Not Just the Ticket — a ticketless entry on Green Day and UC Irvine shows, 1992/1993

Time for a break from the run of stories about shows I have tickets for to talk about ones I wish I had tickets or flyers or photos or something more for — in fact there’s probably an archive of sorts around that I don’t know about, maybe I should do some investigating. It would be typical of me to ignore something that’s probably just a couple of buildings away which has all this stuff.

I’ve written and mentioned off and on — here a bit but also elsewhere on the Net — that UC Irvine has had a renaissance when it comes to excellent shows appearing here on a regular basis. This is down to the efforts of the incredible Acrobatics Everyday team, who have increasingly made the campus a spot on the map for a lot of independent touring acts once more — scroll down to the bottom of their page there to see who they’ve had through in the past couple of years. It’s been wonderful to see and my hopes that this will become a regular effort which will last over time continue to increase — it’s one thing to be inspired to create something like this, quite another to fully maintain it, especially when dealing with a populace that by default mostly changes year by year as new people arrive and older students depart or graduate.

I say ‘renaissance’ and I mention the possibility of things falling apart precisely because I’ve lived through this cycle before thanks to arriving on campus in fall 1992 in what turned out to be right about the middle of a golden age there. Thanks to a combination of well-inclined permanent staffers at ASUCI, a reasonable booking budget and input from a variety of people who wanted good shows in — not least of whom was my friend Jen V., who as far as I could tell either booked or arranged for most of these shows to happen — the campus had a regular run of everything from big auditorium/gymnasium shows (and more about those soon in this series) to smaller shows booked in student center rooms or for noontime performances on the student center plaza. If there’s a lot of well-intentioned if somewhat oppressive nostalgia now about the early nineties and music — and hey, I am helping to feed it all a bit with these stories, I realize — then there’s still no denying that there seemed to be something happening all the time right around this period.

The first I’d heard that UC Irvine was the potential home for anything good like that was when Sonic Youth played there in 1990, followed by the Cocteau Twins with Galaxie 500 the following year, a now notorious show (thanks a spotlight incident involving Dean Wareham) that I really wish I’d seen. Arriving on campus and working with both the student newspaper and the radio station meant I was in the mix of this all almost immediately, especially as I’d swiftly befriended Jen V. and heard her talk about the many upcoming shows pretty quickly after that point.

The first big shows I knew about that happened — big as in mentions on KROQ big — were separate dates by Fishbone and Alice in Chains, both of which I missed. The first small show I missed, though, was apparently one by Drive Like Jehu in fall of 1992 at the student pub. (Thankfully I caught them later on but I’ll yet get to that.) The student pub was one of the key show locales, unsurprisingly enough, though it was a bit of a curious place — vaguely okay beer selections, notoriously bland food, located on the upper level of the old student center complex over the food court, also complete with a balcony area. Like the main building itself it all felt a bit like an eighties hangover.

One thing I did remember hearing about was that the manager of the place apparently — due to liability or maybe due to other reasons — accepted show bookings but didn’t want people to dance or move much. Remember, this is 1992 — moshpits and floaters and all that — but even vaguely pogoing was beyond the pale, as I understood it and later experienced it. Keep all that in mind.

Eventually I got my act and brain together and started making sure I went over to these shows, happening just about ten minutes walk away from my on-campus housing. Who exactly I saw that year and when is a touch of mystery but some memories are clear — the first ever pub show I saw was supposed to be the Breeders, touring for the Safari EP, but they had to cancel, leaving us with the opening band, none other than Unrest. A small but spirited crowd, a great performance, I really only knew the most recent releases but I loved what they were playing and the whole deal, Mark E. Robinson seemed like a pretty happy and confident performer but so was everyone.

Other pub shows crowd up in the memory, and some might be from my second academic year there so I have to be a bit careful. I got to be aware of a number of upcoming shows thanks to my newspaper work, so quite often a preview story served as my own reminder that someone was coming through. Tiger Trap definitely played a lovely afternoon set there, maybe only to ten people but we all adored it. Mecca Normal kicked major butt with their nighttime show, and I loved how the whole crowd busted out into the “I Walk Alone” chorus when Jean Smith did her walk-through-the-audience part. Naked Soul headlined a set as well — quite possibly headlining over Refrigerator or Diskothi-Q or maybe that was separate. I do definitely remember Nothing Painted Blue playing a set at some point, and also Franklin Bruno and Peter Hughes fake-charging the stage in between sets one night, I just can’t remember which night. But getting back to Naked Soul — Mike Conley asked me to introduce them, something I was both surprised and touched by, and I know someone taped the show because there’s this YouTube clip:

I’m not in that but I’m around there in the audience, somewhere.

And then there were the noontime shows, though again I’m trying to recall who did play that year and who played the following. fIREHOSE played a set, the second time in as many years (and on as many UC campuses) I’d seen them do a noontime show — this would have been spring 1993. Xtra Large did a show, even if that’s mostly of local Costa Mesa interest (but hey, they were signed to Irving Azoff’s label, to my eternal surprise). I absolutely remember the Melvins noontime show — how could I miss they were coming through, after the Mr. Bungle show the previous year — though I couldn’t actually watch it, as I was stuck in a seminar. The windows were open, though — it was a beautiful spring afternoon — and I remember that day going like this:

“And as we study Nadine Gordimer’s work in more detail –”

*BOOMBOOMBOOMYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGGGGGGH*

“–the damage of apartheid–”

*SCREEEEEEEEEEEWHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAA*

“–comments? Mr. Raggett?”

“Could you repeat the question?”

It wasn’t quite like that but it was close. Later I passed Lori Black on what looked like a pretty bad trip sitting outside on the steps next to the radio station’s home building and then walked up into the station to find King Buzzo joking around on the air. Fun day, really.

However, the absolutely most legendary show of all these ones I saw or attended (or just heard) was one that didn’t actually happen. Shortly after I arrived at KUCI I started hearing about this band called Green Day, who I didn’t know about at all. Either whoever was at KLA who was into them didn’t run into me or they just weren’t big there at all, but KUCI had a happy fanbase and then some. One thing led to another and sometime in midwinter 1993 I was deep in conversation with Tre Cool for an interview for the student paper about a forthcoming show. (I have a variety of Tre Cool memories around this time as he was around campus for a couple of stretches — long story.)

At the time there was major interest in the group from various labels — the bidding war was on and of course we know how it all turned out and what happened with them, so no need to belabor that point. In 1993, it was all up for grabs, and so Sony, Geffen and Warner Bros. were all anxious to secure the band’s services (there might have been others, not sure). Therefore, the show that they were scheduled to play at the UC Irvine pub was something of a showcase performance, as reps — and allegedly David Geffen himself — were due to make an appearance. I remember Jen V. being way anxious about the show for that reason, as well as for the fact that the pub manager was getting pretty antsy about having a bunch of punk fans at his place. This was all compounded by the fact that the other two bands on the bill had their own following — the Women, a great Costa Mesa act that never quite broke through, were going to open, while Face to Face, a couple of years away from their own major label leap, were in the middle.

And to top that off, Green Day had to cancel a show the previous night in the Inland Empire but apparently told the crowd to go to the UC Irvine show instead as it was cheap and/or free, I forget which. So there were going to be even more people there that night than before.

And to top THAT off there were a lot of police and security folks on campus that very evening because one building over was a huge presentation and speech by recently defeated independent candidate for president H. Ross Perot.

I got over there early and remembered thinking ‘this is not going to be a normal evening’ when I was out on the balcony looking at the HUGE line of people waiting on the student center terrace to go up the narrow staircase into the venue. Do keep in mind, Green Day were not yet famous in the all-over-radio/MTV sense; Dookie wasn’t even recorded yet. But I pretty much assumed there and then that they were going to be famous by default if they could pull in that kind of a crowd.

All was increasingly packed and somewhat chaotic inside — Jen V. was running around like mad making sure everything was okay, the pub manager was already looking like this was the last thing he wanted. The Women played a sharp set — I was actually right near the front for it, to my slight surprise but everyone was more or less behaving themselves, since again, no slamming, no pogoing, no dancing, nothing. This while the line of people continued to slowly file in and make everything more cramped.

I remember stepping away from the stage when Face to Face got ready — and after that it’s ALL a blur. I wasn’t caught up in anything, in fact I really don’t know how I missed it, but things went ridiculous pretty swiftly. I think Face to Face lasted about a song, half a song, before the pub manager figured that the crowd was not going to stay still (in a word, duh) and called the evening over. So, no rest of the Face to Face set, no Green Day set…nothing.

I’ve heard various stories about what exactly did happen — apparently Geffen or his rep was reached by phone in the big limousine heading down to OC so they turned back around and went home, while the Sony rep was apparently maced. (Or was that an Interscope rep after all?) The police and security people who happened to be around took great delight in the fact that they were needed and while this wasn’t Black Flag being assaulted by the LAPD in the slightest, there was all sorts of squabbling, nonsense, annoyed punks, happy to be annoyed policemen and so forth. I just remember walking away home past the nearby ATMs, or maybe I went up to the student newspaper offices to type something out.

To top it all off, Mike Dirnt then broke his ankle when the band were going over to where they were staying for the evening. Apparently a Dookie song obliquely references that incident but I can’t remember which.

So again, it wasn’t a Green Day show but a nonshow, and it wasn’t like they didn’t show, they just couldn’t play. A year later “Basket Case” was in permanent rotation and the band haven’t needed to look back since but I do wish I could have at least seen them then along with all those other, retrospectively amazing pub and noontime shows.

And taken photos and kept any flyers or SOMETHING.

Not Just the Ticket #60 — Therapy?, October 19, 1992

Therapy, Whisky

Then-current album: Nurse

Opening act: Naked Soul…but not at the same show.

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, 50% off! If I had any random unexposed rolls of film around maybe I could send it to them as a lark…

As you might note, I’ve included the questionmark at the end of the band’s name in the title of this post where it’s not there on the ticket itself. A minor detail but it does make me wonder exactly how many ticket misprints are out there in general, and if any of them are particularly hilarious, which this misprint is not.

Meanwhile, a tale of two shows but one ticket.

Talking about Therapy? first, however — like so many bands they’d come to my initial attention via Melody Maker throughout late 1991 and most of 1992, as they’d been getting a fair amount of attention from writers I liked such as Cathi Unsworth for being loud, catchy and generally thought to be a cut above a lot of generic indie rock of the time, due in large part to frontman Andy Cairns being an open metal and techno freak. By the time they ended up over in the US Cairns had chopped his hair short but until just a few months beforehand he’d been rocking a full-on mane and then some, and not a mullet either, so I had to sympathize.

In retrospect the group didn’t make me a fan for life but they were a great listen for the time, a classic kind of niche rock in a way — if you were kinda sick and tired of what metal had seemed to become in a warped-through-the-LA-lens way then it wasn’t any surprise I had no problem ranking them up alongside, say, L7 in terms of regular listening. There was a sense of ‘oh okay, they’re not openly moronic, in fact they’re pissed off at morons, and they actually like cool stuff’ at play. I still remember one of my first professors at UC Irvine, Robert Newsom, laughing with delight at hearing about their song “Potato Junkie,” an aggravated rant against soppy Irish nationalism in general punctuated with the lyric “James Joyce is fucking my sister.” So I’m not at all surprised I got into them quite a bit, and I still think “Innocent X” might be the secret keeper of their earliest songs, one of the few times a guitarist got close to the impact of a “Mentasm”-style riff if not exactly there.

So when they finally came along to town I was up for the show and happily found a way up there — but I wasn’t going to go there first. In fact I was just a couple of blocks up at the Roxy rather than the Whisky because of one of the first stories I ever did as a writer for the New University at UC Irvine. They had received a mailout regarding the debut EP, Seed, by a band called Naked Soul, I’d given the disc an ear and either I’d come up with the idea of doing a profile or was assigned it, so I ended up meeting the band’s guitarist and bassist for an interview. Which is how I first met Mike Conley, at that time much more well-known for his work leading the punk group M.I.A. and now exploring something else.

My full story on Mike that I posted on this blog after his untimely passing goes into further detail about him and my memories so I won’t repeat it here; suffice to say that I did want to make sure I caught them as I could, and it turned out they were playing a show up in LA as a bit of a Scotti Bros. showcase. Weird Al wasn’t around (what might have been), but they were going to be opening for Mother’s Finest. At some point I put two and two together and thought, “Hey wait, I can go to the Naked Soul show first, see their set, then go down the street and catch Therapy? and it’ll all be good.” After that it was just a matter of getting tickets or making arrangements or whatever it was I did.

Pretty sure I went up to the show with my friend Jen V. and possibly a couple of other folks — I think (maybe) I was on the guest list for one or both of these shows. I don’t have a ticket from the Naked Soul one so I suspect I was just waved in after an ID check, while my friend Kris C. could have added me to the Therapy? list at any point. Then again it sure seems like I bought this ticket at a nicely cheap price so who knows — whatever the explanations or reasoning, I was wandering around the Roxy once more waiting to see what would happen.

I don’t know if this was the first time that I’d ever seen a band where I’d met the members beforehand, but it feels like it was — while I’d encountered a few folks here and there after a show or in another context entirely, most times bands just appeared on stage via separate entrances and the usual show business palaver and approach, it wasn’t like they were sitting around beforehand. Not very punk rock, I guess, but then again, I never claimed I was. So seeing Mike and Jeff, the band’s bassist, kicking it off onstage where not too many days beforehand I’d been casually chatting with them at a cafe across from UCI was a bit of a thrill, in its own way — a sense of how it all ‘really’ worked, in a way, that musicians are people you can be talking with, sensing their own personalities and quirks, even in a formal interview situation (and both of them had been very relaxed in that interview anyway), and then they’re up there making all that sound that’s been mostly intermediary in one’s experience, via recordings. Or can be intermediary, since others have different preferences; I always tended to go to the recordings first and foremost.

It wasn’t a crowded floor, but it wasn’t empty, and I was nearish the front without being crushed up close to it — I don’t know how many folks were there specifically for them or because they were M.I.A. fans or something else entirely, though it was a bit light overall. Label showcases have their own pitfalls sometimes, and if anything there were far more Mother’s Finest fans around. (I remember suddenly passing by their lead singer in the hallway to the restrooms — she was pretty hot, I remember that much!) It was a short set and I remember three songs in particular — “Lonely Me Lonely You,” which was more or less the single from Seed, and two covers. “So Sad About Us” had also turned up on Seed but the rip through the Replacements’ “Answering Machine” was otherwise unrecorded to my knowledge, and was something that has stuck with me more than the original in the end. Which sounds unfair to Paul Westerberg perhaps but then again, call it a gentle clinging on to a distant memory for someone not around anymore.

All I definitely can say is that after they had finished up I headed down to the Whisky to see Therapy? — pretty sure that Jen and others were waiting at the Roxy to hang out Naked Soul and chat a bit, could be wrong. In the days before widespread cell phones and all I suppose we just figured out that we’d meet up somewhere afterwards, I can’t say for sure. If there was an opening band for Therapy? that night I completely missed them, and in fact my only real memory of the set beginning was that it felt like I was almost immediately there, standing not too far from the front of the stage and watching Andy and bassist Michael standing close to stock still in black T-shirts and firing it up.

Sometimes the sound mix for a band can just throw things off for all involved and that might have been half the case with this show, yet another ‘get a UK act over here for a quick introductory tour with a performance at the Roxy or the Whisky so the label folks can see what they’ve got’ type of concert, I guess. There was another show like that in that fall at the Whisky I still regret missing — David J solo as the headliner with PJ Harvey as the opener, what a combination — and I’d been to a number already so this was in respect nothing new. But there were barely any excited folks at the show and I almost seem to sense frustration as being the main sense of atmosphere that evening, that something should be firing off but wasn’t quite, not immediately.

So the performance was good enough if not great, maybe a bit muffled, I just think of bright lights at points behind the drummer and feedback and riffs and the whole thing was…polite? That’s not quite the word, and it’s not meant to be an insult on the band, maybe it was a great performance that didn’t feel like a great performance in retrospect, something that avoided connecting properly as it should. As it turned out there was a chance for the band (and maybe their audience) to make up for that the following year and I’ll get to that.

But for now, I think I remember little more than leaving to meet up with the OC crew and getting ready for yet another long drive south.

In memory of Mike Conley

You shouldn’t learn about the death of someone you knew at a birthday party.

Last night, I was at my friend Fern’s 40th birthday party, held at eVocal, a local venue/art gallery that is one of her spiritual homes, a place where she regularly reads her work. It was my first time there after having heard much about it, so I was wandering around, looking at everything, when a flyer up in the window caught my eye.

MIA playing around here? Thought she was at Coachella. Maybe she’s at the Detroit Bar…oh no wait, it’s the band M.I.A.

I moved closer.

With Jello Biafra and Kevin Seconds, huh…wait, hold a minute, M.I.A. had broken up years ago. Something doesn’t make —

Then I read more of the flyer and something hit me:

A flyer for the Mike Conley benefit show

For the family of Mike Conley…Mike’s dead?

Mike’s dead?

I didn’t know who to ask but Brett, one of eVocal’s main folks, was around, and I walked up to him and asked. I vaguely remember feeling shocked. Brett confirmed it and we talked a bit about it — I could tell it had hit him hard as well.

Was this huge news? How had I missed this?

As the party started filling up the venue I withdrew to the side and started scrounging for information via the iPhone, and found stories like this one, written by my editor at the OC Weekly, Dave Segal, some days after it happened — which makes my ignorance of his passing until now all the more inexcusable. The actual event and initial reports had happened on the crazy-full weekend of my birthday and good friend Stripey’s and my mind was very much elsewhere, but to have missed Dave’s story on it a few days later in a paper I write for…self-pity isn’t an attractive quality, but I was damn ashamed of myself, angry at myself, to have blanked on this, still am. I will say no more on that front.

But I searched for a few more stories, read some comments, and quietly, I began to grieve.

In late 1992, as part of my initial arrival at UCI, I sought out both the radio station KUCI and the student newspaper, the New University, the latter with a vague idea to do some sort of regular music coverage. I had barely any review experience or interview experience as such, but I knew I wanted to do something, even while going to grad school — it was an interest I really wanted to pursue for some time but, in my own fairly slack way, I hadn’t sensed how best to do it. (The idea of doing a fanzine on my own or the like never occurred to me — I think in the end I am and remain someone who finds larger contexts to work in.) But since the New University, unlike UCLA’s paper, didn’t require you to be part of the journalism program one way or another — handily, since in fact UCI had no such program (for better or for worse!) — I pretty much walked in, indicated my interest, and was immediately made an intern. I can live with that.

How it happened I’m not sure — I must have mentioned I was interested in music and all — but shortly thereafter, not on the first day or anything (I think), this had arrived in the New U mailbin:

You can find my thoughts on this release, Naked Soul’s debut EP Seed, at the All Music Guide, but those were written many years later — at the time, I knew of M.I.A. a bit and in reading the press guff that came with the CD I learned the connection and was intrigued. I forget how it happened — my interest, the label’s, my editor’s — but I arranged to do an interview with Mike and Jeff Sewell, Naked Soul’s bassist, near UCI.

You won’t find the story anywhere online to my knowledge — though if it has surfaced, I’d be pleased to know. I was still months away from hearing the term ‘web browser’ for the first time and the New U wouldn’t fully go online until the mid-nineties, and its archives start from around that time. So I have no story to refer to, beyond guessing it’s probably an embarrassment of an effort on my end, fairly obvious in its line of questioning and general approach. There’s a lot of woodshedding I’m content to ignore.

But that means instead my memories are about that first meeting — dim, but for a reason as I’ll explain. Jeff was cool enough, but I remember Mike being very friendly, a warm and heartfelt guy. He matches well in my memory with someone else I interviewed and first heard soon thereafter, O from the band Olivelawn, who had just started his own new band fluf around that point. Two different people but both allied to anthemic and heartfelt rock and roll that had grown out of the 80s punk/alternative/whatever you want to call it scene they’d grown up in and been a part of. The world had turned — slightly — towards their musical view on life and they were out to make the most of it.

The point is, though, that I sensed Mike was a good fellow, from the start. Nothing earthshattering about this, nothing that changed my life in a singular fashion, just that you knew, here was a good dude. I’m sure he spoke a bit of his happy pride in his young daughter, pictured there on the cover — surprising to realize now that she’s 18 years old — and what he hoped things might lead to. He’d already done a lot so he had no illusions I’m sure — he just wanted to make music and see what would happen. And in combination with the interview and the EP, I became a Naked Soul kind of a guy — for me, Mike was identified with that, not with M.I.A.

The story doesn’t end there, though. Now let me stop and say this right now: I will never claim to have been Mike’s friend at this time, close or otherwise. But we were friendly — over the next couple of years, we struck up an acquaintance, built in part by circumstance and in part by luck. He lived and worked nearby, and I got to know him in the same way that I got to initially know someone like the Detroit Bar‘s Chris Fahy, say — someone on the scene and getting involved while I was off torturing myself over obscure theorists. But I played Naked Soul’s music on my show and covered it for the New U and while I showed nowhere near the focus on local things that I could have done, there were folks I did follow a bit and shows I did see and people I talked to, and Mike was one of them. I remember seeing a Naked Soul show up in LA — the first time I think I saw them do their killer cover of the Replacements’ “Answering Machine” — and played cuts on my show from the EP.

Some months later, they ended up booked to play a show at UCI’s old Pub venue, now somewhat resurrected in the new Student Center there. At this point the show booker for a lot of things at UCI from 1992 to 1994 was another KUCI DJ — my friend Jen Vineyard, who was able to get in a huge number of stellar acts on the road during those years, big and small. That’s a story in and of itself, and I can talk about everything from seeing Tiger Trap doing an afternoon show in the Pub to the Melvins blasting a huge wall of noise across campus to seeing the final Unrest tour with an opening act on their own first American tour…Stereolab. And more, and onward — but the point was that Jen also kept her eyes and ears out for local bands all the time, booking them in for shows, and so Naked Soul got their own headlining gig one night.

Now, I don’t remember how this happened. I don’t even remember why. But I think — maybe — that Mike had always remembered the story I’d written and thought it was really nice, and we were all talking before the show or something. Again, I don’t remember — when I say things are dim from that first meeting, it’s that we met often enough than things blend into each other, and that I can’t be sure of what was talked about at each time. But he really wanted me to introduce them that night at the Pub.

I’m sure I was pleased, flattered, but also surprised and maybe a touch nervous. But I remember agreeing, and I dimly recall stepping on the stage, looking out to the crowd and into the stagelights (and thus not seeing the crowd), saying…something and happily introducing the band, I trust. And then I got off there as quickly as I could! Hey, they weren’t paying to see me.

As it turns out, there’s a video of a performance from that show on YouTube. Just one cut, but a good one — their fine rip on the Who’s “So Sad About Us”:

I wonder if there’s more of the show out there somewhere. Hopefully so.

I kept running into Mike after that, very randomly — and bless his soul, he always seemed to recognize me first. I only just remembered that, typing this now. I remember running into him at Lollapalooza 1994 at the water tent, he was all smiles, having the time of his life — god knows what we talked about, but I have that memory of him just having a ball, totally up. I want to say there were a couple of other encounters along the way too, out and about.

I think I recall the final time we talked, though, and I’m going to have to do some scrounging later to see if I still have the tape. What happened was that Naked Soul had released their full album, Visiting Your Planet — and as this AMG review says (not by me, but by a fellow fan), it’s a secret treat of an album, not earthshaking but sounding great still. I ought to know, I’m playing it just now.

Anyway, we had agreed to set up an interview…for the paper? for KUCI? I don’t recall now, I don’t even know if it was tied into the album release at all. It was just Mike this time, because the band had either gone through a lineup change or was in some instability — there wouldn’t be anything else from the band in the end beyond a small-release single, so perhaps it was all just starting to wind down. One thing I do remember, though, is that I’ve got the interview on tape somewhere — I’ve got a big mess of random tapes like that and I really should go through one of these days and digitize them. I don’t think they’re any great classics missing in them, but they might be of interest (and I know that among them is my Ian Crause interview but that’s very much another story).

I can’t say I recall much about this interview but I remember Mike being a little more reflective, not quite as up — not depressed, I should say, just simply reflecting what had to be a stressful period with the band, possibly with the label, possibly something else too. But it wasn’t a bad conversation or interview, so I hope, and he was as friendly as ever; given I was going through my own ups and downs around that time I wouldn’t be surprised if I came off as a bit mercurial to him in turn, reading things through our own lenses. We ate some pizza as we talked, parted with a handshake and hopefully a promise to catch each other as we could.

To my knowledge, that was the last time we spoke. Somewhere in 1995 or so, I’m pretty sure.

I don’t mention this to speak of it in a dramatic sense, though I’m sure it comes off that way. Rather, I think from there we just carried on as we did, busy with our own lives and own experiences. He had the eventual breakup of Naked Soul to deal with, not to mention the daily living of family and fatherhood and the workaday world to address; I was only a short year or two away from the decision to pull the ripcord out of grad school and, as a result, stopping my writing work for a bit until a fortuitous exchange of e-mails with Steven Thomas Erlewine led to the All Music Guide work and all that followed after it. My knowledge of local bands grew a bit hazier as my interests went elsewhere, I put down deeper roots of friendship with others…a not-unfamiliar path.

And Mike? He kept on keeping on — and learning that he did and I somehow missed it all, well, like I said, I’m trying to avoid self-pity, but again I’m kicking myself a bit, just for simply not being aware, not knowing or asking or putting the pieces together — we were, after all, in the same area still. But among other things, he started a new band, Jigsaw, and once again took to the road and stage and studio doing what he loved. Here’s the video for their song “Sour”:

Meanwhile, he made a hell of a mark in recent years via his ownership of a great bar that I don’t go to often enough, the Avalon Bar. Located near the Detroit Bar (and eVocal), it’s a dive in the best sense — not scummy, but comfortable, the type of place that has its own feeling and loyal clientele. But again, I don’t go there often enough, obviously — because if I did, at some point I would have found out he was the owner, or run into him even. Now I’ll never claim he would have recognized me again then out of the blue, after so many years. But if he had — well, I wouldn’t have been surprised. And that would have been great.

It really would have been great just to say hi again one more time, that’s all. It would have given me the chance to apologize for losing touch, to say something like, “Man, I am a TOTAL goof, I didn’t even know you ran this place!,” to ask after everything. It would have been fun.

But there again, I protest too much — because, after all, those who did know him far better than I, his friends — his family — those are the ones who truly want to say hi to him again one more time, and more. Because you don’t expect to see your buddy, your boss, your husband, your dad go off on a trip somewhere for work and wish him well and then get a phone call or a message…

No, you don’t expect that. You just don’t.

The birthday party was a blast and I concentrated on the moment. There was music and poetry and catching up with friends who showed up later on in the evening and more. Fern had a wonderful time and it was a pleasure to meet her children and her family and friends. Yet in a weird and slightly reversed way, I thought of how I was now in a reverse position from three years back, where I came to London on a long-planned visit only to have it happen the day after the Tube bombings, and for me to find out that an acquaintance who was a dear friend of many of my friends there was one of the victims. As I sadly and ruefully summed it up at the time, I came out for a party and ending up crashing a wake.

But this time around the wake was in my head, and the party was all around me.

The Mike Conley Family Fund has been set up to take donations — there is a memorial T-shirt available for purchase, and as that flyer notes up top, there’s a show coming up a week from Monday — and that’s one amazing lineup.

For now, though, simply this, belatedly and with honest sorrow: thanks Mike. The memories are warm and I always knew you were ‘good people,’ as they say. From everything else I’ve read so far over the last twelve hours, it only just reconfirmed that. It’s a little comforting to know that whatever else my faults in learning too late and all that I’m not the only person who thought that about you, and knew it, and said it.

Rest well.