Mike Conley and Naked Soul

March 1, 2008

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UPDATED with mp3s and a linke to the Mike Conley Family Memorial Fun.

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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.

Crawl:

Emotional runaway
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:

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California Dreaming:

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.)

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(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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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(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:

Mike Conley Family Memorial Fund

The Daily Pilot Obit
MIA Website

OC Weekly Obit

MIA Downloads at Alternative Tentacles

(try: Boredom is the Reason)
Mike’s Seven Favorite Things about OC

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13 Responses to “Mike Conley and Naked Soul”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Alec,

    You and I have a lot in common. Your words have captured Mike’s essence — thank you.

    Nick

  2. mom Says:

    Alec, that is a lovely tribute. I cried when I read about Mike, and your writing made me feel better, actually, odd to say. It was so out there but also very tender.

    I remember the few times I ran into Mike after Naked Soul broke up he was always sweet and gentlemanly, and not fake, very sincere.

    I just stopped by the bar. 9am and no one here, of course, but I cried some more in the little courtyard that smelled of beer and cigs.

    mom

  3. Stephanie Says:

    Dear Alec,
    Thank you for including me when you addressed your email notice. I just read the Pilot article at dinner and feel so sad for his family, friends, and all the others in his circle. What an odd mystery and very tragic death. This is tremendous loss and it seems he will be missed by so very many people. Reading about your messages brought so many memories and images to mind. Wasn’t Mike’s daughter Alex photographed on the cover on the Naked Soul album? I remember the band played at Tower Records one night and eveyone sat on the floor. His daughter was there and I thought she was such a beautiful girl. Kali and Tabitha, who was just a little younger, were there too. (Tabitha also a beautiful girl)
    I’m so sorry you won’t be able to visit with him this summer. I enjoyed learning more about him from your tribute.
    Take Care,
    Stephanie Cox (formerly Burns)


  4. Nick,

    Hey man! I thought it was Sjobeck. But it must be Adams because of what Adams wrote here:

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=346408119&blogID=363281953&indicate=1

    It does sound like we have a lot in common. Thanks for the MIA myspace page… And Flatbed lives on in my tape collection…

    Mom,

    Thanks for all the emails and for the photos from Avalon. He really, really liked you… And you should thank him for gentrifying the West Side!

    Steph,

    That was Alex. And that show at Tower, when I was working there, was a disaster. Mike was two hours late cause he’d been up till ten or eleven a.m. partying. He wore sunglasses the whole time. I have the video. Jeff was bummed. But it’s funny now. Very. Man were they bad that day. And the A&R woman was freaking. It was the record release for their major label debut. Ha.

    My mom said she ran into you in some coffee shop and said you looked “gorgeous,” which I don’t doubt.

  5. Kurt Says:

    Alec,

    Hi. I been thinking about Mike and here’s what I’ve come up with. I’ll post it on the myspace page, too.

    I don’t remember exactly how I met Mike. I think we drank coffee together at Rock ‘N’ Java with mutual acquaintances and our friendship grew from there. He was open and easy to talk to and since we had similar interests, we started hanging out. I’ve always been picky when it comes to the people I chose to have around me – especially then. I had a huge list of qualifiers that had to be met in order for me to have a conversation with someone, much less have them come over to my house. As a result I only had a few people in my life at a given time. Mike quickly became one of them. When my father died a few years ago I didn’t bother to return a call from his deathbed. I had no respect for him and didn’t need to come to any kind of conclusion with him. I think it’s going to take a long time to get over the way I ended things with Mike.

    It was the 90s and Mike had a band called Naked Soul. After we hung out for a while Mike invited me to go on the road with them and sell their merchandise. I thought “who would buy a t-shirt from someone who starred at them sullenly, arms folded and frowning?” Mike didn’t care – I think he thought it was funny and at any rate it was better to not sell any merch than to set up an unmanned booth from which everything would be stolen. They had a record contract and I could get a little money from their label so I decided to go. Mostly they were good shows with few people in attendance. A couple of nights were awful but a few were full of the electric energy that makes people want to play keep playing music. The most memorable point for me, though, was not related to Mike’s music but rather to his ability to influence me.

    On a night off in Kansas City, Mike and I took the van to Lawrence to see another band play. It was cold but the van was new and the heater worked well. Mike drove and we talked about what it would be like to live in the Midwest. We agreed it would be pretty awful. As we got out of Kansas City proper he asked if I had listened to much Dylan. I shifted in my seat and said ‘no, I’ve never sat through more than a song’. Hearing this, he cut the conversation short and put in Highway 61 Revisited. Only a magnetic, enthusiastic force like Mike could make me consider something if I didn’t want to do it. I weighed my options and since it was too cold to get out and catch a cab I relented but I clenched my jaw, resolved not to like it. We listened in silence as we drove though the wintry Kansas night, held in the hands of a master. My determination faded quickly and I began to dream that I could one day express myself so clearly. With perfect timing the tape ended as we parked the van. The rest of the night was forgettable, but I can still see Mike looking over at me, smiling as I began to grudgingly uncross my arms and appreciate Dylan.

    Music wasn’t’ the only thing Mike turned me on to. My interest in antiques started by checking out how he had arranged his house on Rochester Street. Looking back now I almost feel like I was a student there. I began to realize that vintage watches were something I had to know more about, that there was a criminal shortage of Pendleton flannel shirts in my world and that I needed to start not only collecting antique radios but fixing them as well. For a time the things I discovered at Mike’s were things I used to define myself. I was beginning to realize that punk rock was not the only thing in the world.

    When Mike would draw the curtains and not answer the door, I was too happy to be there to stop pounding until he let me in. Most of the time he would peer out from behind the curtains, roll his eyes and let me in. I think he wanted someone to visit and I needed somewhere to go. He showed me some of his favorite films on Laserdisc and, since they were some of the best films ever made, many became my favorites, too. The only one I refused to watch was Seven Samurai. For some reason I just wouldn’t do it. Years later when I saw the film it changed my life – since then I’ve been a patient student of the Japanese language, have watched hundreds of Japanese films and taken 5 trips to Japan – all chasing the feeling that I got watching Seven Samurai. So you see, even when I fought his influence he won in the end.

    For about a year Mike and I hung out pretty regularly. He was fun and full of the kind of quirks that separate interesting people from average ones. Even in the Army I had never seen someone fold t-shirts so precisely, or spend as much time sopping up the grease on a slice of pepperoni pizza as did eating it. He could play a mean game of fuseball, let me shower at his house when I lived above a practice studio and he had no absolutely no patience for the music of the Misfits. When I started drinking again for a brief period he didn’t pass any judgment but laughed and said “Kurt – one minute you’re this sensitive, quiet guy sitting on my couch, the next you’re calling me drunk from the bar!” We both had our vices and Mike was too magnanimous to condemn anyone for falling off the wagon.

    Mike’s musical taste was like a barometer for what was important in music at the time. He was open minded when it came to new bands and genres which is more than I can say for myself – he even embraced trance and house which is more than I can say for most of the guitar players I know. As much as he liked taking in new music, he was equally unsentimental about his own musical past. Once when I tried to play an F-Word tape he said: “Kurt, there will be no F-Word in this car” (even though it was Alex’s mom’s car and he had just thrown most of her tapes out the window). When he found that water damage had ruined the covers, he gave me his Gears and Minor Threat LPs. When he heard that I wanted to start a record label, he gave me one of the best Naked Soul songs.

    After a while Mike and I drifted apart. The last time I saw him was in a parking lot behind Newport Blvd. He told me about expanding his house and life with Syd, I told him about a recent promotion in a job that would become a career. When he complimented me on the patch on my cap I grinned and flipped it over to show the back of the Naked Soul patch I had sewn over. Hurt, Mike said “well, congratulations on your promotion – I’m sure you deserve it” and walked away. At the time I was smug and laughed to myself at his sensitivity. I felt like I had gotten the last word. If I had realized at the time that that would be our final conversation I wouldn’t have let it end that way.

    Over the next few years I followed his life through the bits I heard from friends and acquaintances. Once in a while I’d stick my head in the bar but never saw him and I failed to do more than once leave a note in his mailbox. When I heard he died I asked myself: what prevented me from following through? Why did I let our friendship dissolve and stay that way for years? I often do stupid things I regret and have to backtrack to figure out where my head was at the time. At first I thought it was because I saw us one day simply picking up the pieces where we left off. That made sense but now a few days later I think it’s because in some ways we were fundamentally different. Mike dove into life and new experiences head first, while I was happy enough to stand at the edge of adventure and get my feet wet. That’s a vague statement that doesn’t really mean anything but it’s all I can come up with right now and will have to do.

    Mike, I have so much more that I want to say to you; new bands, books, art and films that I want to tell you about. And I want to hear what you think of them. Which ones do you think are great and which ones are bullshit? I can’t compare the demons that have haunted my life to the ones that followed you but I hope you got to make peace with them and I hope to see you in whatever life follows this one. Since you got there first maybe you can show me the ropes.

  6. Todd Says:

    Alec,

    Your blog and the things you said about Mike are great. I was a big Mike Conley fan, mostly the last MIA album and all the Naked Soul stuff. I remember you in the second form of the band.

    I’ve got an extra copy of the Seed tape. Send me your address and I’ll mail it to you. It belongs with you more than collecting dust in my garage.

    Cheers,

    Todd


  7. Thanks Todd. I sent you an email…

  8. me Says:

    alec and kurt are such great writers. i hope when i die that you guys are around to write my obituary.

    me

  9. Nick Sjobeck Says:

    Hey Alec,
    Great job on the site. Mike was one of a kind and he’ll be missed……..

  10. Ned Raggett Says:

    Only noticed this post now, slack of me — but an excellent one indeed. Thanks for a good view of someone from a different perspective than mine, but with the same realization that here was a great guy, human and imperfect maybe but no less of a cool person for that. Much appreciated.


  11. Nick – Thanks. He will be missed, quite a bit…

    That’s funny, Ned, I just saw your blog post about Mike too. This is worth reading:

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=51265397&blogID=362812396

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