[Jandek] Now this is interesting
olcsvary at icehouse.net
Tue Feb 3 22:08:14 PST 2004
As requested -
February 2, 2004 A Well-Imagined Star By NEIL STRAUSS
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 - The term diggers applies to those obsessed souls who
dig through cardboard boxes and milk crates at flea markets and thrift
stores in search of rare record albums. And according to the unwritten
bylaws of diggers, the location at which any vinyl treasure is discovered is
strictly confidential. This is a way of protecting one's turf, even if that
turf is just a dust-covered wasteland of hand-me-downs. So it shall be that
the location of one of the greatest digger discoveries of our time must
remain a secret. The diggers were Dori Hadar, 29, and Frank Beylotte, 32,
friends from Washington who met a year ago at a Salvation Army store while
mining for funk and soul gold. "I went to a flea market, and there was a
huge record collection there, at least 20 boxes," Mr. Hadar said, recalling
the morning of the discovery. "I was going through that very happily when I
came across this box full of strange hand-painted album covers. I realized
they were fake and was about to put them back, but then I looked at them
more closely." Pulling the records out of the sleeves, he was surprised to
find that they were made not of vinyl but of cardboard. Each had been cut in
the shape of a record, with grooves and a hand-lettered label painted on.
Nearly all the albums were credited to an unknown black musician named
Mingering Mike, and dated from 1968 to 1976.
The front covers were intricately painted to look like classic funk albums;
on the spines were titles and fake catalog numbers; the backs had everything
from liner notes to copyright information to original logos; the inner
sleeve was often a shopping bag meticulously taped together to hold a
record; and some actually opened to reveal beautiful gatefold sleeves. A few
albums had even been covered in shrink-wrap and bore price stickers and
labels with apocryphal promotional quotes.
What Mr. Hadar found was a cache of seemingly nonexistent music: soundtracks
to imaginary films, instrumental albums, a benefit album for sickle cell
anemia, a tribute to Bruce Lee, a triple-record work titled "Life in Paris,"
songs protesting the Vietnam War and promoting racial unity, and records of
Christmas, Easter and American bicentennial music. He had discovered,
perhaps, an outsider artist. "There are quite a few folk art collectors that
are salivating to get their hands on this collection," said Brian DiGenti,
the editor of Wax Poetics, a leading journal for record collectors. "I think
without a doubt that when all this settles down, this collection will be in
a permanent gallery, and it will probably be one of the more important folk
art collections there." As Mr. Hadar examined the albums, a crowd gathered.
He knew what had to be
done: he bought all 38, for roughly $2 apiece. Excited on returning home, he
posted his findings on soulstrut.com, a digger Web site. A fellow collector,
Mr. Beylotte, responded, telling him that he had been to the same flea
market and had seen similarly decorated seven-inch singles and eight-track
tapes along with cassette tapes and reel-to-reel recordings. He believed
there might be music to accompany the conceptual albums.
"A lot of times flea-market vendors acquire their wares from a storage
facility that's auctioning off the possessions of someone who hasn't paid
their bills," Mr. Beylotte said. "So we're used to digging through these
windows into personal lives through records." He and Mr. Hadar returned to
buy the rest of the Mingering Mike stash, including photo albums and
correspondence. Afterward they put a cassette tape in the stereo and heard
their quarry's music for the first time. It was mostly a cappella - a cross
between doo-wop, field hollers, gospel, the soul and blues - accompanied by
what sounded like sticks on a bucket keeping a beat. Though they lacked
instruments, Mingering Mike and his collaborators - known as Joseph War and
the Big D - seemed to have the arrangements in their heads and would mimic
string glissandos, trumpet blasts and bass lines vocally. For words,
Mingering Mike and the Big D talked and sang, mostly about how they wanted
to become famous. "We should be stars," went the chorus of one song. "Stars
in the eyes of man." A few of the albums and labels were decorated with
pictures of the Washington Monument, so Mr. Hadar and Mr. Beylotte figured
that if Mingering Mike was still alive, he was probably in the Washington
area. Fortunately Mr. Hadar happened to be an investigator for a law firm.
(Mr. Beylotte works for the American Psychological Association.) On one of
Mingering Mike's earliest seven-inch singles they noticed that he had put
down his actual name. And in a stack of his letters, they found street
addresses. Mr. Hadar said that he chose the address most likely to be
current, and drove there. A cousin of Mingering Mike's answered the door.
Wary of a stranger, the cousin would tell Mr. Hadar only that Mingering Mike
lived in southeast Washington.
Undeterred, Mr. Hadar sifted through court records and other public
documents until he came across Mingering Mike's last known address. He went
there with Mr. Beylotte, finding a small apartment building in a rough
neighborhood, he said. They knocked on the door, and a man answered. They
recognized him instantly: he was a little older and a little heavier than in
the pictures they had seen, but it was definitely Mingering Mike. When they
told him they had found his album covers, they recalled, a broad smile
spread across his face. "My babies," he said. On Thursday I joined these
three men at Mr. Hadar's house. Mingering Mike said it was his first
interview. He had never released a real album; he had only fantasized an
entire career on cardboard. Mingering Mike is a large, good-humored,
round-faced man who wore a black jacket and black slacks on Thursday. He did
not want his real name published or his face to be photographed. The reason
he gave for maintaining his anonymity was that he had two jobs and was
worried that the attention would "disrupt things at work." The name
Mingering Mike came about, he explained, when he saw a street sign for
"merging traffic" and twisted the word in his head to create mingering. His
music making began in his teenage years, he said, when he locked himself in
the bathroom (for the good acoustics) and tried to come up with a song. Once
a complete song finally tumbled out of his mouth a year later, he couldn't
stop. In the years that followed, he said, he wrote more than 4,000 songs on
everything from legal pads to matchbooks to diaper boxes.
Eventually he gathered family members to help record the music. When asked
what he used for percussion, he laughed and replied, "You wouldn't believe
it." The music was not recorded with an overturned bucket after all, he
said, but from either beating an Afro comb on a bed or hitting a telephone
book with hands. Occasionally, he said, his cousin, the Big D, would roll up
a piece of paper and blow through it to replicate the sound of a trumpet.
But just writing and recording music wasn't enough, Mingering Mike said, so
he started making the album jackets so that "if it all came together one
day, I'd be ready." He said he would spend as long as a week making his
album jackets. He originally put the cardboard records inside because the
covers were too flimsy otherwise. And then he began adding fake promotional
stickers, seven-inch singles to accompany the records, lyric sheets,
gatefold sleeves, fan club information and nearly every other detail
imaginable. "I wanted everything to be my own stuff and my own ideas," he
said, "and not copy from anybody else." Mingering Mike's dream, he said, was
to be known for his music, and for his songs to inspire people. Thus, he
tackled subjects like the growing drug problem in the United States on the
cover of "The Drug War" and compulsory military service in his apocryphal
reissue of an apocryphal soundtrack to the apocryphal film "You Only Know
What They Tell You." A recurring theme, which appears on the album "The Two
Sides of Mingering Mike," is the choices that one had to make during the
Vietnam War era between military service and civilian life. The logo for his
spurious Decision Records label depicts two hands, one reaching for a
microphone and the other for a gun. But outside of performing a few shows at
St. Elizabeths, the historic mental hospital here, in an act with his
brother, an amateur magician, he attempted to seek a wider audience for his
music only once. He responded to an advertisement in the back of a magazine
promising to set lyrics to music, but he soon realized it was just a scam.
Mingering Mike's uncle and musical collaborator, known on the records as
Joseph War, helped unravel at least one of the mysteries of Mingering Mike,
as well as his logo for Decision Records. "At that time it was the Vietnam
War," he said, "and he was AWOL, so he couldn't go out. He had to do it all
on his own." (Joseph War, who owns 10 to 15 of these album covers, added
that Mingering Mike was later pardoned through President Jimmy Carter's
amnesty program.) After more than a decade of making music, Mingering Mike
realized that he needed to focus on paying rent, so music took a back seat
as he worked as an administrative assistant, a building maintenance engineer
and a security guard. When he fell behind on payments for his storage space,
most of his possessions were auctioned off to the flea market, where Mr.
Hadar and Mr. Beylotte found them. What the pair discovered in the end was
not just a conceptual funk star and an unusual folk artist, but a fellow
digger. In addition to his homemade work, Mingering Mike had 4,000 actual
albums and 2,000 seven-inch singles to his name, from the Temptations to
Lalo Schifrin to Barbra Streisand. In the inside sleeve of one of his albums
he had written on a piece of paper, "Records are my 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.
love," before calling himself a "recordholic." Before he left Mr. Hadar's
house, Mingering Mike did not ask what would become of his "babies." Mr.
Hadar and Mr. Beylotte have said they would like to see the albums in a
gallery and the music on CD. He asked instead if he could borrow a copy of
the 1974 funk classic "Breakin' Bread," by Fred Wesley & the New J. B.'s.
"That's my favorite," Mr. Hadar said of the album. Mingering Mike smiled
knowingly. "We're like brothers," he said, "brothers in music."
From: Fabio R. [mailto:michette- at libero.it]
Sent: Tuesday, February 03, 2004 12:47 PM
To: Michael Olcsvary; jandek at mylist.net
Subject: Re: [Jandek] Now this is interesting
> And you thought Jandek was weird...
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