Outsider Soul

Friday, April 13, 2007

Outsider Soul

Mingering Mike

Mingering Mike a

Mingering Mike b

Mingering Mike c

Mingering Mike d

Mingering Mike e

Mingering Mike f

Mingering Mike g

Mingering Mike h

Mingering Mike i

Between 1968 and 1977 Mingering Mike produced more than 50 albums and a similar number of 45rpm singles on his own record labels. He performed for sellout audiences and wrote and starred in 9 films. This was the stuff of legends ... and fertile imaginations.

The real Mike, from Washington DC, did in fact record some songs at home with his cousins on a reel-to-reel player and even paid for some acetate pressings. His brother was the manager of a local music venue so Mike got to attend a fair number of shows that helped fuel his desire for a recording career. But that's about as far as it went. In lieu of a life of fame and fortune Mike redirected the enormous energy of his inner life into creating an imaginary career for his alter-ego, Mingering Mike.

He sketched, painted and wrote album covers and liner notes from scrap carboard, fastidiously added grooves to 'records' and made up record label names, song titles, tour diaries and included testimonial quotes from real and imagined supporters of Mingering Mike.

The obsession was also his escape during his years in hiding after going AWOL to avoid being sent to Vietnam. Some time after he resurfaced following the blanket amnesty offered by Jimmy Carter in 1977, Mike gave up his private pastime to get a real job and the Mingering Mike legacy of his youth found its way into storage.

Cue 2003 and the storage company changes hands and rather than give any leeway for late rental fees, Mike's possessions are auctioned off and the Mingering Mike collection ends up at a 2nd hand record shop in DC. An avid fringe collector, Dori Hadar, discovers the work and after intense discussion with acquaintances on the Soul Strut forums, interest from major media outlets is piqued and the real Mike is tracked down, interviewed and reintroduced to his imaginary past.

It's naive and unsophisticated certainly, and as individual pieces these wouldn't ordinarily have an artistic life beyond a suburban bedroom wall perhaps, but as a body of work the Mingering Mike collection is something of a testimony itself to all our creative inner lives and obsessions. I can relate to it as a kind of psychological quirk because it isn't pretentious or beyond the ability of most people and it's something like 'some things' I dreamt or half attempted, after a fashion, as a youngster myself.

'Mingering Mike - The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar' by Dori Hadar will be released by Princeton Architectural Press in a couple of weeks.

Incidentally, Mike - who has been careful to maintain his anonymity, although the book has early photographs of him - has been inspired by the recent interest in his erstwhile outsider art career and at the time the book was written had started constructing a portable record player from cardboard for his next gallery showing.

I was sent a copy of this book (without obligation). It's just under 200 pages, with a couple of essays and a description of the collection (re)discovery and subsequent meetings with Mike. It also has a large number of colour photographs of the Mingering Mike collection, from where the above images were scanned.

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