Dori Hadar’s Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar by Steven Villereal

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 99 Spring 2007
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Mingering Mike, Can Minger Mike Stevens Really Sing, 1969. All images courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Mingering Mike is a fantastical recording artist whose “author” crafted dozens of albums in the 1960s and ’70s. What makes these albums unique is their almost total lack of music. Many of the hand-illustrated album jackets—painstakingly adorned with track titles, lyrics, and liner notes—contain “records,” but they’re made of cardboard, with drawn-on grooves. Until Mike’s albums were unearthed at a Washington, DC, flea market in 2004—then marveled at on the Internet and hailed as “outsider art”—only a handful of people had ever seen them.

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Mingering Mike, Soundtrack from “You Know Only What They Tell You,” 1973.

Don Hadar, a vinyl collector, happened across the albums after the contents of Mike’s creator’s storage rental were unwittingly sold off because of delinquent rent. A criminal investigator by trade, Hadar managed to track down the man behind the fictional superstar (who still lives in DC and prefers not to reveal his real name). The album covers, songs, and records were the elaborate by-products of a soul-obsessed young man’s imaginings of stardom. Mike’s creator didn’t have musical training or the means to make slick studio recordings (the loose tracks he did cut are home-recorded epics that feature DIY percussion and vocalized instrument sounds), but he did cover all his other bases, concocting custom record imprints, fictional fan clubs, and even shrink-wrapping his homemade records and applying price tags. Dreaming of hitting it big, Mike’s creator prepared all the graphic trappings so that “if it all came together one day, I’d be ready.” Ultimately, the man comes across as sweet, creative, and goofy—he’s no scary, Darger-like shut-in.

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Mingering Mike, Soundtrack from “You Know Only What They Tell You,” 1973.

Hadar’s 192-page, full-color volume presents the story of the albums’ discovery, a brief essay proposing where the work fits within contemporary black folk art, as well as some insightful backstory on Mike’s creator, relating the personal trauma he faced when he was drafted for Vietnam and went AWOL. Mingering Mike’s fictional star followed a Marvin Gaye-like trajectory from pop crooning to politically empowered cultural commentary, as his creator channeled his disillusionment and growing antiwar sentiment into increasingly radicalized and politically conscious releases by Mingering Mike (such as The Drug Store) or his fictitious colleagues (such as Joseph War’s Ghetto Prince). The book does an excellent job of highlighting what it is about Mingering Mike that elicits both pathos and wonderment: the fact that his creator’s funny and bizarre hobby-fantasy is as vivid and affective a document of black cultural experience as the soul music he obsessed over.

Mingering Mike was released in January by Princeton Architectural Press.

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Mingering Mike, original soundtrack to “Hot Rodd (Takes Revenge),” 1973.

Fonotone Records: Frederick, Maryland by Mike McGonigal
Fonotone Records 1 Body
Walks to the Paradise Garden by J.W. McCormack
Walks Through Paradise Garden

In a 1988 interview for the LA Times, self-taught artist Reverend Howard Finster explained his creative predicament …

Doug Hream Blunt by Gary Canino
Blunt Bomb 3

“When it came to music, I always saw myself playing a punching bag. That’s just what I do on the guitar.”

Carolyn Lazard by Catherine Damman
Six brown smiley faces evenly spaced along a free-standing white wall.

Lazard’s spare, conceptual works examine the political dimensions of illness and disability and the pleasures of being with and caring for one another.

Originally published in

BOMB 99, Spring 2007

Featuring interviews with Bill Jensen, Robert Polidori, Cristina Garcia, Lore Segal, Mary Jordan, Reinhold Friedl, John Turturro, Sarah Ruhl. 

Read the issue
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