Summer 2007

Parallel grooves

Mingering Mike

By Dori Hadar
Princeton Architectural Press, ?.95

The story of Mingering Mike is the sort of once-in-a-lifetime, too-good-to-be-true story every collector or historian dreams of. One winter day a few years ago record collector Dori Hadar happened upon a box of seemingly home-made records created by one ‘Mingering Mike’. They were the decade-plus product of a Washington DC-based music fan and artist calling himself Mingering Mike. When Hadar finished tracking down this extraordinary body of work, it totalled more than 50 imaginary ‘albums’ produced in the 1960s and 1970s. Mike drew the covers and labels, not to mention the actual cardboard ‘vinyl’, and wrote the liner notes. All of the bands and labels were of his own imagining, from ‘The Outsiders’ to ‘Audio Andre’ to ‘Joseph War’.

Now, this is obviously an obsessive art maker, but the detail and ‘reality’ of the work is what makes it extraordinary. Hadar touchingly quotes Mike on his record jacket inspiration: ‘In real life you have your ups and downs, but that album cover is always smiling.’ Mike’s ups and downs included going AWOL from army basic training, resulting in a somewhat underground existence and his still-secret identity. The album covers here begin with that early impetus of Mike’s, and like the contemporaneous records, vividly, if crudely, drawn faces peer out from the jackets. In keeping with the time, as the 1960s wear on and the 70s ghetto days begin, the albums grow darker, with titles like ‘Stop’ and ‘Ghetto Prince’. And, ever a man of his times, Mike even tapped into the Kung Fu craze of the time with ‘A Tribute to Bruce’ and ‘Brother of the Dragon’.

And that’s perhaps what’s most appealing about the work of Mingering Mike: he existed in his own commercial stream, running parallel to ours, where he imitated all the trappings of the contemporary recording industry. All its generic tropes – logos, price tags, song credits and the like – are tended to with as much love as the drawing itself. It’s all in Mike’s inimitable language. This is a wonderful book of creative work existing between design and drawing, just on the groove between reality and fantasy.

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