Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Outsider artist gets a place in the sun: "Mingering MIke" LP covers (plus Nonesuch at 50)

More than 100 works celebrating “Mingering Mike” and other avatars of his mystery man creator have been newly acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and are being prepared for an exhibition in 2015. Can boogying down at the White House be far behind? Here's how the MM phenomenon is described by his hometown paper, The Washington Post:
As a poor kid growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, Mingering Mike dreamed of becoming a recording artist. In pursuit of that dream, he drew. In his late teens and 20s, he made album covers out of painted cardboard and discs with hand-drawn grooves that illustrated the story of a young man’s fantasy. He drew characters and sidekicks — “The Outsiders” and “Big D” — who sang with him on his “Capitol Records” and “Fake Records Inc.” labels….. His works illustrate much about African American culture in Washington at the height of the civil rights movement. Those nuances were woven into the fantasy, and for that, he has a real fan club, which includes international record collectors, musicians such as David Byrne and the Smithsonian Institution… In 2003, [Dori] Hadar, 38, a record collector and criminal investigator in Washington was scouring a flea market at RFK Stadium when he came across a collection of vibrant albums. Upon closer inspection, he realized all the albums were fakes made of cardboard. There were double albums, benefit albums, soundtracks to Kung Fu movies starring the superstar. The albums referenced each other, indicating a world of connections. Intrigued, Hadar bought the illustrated records for $2 apiece and went searching for the artist. Hadar tracked Mike down; he was living in the same neighborhood he grew up in. Mike had missed a payment on a storage space he was renting and the albums disappeared. Mike and Hadar became friends, and their story became myth.
Leery of being "outed," Mingering Mike's creator prefers to remain anonymous, but there's a pot of gold at the end of his fantasy's rainbow. Donors bought the collection for the Smithsonian, and he and Hadar are splitting the profits from that and other commercial offshoots. As Mingering Mike might put it, "Power to the people!"
As long as we're talking vinyl, let's pause a moment to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Nonesuch Records. As John Zech wrote in Composer's Datebook, "Nonesuch was a wildly eclectic label in the days of vinyl LPs. Where else could you hear Metropolitan opera soprano Martino Arroyo singing Karlheinz Stockhausen or Baroque music scholar Joshua Rifkin playing Scott Joplin? By the age of compact discs, with Bob Hurwitz in charge, Nonesuch was home base for performers like Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet and composers like John Adams and Philip Glass." I had a slew of Nonesuch LPs back in the day, including the Joplin and lots of baroque music (the covers were wonderful) As Zech implies, Nonesuch is still eclectic and still going strong. Witness our current offerings of CDs by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell (below), Nickel Creek, Joshua Redman, and others … check them out!
Love "outsider" art? Have a look at Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940–1980. More American folk/outsider art can be found, curiously enough, in this book from a British museum's collection.

1 comment:

  1. I actually picked up a copies of Mingering Mike a few years ago. Love the detail in his sketches.

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