The Beautiful Alternative Universe of Mingering Mike

As a kid we all dream of being superstars when we grow up, whether it’s a superhero, a sports star, a princess, or maybe a celebrity. Like many boys eager to score girls and status, I fantasized about being a rock star. In the sixth grade, I would doodle the name of our make-believe band in my Duo-Tang folder.  By eighth grade, I was playing air guitar solos in the bedroom which doubled as Wembley Stadium as girls from Catholic schools tossed their panties at my feet.  That was the extent of the pipe dream; just another typical teenage fantasy.

Back in our nation’s capital between 1967 and 1972, one teenager took the whole musician fantasy thing to new heights. He adopted the name Mingering Mike and he imagined himself a soul superstar. In his world he was the artist, the lyricist, the producer, the album cover designer, all at once. He came up with song titles and album titles and record company labels and then set out to make it as ‘real’ as possible using cardboard, scissors, markers and tape. He shaped the cardboard into albums and records. He drew the grooves on each of the records and created the labels for Sides A and B.  He’d draw up funky cover art and on the back of each album cover, the liner notes. Every detail imaginable, all from his bedroom in Washington DC.  Over the course of five years, he produced more than 50 albums.   

I tracked down the mystery man behind the artwork and spoke to him by telephone this week. He still lives in Washington D.C. and describes his age as “a young 60ish.” And he still maintains his secret identity as Mingering Mike. Of course there is a real person behind the secret identity, sort of any everyday Joe (but not really).

He told me all of his artwork (he calls them records) had been in storage for about 11 years but he fell back on the payments and when he returned one day to make a payment after some time had passed, the new owners had sold off all of his possessions. Then around 2005, a record collector discovered them in a flea market in Washington D.C.

He called me and said, I found your stuff. And I said, what stuff.. And in my ears, it sounded like someone with a smashed nose, if you know what I mean, and he expected me to ask – what do you want for it?

He met with the record collector “in a public place” and he was thrilled to be reunited with his “babies.” The collector, Dori Hadar, told him he had posted pictures on the web and there was a lot of interest in “Mingering Mike.” Subsequently Mr. Hadar, with Mike’s blessing, published a book called The Imaginary World of Mingering Mike and within months Mike was invited to travel to art exhibits in Amsterdam, London, North Carolina, Texas. But always in disguise. Fake mustache, fake beard, wig, the works. He doesn’t like having to tell people about his other identity. He says people have imaginary minds and they project certain things onto a superstar.

No one knows that Clark Kent is Superman…[The alter-ego] still gives me anonymity outside the Mingering Mike life. I could walk down the street and no one knows who I am. That’s good. That gives me less pressure.

He says someday if he gets to where he feels at ease he will reveal himself.  It’s so secretive even his closest friends don’t know this other side to him, he says.

I can see it being possible. When it does happen, my co-workers will say, ‘son of a gun.’

In the meantime he’s at work on a new ‘album’. It’s called “The Land of Opportunity”.  And he recently produced one that is part of an exhibit in California titled “The Return of the Magnificent Mingering.” And the cover?

It’s me, riding on a horse,… and I’m a cowboy.

Now that fantasy can be found at the Miami Art Museum’s The Record: Contemporary Art & Vinyl exhibit until June 10th. The exhibit, which was organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, is an homage to the vinyl record. Its worthy of a visit for any music enthusiast.  Sculptures, deconstructions, re-imaginings, and other forms of appreciation all celebrating the round plastic LP in a digital age of iTunes and MP3s.

But its Mingering Mike’s arsenal of records behind glass casings that is most impressive and pleasingly accessible. BOOGIE DOWN AT THE WHITE HOUSE, BROTHER OF THE DRAGON, GHETTO PRINCE, and the live album, THE MINGERING MIKE SHOW, LIVE FROM THE HOWARD THEATER, are just some of the many hit albums you’ll see on display by Mingering Mike, the most prolific musician you’ve never heard of.

More here at http://www.miamiartmuseum.org/exhibition_the-record.asp

Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami

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