Mike Conley and Naked Soul
March 1, 2008
UPDATED with mp3s and a linke to the Mike Conley Family Memorial Fun.
Mike Conley – who I played in a band with in the early 90’s – died on Thursday in Chicago. In a tragic accident, he slipped and hit his head on the ice.
Try so hard to look away
From everything that I feel
Say goodbye to the american dream
Everything is what it seems
Come on tell me what it is you need
That sets you free
I see you standing so tall
See you run as I crawl
The Daily Pilot:
As the frontman for the Orange County hardcore punk band MIA, Michael Conley raged against war, racism and the isolation of modern life on stage alongside other legendary acts in the 1980s like the Dead Kennedys and Social Distortion.
Boredom is the Reason:
Not surprisingly, none of the obituaries have much to say about his later bands, like Jigsaw…
(That should give you an idea about how very hard he rocked.)
…or the band we were in together, Naked Soul.
We met at the record /crack pipe/coke cutting powder shop where I worked. Mike would hang out and talk about music. His bass player – Jeff Sewell – worked at the shop as well, and I used to go watch them play crappy-awesome covers across the street at Woody’s Warf. Later, they started take me on small tours with them, where we would debauch, or invite me to hang out with them when they recorded.We spent a lot of time together in 91/92 or so, talking about girls we loved who lived far away, and about music.
Once, when he dropped me off at my house he said to me “We’re buddies, huh?” He said it playfully, but its nakedness was unnerving. He wanted people around him who were sincere, and he wore his innocence and loneliness, as he sang, on his sleeve. (Naked Soul might be a dumb band name, but it was a pretty accurate description of him.)
(Naked Soul at Harbor High School, one of those Friday lunch shows for the kids. Before my time, I’m sitting in the front, between Adam and that cute girl in the purple flannel who went to shows – all four of those girls in the front were hot, but like 15. What happened to them? Along the wall in the back ground looking too cool for school are a bunch of old punk rock yahoos like Nate Shaw, John Klein, Nick Sjobeck, and Mike T. I’ll post a better picture when I figure out the scanner.)
I guess this is the time to say how important he was to my life. It’s hard to say; I never stopped admiring him, but it’s not something you go around telling people. I have known tons of musicians, and have had a lot of friends, better friends, but few who changed my life as much. Despite all his faults, he was magnetically charismatic, and inspiring. Not a hero once I got to know him – it didn’t take much to realize how perched on the edge of disaster he constantly was, and that he was likely to drag everyone over the edge with him – but I certainly looked up to him (even if it almost got me killed when we, say, drunkenly stopped to buy coke in a neighborhood like you can imagine). (This is after he got the band’s van hijacked – with all the gear and a sleeping drummer inside – when he, yes, stopped to buy coke. They lost the gear, but the drummer woke up and jumped out.)
But I especially loved the band, and I played their first demo cassette until the tape evaporated (it sounded like and better than those later Replacements records, but when Naked Soul put those songs on a CD, they were worse. The producer and the record company were hunting for the next Nirvana). I’d give anything to have a copy of that tape…
This song does well by those days:
And now we’re on the row
Heading for the same freak show
I’m out walking around
Catching all the stars on the ground
You and me, dizzy
Find a chair in the Frolic Room
One more glass and I’ll be doomed
Listen to “Live at Leeds”
Oh, It’s send me…
Wait and see,
We will be free, dizzy
Jesus on my radio
Got nowhere to go
Hang on to you
FallingI need a taste
Someone took my place
Looking for you
When Jeff quit, Mike asked me to join, even though he knew I was only barely competent on bass (he was like that, bringing people – like Jeff and me – under his wing even if they couldn’t cut it at first. He always wanted to help people.)
Lonley Me, Lonely You:
We did two tours of the US together, and if I wasn’t lucky enough to be touring the US as a member of one of my favorite bands, one of the tours was opening for my very favorite band at the time, Big Drill Car (who were ex members of Mike’s band MIA, who invited us on tour partly to give back to Mike some of what he gave them in MIA).
Nothing wears down a friendship like touring. We had a lot of fun, and a lot of dumb fights. We used to learn songs in the van, and then play them without even rehearsing them. That drove me to panic mode, because I could barely play the songs we’d rehearsed (and all the songs were easy). There was none of the normal money stress from touring – the record company bought us a fantastic van (we left it running with the air-con on at night in Florida, while Big Drill Car sweltered – ha) and they paid us decently – but the romantic notions I had about Mike became less simple as we slept in the same bed.
After that tour, we got dropped from our record label, and broke up. I worried about Mike, because he was so volatile and didn’t seem able to exist outside of music – he kind of new Naked Soul was his last shot to make a career out of music. But he did well, beyond anyone’s expectations, and raised an amazing family, and opened one of the best bars in Orange County. We didn’t see each other much over the last few years (I live far away) but everything I know says he was a fantastic father, boyfriend, and boss.
(Mike, sometime recently)
I’m going home to California in the summer, and one of the things I was most fantasizing about was going to see him at his bar, to talk and remember, but mostly, this time, I wanted to thank him. He gave so much inspiration so many opportunities to me, and expected – and got – nothing in return. I’m desperately sad. I’ll miss you, buddy.
(Mike and I somewhere on the road in Florida. We saw this graffiti out the window of the van the day Kurt Cobain died.)
He leaves behind a long time girlfriend, Syd, and three daughters, Alex, 18, a freshman and Division 1 soccer player at La Salle University (!); Zoe, 9, and Ava, 5. You can help with their education: