Friday, January 16, 2004


the mystery of mike

Here's how it begins... Two record collectors in D.C. come upon a flea market with a box filled with hand-painted LPs and 45s by someone who calls himself "Mingering Mike." Everything about these records are hand-crafted: including the records themselves: they're discs of cardboard painted to look like vinyl. And we're not talking about one or two examples of "I was bored one afternoon" - Mike created a record catalog for himself that included probably close to a dozen LPs, plus another half-dozen 45s. (The collectors also located reel-to-reel tapes belonging to Mike so there might be some songs he recorded for himself too.)

The collectors originally posted their finds on Soulstrut.Com and the story was so intriguing that a few other cats picked it up on their own blogs. Within 24 hours, over 7,000 have subsequently visited the board to follow the story. (Update: out of privacy concerns, namely that Mike's legal name was being thrown about, the original post has since been removed but said record hounds are in the process of re-presenting Mike's work in a more professional and organized light).

I think the now-legend of Mingering Mike is captivating for several reasons. First of all, it certainly appeals to the record geeks out there who are into rare and unique finds and this certainly qualifies as one, but more to the point, Mike loved soul records from the '70s so much that he invented titles and concepts based on the music around him. That took him on some strange journeys of the imagination, including one fanciful title called Fractured Soul, another, presumably blaxploitation/kung-fu inspired one called Brother of the Dragon and even one named Sickle Cell Anemia.

You don't even have to be into records to be intrigued by who Mike was and how his imagination manifested in this way - as people on the board have noted, this is a great example of outsider art (a topic which, true to internet message board form, has broken off into its own thread-within-a-thread with contentious results) and the fact that an entire collection has been discovered all at once just makes it even more interesting. (I did some snooping around myself, and it's possible that Mingering Mike = 12th generation descendent of a Viriginia Plantation, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

Right now, the great mystery is: who was Mike? What was he doing in the late '70s? What did he go on to do? And most of all, what inspired him to spend the kind of time and effort to create all these imaginary records for himself? I'm sure others might think this is all a little silly, but there's something rather powerful about his dedication and creativity that I think explains why it's attracting so much attention. Hopefully, some place like Wax Poetics might be down to help give this story even more shine.