in the world, in the connection of physics to society as a whole, in the history of physics. Because we were revamping the curriculum, the students and faculty worked together to genuinely improve physics education at RPI. Everyone had input, and there was a real 'family' feeling among both students and professors. Gil Markle was part of that."
Despite his tenured position at Clark, Markle became "bored" with teaching and left. "My career took a decided left turn after I bought Long View Farm," he reflects. "I rejected the warm, comfortable career offered by a tenured faculty position and hit the sidewalks again. Besides," he adds, "ALSG was exploding into a multi-million dollar company, and I was tearing apart a 100-year-old farmhouse called Long View. I felt I didn't stand to better my record by continuing, so I stepped off at the top of a curve."
Fraternity brother Fetz says, "Gil has a knack for making things like ALSG and Long View Farm work. He knows profit and loss ledgers and can be hard-nosed about debts. That, plus a willingness to take calculated risks in new ventures, contributes to his success. Then, too, he was always into rock and roll. He played it constantly at the PKA fraternity house
on my hi-fi set, besides, "Fetz quips. Markle has turned what was an obsession with rock and roll into a profitable venture. Even before the Rolling Stones came to Long View Farm, he had a successful recording studio. "I started Long View out of a basic interest in magnetic tape as a recording medium,' he says. "I engineered the very first album to come out of Long View Farm myself, one done by a group called 'Stuff.' It has since become a classic. More recently, I produced and engineered two albums by rock singer Joanne Barnard. I consider myself to be a good mixer. That's what I enjoy most about audio engineering.
"Whether you're in the recording business or the travel business," Markle adds, "they know you know what you're talking about when you have a B.S. from RPI. Because of RPI, I have never had to take another person's word on a technical matter. That has stood me in good stead."
At Long View Farm, Markle is surrounded by others who are highly skilled technically. He could, if he wanted, simply sit back and watch his engineers do the work. Although he is careful not to interfere with the work of his other technicians, he is very concerned about maintaining the studio's high standards.
"With ALSG and Long View, it is as if I have two full-time careers," Markle smiles, "both equally strenuous. Each provides a 'tonic' for the other and that gives me the energy I need to do two shifts."
When the Rolling Stones were looking at places to prepare for their 40-city U.S. tour, they had apparently heard about Long View Farm and what the recording estate could offer. First they sent two "advance men" to look at the farm, and later guitarist Keith Richards flew in from New York for an extended visit. Richards decided that Long View was the place to go. There was one hitch, however. As Markle explains:
"Before the Stones would come to North Brookfield, we had to build them a full concert stage, one that would allow Mick Jagger to jump and leap about. We had only three weeks to build it including installing all the wiring for the sound equipment and lights. It wasn't easy, but we did it. Richards couldn't believe his eyes the next time he came back. He never left Long View for the six weeks the band stayed here, except to play one night at Sir Morgan's Cove in Worcester.
During the weeks the Stones were at Long View, Markle explains: "We had to hire extra security, to be sure, and the Stones brought some of their own security people in their entourage of 30. We still had a few hassles, though. We found women in the cellar pretending to be chambermaids and kids face down in the mud hoping to be overlooked.
"The biggest energy drain came from the media. They wanted interviews with the Stones, or to fly in by helicopter, or to originate a live TV show with Mick Jagger, or, quote to do a story on Long View unquote. The band had chosen Long View for seclusion, so we had to act as a buffer between them and the outside world. That meant very few interviews."
Markle says that one sacrifice that had to be made when the Stones became live-ins involved his family, which include Nancy Wilcox and their two small children. They had to spend most of those four weeks at their other home in Truro on Cape Cod.
"Now that the Stones are gone," Markle emphasizes, "I feel a sense of relief. I no longer worry about bringing in better and better rock bands to the studio. My energy can now be diverted to something new." That "something new" may well be a satellite hookup that will allow Markle to broadcast concerts live from Long View Farm both internationally and nationally.
For Markle, the beat goes on.