Hola from NOLA (heavy story warning)
I'm writing today from New Orleans. A place I called home for a few years in the mid nineties. I moved here on a whim from the DC area. Well not entirely. My cousin owned and operated a vintage guitar shop uptown on Oak street. Besides my father, my cousin was the biggest influence on me becoming a guitar player and pursuing music full time.
A couple of months ago, smack in the middle of SXSW mayhem I got some phone calls from several of Mike's old pals. Joe Tullis and Pat Sansone, James Hall, Pete Winkler, Michael Paz. It seems Mike had gotten into a little trouble. Mike's close friends knew that he had inherited the the Huntington's disease gene from his father, Steve who passed in the early 90's. We all had our eye on Mike but some people moved out of town and started families and it was hard to tell from a long distance phone call how Mike was holding up over the years. It was clear to me this time that the disease had absolutely arrived and was advancing to the point where he could no longer take care of himself. Last I saw him was in NYC about six years ago.
NOPD had arrested him and not being fully aware of his condition he was was stuck in New Orleans jail for two weeks with the general population until Joe Tullis, Michael Paz, music cares, and Nathalie Brignac came together with a plan and got him out.
He has remained in the care of Nathalie all month long. She was a big fan of his band Motorway. Nathalie is a true saint. Her friend Charlie Brown stays with Mike every day to make sure he is safe and he is doing very well and in great spirits.
When I arrived Mike and I went to Oak Street and got a coffee in the coffee shop, the sight of his long time vintage guitar shop. We walked the block and I was flooded with memories. It hit me that I had moved here because every time I spoke with Mike there was some hero of mine in his shop buying a guitar. Keith Richards, "Clarence Gatemouth" Brown, Jeff Tweedy. I could hear the music in the background and I swear i could smell it through the phone. Mike was often recording and renting gear to famed Kingsway Studio and I wanted to be in the music too. I have always wanted to be in the music. I wanted in. Mike let me in.
I met James Hall in Mike's shop during that time. We were sitting on the couches and listening to WWOZ. He performed "illingness" solo, promoting a new album and later we went to his sold out show at Tipitina's. James and Mike have remained friends for well over two decades now. Often performing together. He is very committed to Mike. James and I met up during SXSW at the Kessler Theater day party. We talked a lat that day. We also played together that night for the first time in a beautiful environment with the great Eric Mcfadden. A few weeks later James and I randomly met up in Birmingham, Al and played couple of more times and now again this week in NOLA. Nathalie and I took Mike to the Circle bar for James' show and it was electric. Mike felt great. On Saturday we hosted a grill out backyard party at Nathalie's and picked guitars in the yard. Michael Paz came by. Michael is in music production here in NOLA (also a picker) and is helping us find a temporary home for Mike and heaping to plan a fundraising concert to help with some of Mike's expenses. But most of all we celebrated music and food and company of old friends, the disease was not the focal point. The hang was not sad. The music was at the center once again... where it belongs.
I am thankful for all of the support. This disease is uncomfortable to watch and be around. It dismantled both my father, my uncle, my grand father, and my cousin Jeff. Dementia is coming full speed ahead and the physical body is beginning to fail him now too. I have seen this before. I know what's coming and it scares me.
Though Mike has some trouble playing these days he still enjoys the guitar and music more than ever. He is sweet and humbled by the challenges. He is well aware of what is happening to him. The gig and the back yard was a big joy. The positive stimuli lifted him, the music and company filled him. It's the little things.
Life is short. I try and find the joy in the little moments. Help when I can Stay true to my passion and live in it.