Duck Duck Book

51 – mingering mike
02.4.2008, 12:01 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Mingering Mike / Dori Hadar ; with a preface by Neil Strauss and an afterword by Jane Livingston.
New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2007.
[MCL call number: 741.66 M664m 2007; three copies, no holds]

I am not at all sure how to properly review this book, it is so odd and beautiful and touching.

Mingering Mike is a soul star, an incredibly successful musician with a string of hit albums and sold-out concert tours, who also found time to write, direct, and star in nine films. His career spanned a brief but very active ten years from the late 1960s to the day in 1977 when he laid down his instruments and retired.

But every one of his dozens of records now function more as visual art objects than anything else, because they are all one-of-a-kind, handmade with pencil, cardboard, and marking pens. The grooves are drawn carefully into each record, liner notes are written out in pen, and a few albums even feature home-made shrink wrap covering the whole gorgeous package. Mingering Mike wrote songs too, for sure, and with his cousin The Big “D” he recorded many tunes at home on reel-to-reel tape, with a backbeat provided by one of them pounding on a mattress or phone book. But the circumstances of everyday life made it difficult for Mike to pursue his dreams of focusing on music and performance, while creating the cardboard albums was a creative outlet that fit relatively neatly into his life.

The book functions somewhat like an exhibition catalog — its main contents are reproductions of Mingering Mike’s album covers, 45s, movie posters, and 8-tracks, interspersed with critical essays about Mike’s life and artwork, followed by a complete discography.

The records (to judge by their covers, at least) are widely varied, some serious, some funny, some romantic, and some downright angry. Mingering Mike’s genius is partly in his song titles: “Last Night I Thought I Was Bruce,” “While Waiting for the Bus,” “222 Love Avenue,” “Eat Now and Eat Later,” “3 Footsteps Away from the Altar,” “Do the Nixon” (from the album Boogie Down at the White House), and my favorite, “It’s a Good Thing Mike and Big D Weren’t Here Because They Both Would Have Been Wasted.” And this is not just lightweight pop music — in addition to writing songs and creating albums and films about love, dancing, and having a good time, Mingering Mike also tackled the negative impact of drug abuse in the black community, the toll of the Vietnam War, sickle cell anemia, and many other political and social issues. The albums show Mike as an honest, three-dimensional artist unafraid to speak his piece and bare his soul to his fans. You will be a fan too, once you have a few minutes to get to know his work.

* * *

Mingering Mike has a webpage as well, where you can listen to some of his actual recordings and view many album covers and other pieces of Mingering Mike memorabilia. Even more Mingering Mike recordings are available for the listening at the Vanguard Squad.


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