Born in San Diego in 1950, Michael Page was playing bass in local bands when a friend from New York City told him about Greenwich Village and the Bowery. The New York Dolls played at Max’s Kansas City, the Ramones at CBGB. Rock and roll was changing, and New York was the heart of the change. Page moved cross-country, met Sylvain Sylvain, and hung out with the Dolls until the band broke up. Sylvain and Page played in a group called the Criminals; then Page auditioned with Chubby Checker.
When Page got the gig, it was a dream come true.He toured the world, shook James Brown’s hand, and played the Chicago Fest with Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. But the endless travel took its toll and Page finally said no más. Ready for a rest, he heard that Iggy Pop was auditioning bass players, and when Page walked into the audition, he was told, “You’ve got the gig.” Four days later he was on tour: playing soccer stadiums in Europe, hanging out with groupies, drinking grappa with Iggy Pop and David Bowie in a Berlin nightclub. The next year, he played bass on Iggy Pop’s Party album. Michael Page was a part of rock and roll history. His story continues below.
When Iggy and I were in San Diego for our short vacation, something happened that I still hear about. In fact, I heard about it the other day.
What happened was that Iggy and I went down to Windansea. We were bodysurfing, enjoying the sun, and drinking a bit. A homecoming was happening at La Jolla High School,and my little buddy Markey McCoy showed up.
Markey I knew from San Diego. One time I visited San Diego, and when I returned to New York, I brought Markey with me. We drove his car from San Dad’s Got History Diego to New Orleans, and then on to New York City.
Markey started getting a little career going in rock and roll.But he eventually ended up back in San Diego, and he was playing in a band at this homecoming. When he saw us down at the beach, he asked if Iggy would like to come and play a song with his band, and Iggy said yes. So we walked up from Windansea. By then, we’d been drinking a little bit and had been in the sun all day.
We made it to the football field, where the big event was, and it was all La Jolla alumni with their family and friends. Everyone was out on the football field having a big picnic. It was a family-oriented thing, and there were a lot of people there. Markey’s band was playing, and I think at that time he was into a Christian band, or whatever. So we sat and watched the band play.
Then Markey announced that he had a special guest that was going to play a song. I don’t think that he announced that it was Iggy Pop. And that was a cool thing to do, because we didn’t want that to happen. We just wanted to make it a casual jam.
Now, the only song Iggy knows to play with guys he hasn’t played with before is “Louie Louie.” So Iggy went up onstage in front of all these families, the kids and the whole thing, and sang this quadruple, double X-rated version of "Louie Louie," using unadulterated pornographic lyrics in front of all these families. And it was his way of saying, “Sure, I’ll come and jam with you, but you’ve got to take what you’re going to get.”
I remember being in the audience and watching it happen. I looked at the reaction of the people, and it was, like, oh,my God! Iggy was doing every vulgar swearword that you could do. He just made up his own swearwords to “Louie Louie.” And he did it as a mockery, because the original lyrics to “Louie Louie” are not filthy like everybody thought. When we were kids and “Louie Louie” came out, everybody invented their own words for the song that had nothing to do with the song. “Louie Louie” was about a banana plantation and was a Jamaican song.
But the song was immortalized, even though nobody knew the words.
So Iggy used “Louie Louie” as his banner, his example of what rock and roll was all about. The words to “Louie Louie”were never bad, but people somehow had made them bad. And guess what? If you’re under the assumption that the words are bad, I’ll show you what bad is all about, and I’ll give you my version!!
Well, his version was absolutely disgusting. With all the families that were there, it was the biggest insult that you could do. Half the people were, like, “Oh, my God,” and they’re putting their hands over their kids’ ears. The other half were just dying of laughter. They couldn’t believe it.Well, they pulled the plug on him halfway through and told him to get out, and Iggy was banned from La Jolla forever.
But I still hear about it to this day. I heard about it last week, and I heard about it yesterday when I went to Guitar Center to pick up an amp simulator. A guy at Guitar Center asked me my name so that I could get a discount, or whatever. When I told him I’m Mike Page, he said, “Oh, you’re that guy. You’re that guy who played with Iggy. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. I graduated from La Jolla High, and I was there at the football field when Iggy Pop sang ‘Louie Louie.’”
And he said, “That was the wildest thing that ever happened to me. I couldn’t believe it. My parents were there, and they died and freaked out,and me and my friends all freaked out. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen happen.” So here you go again. Half the people think Iggy’s the coolest thing they ever saw, and the other half were ready to have him arrested and sent to jail.
Markey McCoy had a really interesting thing happen. He pursued his musical thing and got hooked up with my friend Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, the same Steve Jones who ended up doing a bunch of things with Iggy Pop. Then Mark signed a deal with MCA Records with another buddy of mine, Tommie, but MCA shelved them. So he moved to Los Angeles, and I went and visited him at that point.
Mark had just married Doreen, who was a close friend of mine from way back when we were kids. His album got shelved, but Mark stayed in L.A. and did really good with rock and roll. He got hooked up with Belinda Carlisle, the singer from the Go-Go’s, and he toured with them for a while and then did a couple of other things.
But then Mark got into recovery and became a minister. And he was a legendary guy in La Jolla as the surfing rock and roll minister. He’d come out with a gown on and start his gospel thing, but he had a Stratocaster strapped on his back. And after he did his little thing for a while, he’d work up into a tempo just like gospel music, and then his band would kick in and they’re praising Jesus. He had a lot of good vibes with that, and he had an antidrug message.
I’ve got a clipping next to my bed that talks about Markey passing away, and I look at it every single day. He went to South Africa with his wife and newborn baby. They were finally successful at having a baby after several miscarriages, and he got a little miracle child named Connor. When Markey went to work as a missionary in South Africa, I couldn’t wait for him to get back so we could talk about mamba snakes and so on, because he spent time in a place that I’d spent a lot of time in.
But before he came back, I’d heard out of nowhere that he’d gotten ill and had been diagnosed with cancer. So he came back. I loved him to death, and it was kind of hard. But when I saw him, I saw a look in his eyes that said his time was up. But he was really centered and focused. He was a minister, see, so he understood all this stuff, the way that things work and all.
Mark McCoy was right at the pinnacle of everything that was happening. He was doing successful Christian music, and he was one of those guys that just spread the good word. I think about him every day.
One of my favorite memories of Markey was when I took him to New York and introduced him to Sylvain. Sylvain told Mark that he had to dress differently now that he was in New York. So he put him in a sharkskin suit. He put grease in his hair to get his hair to stand up. He put motorcycle boots on top of the suit and taught Mark how to stand in front of a mirror just so. He’s got a little scarf thing in his pocket. Now we could go out.
So we went out and all of the girls said later, “Wow, you’ve got to bring back more boys like this from San Diego.” He’s a little surf guy with the white hair and all, and the girls just loved him. Mark McCoy was 39 when he died, and a part of me went with him.
Whenever the Iggy tour came to San Diego, it was a nightmare. I always looked forward to playing here, because then I could see my friends and they could see me play these shows. But then the hounding would begin. First of all, we’d show up tired because we’d played someplace a day or so before. And as soon as we got here, I’d have a list of 50 different calls. All well-wishers. I’d really want to spend time with everybody, but it ain’t going to happen.
I’d finally get a little sleep and the phone would ring and it would be a guy saying, “My name is So-and-So, and I sat next to you in social studies at Kearny. And I’m not into what it is you’re doing, but my sister and her three friends want to see you play. If you could get eight tickets for that show, that would be great.” And it didn’t mean shit to me. But that would happen, and I would never get any sleep.
One time we were scheduled at the California Theater, and they sold out. They were having problems with the fire department or whatever, and we ended up playing the Bacchanal for three days, instead of one show at the California Theater. And there were way too many people jammed into that place. I had a big argument with my dad about then. My dad, of course, wanted to come and see me play, but he was pushed all the way to the back and had to stand on a chair. And when the show was over, he hadn’t gotten carte blanche.
And it’s, like, “Dad, you know, you’re my dad and everything, and I love you, but look what’s going on here. It’s just chaos. There’s a hundred wellwishers, all trying to say hello at the same time, and we have this little tiny dressing room.”Whatever. My dad got mad at me for that and said, “Well, I’m your father. You should spend more time with me.”And it was, like, “Dad, cut me some slack.”
Another time we stayed at the Catamaran, and we did about three or four shows here in San Diego. The first one was probably the most fun. It was at the Roxy movie theater out in P.B., on Cass Street.My friends tried to talk to the owners of the theater, because they’d put Iggy Pop on the marquee and my friends wanted the marquee to also say, “San Diego welcomes homeboy Mike Page.” They wanted to do that without asking Iggy if it was okay. And it was just a problem. That theater was fun to play at because he’s Iggy Pop, and he puts on the wildest show I’ve ever seen. You get every nickel’s worth of entertainment packed into that deal, and it’s the real deal you’re seeing.
Well, I saw my friends in front, and they’re all smiling, with the peace signs, saying, “Yeah, Mikey.” And then I’d watch them just get torn into the crowd and pushed back and a new group of faces would appear. It was so much fun. Every place we played was sold out to Iggy’s fans, and they were just all different types of people.
I remember we played at the Adams Avenue Theater once, and it was an interesting venue. There were a little too many people at that one too. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols came down, and Clem from Blondie.And a couple of other interesting people. Tim Mays and Bob, the Paladins. Everyone!
It’s really hard to say what Iggy’s best venue was, because you know what? He blew them away wherever he’d play. Most people found that he lived up to his reputation, and I never saw him do a lackluster show. I’ve never seen anybody do what Iggy does in one show, with total abandonment. Just throwing his body around the way he does. Obviously, a lot of his energy was fueled by drugs and alcohol.And that took a toll. It took a toll on one of the tours we did.
Our least supportive venue was opening for the Rolling Stones at Pontiac, Michigan. That is something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. We had Clem from Blondie on drums and Carlos Alomar — two of the hottest musicians on the planet. We were playing the Pontiac Silverdome, which is where they played the Super Bowl that year. There were more people at that show than there were at the Super Bowl because they got to use the actual playing field for the audience.
It was just insanity, and I’d never seen anything like it. First of all, it was an indoor stadium. And when we came out to play, all we saw were lighters, so we had no idea of depth perception or how far back we were looking. I’d never been in an enclosed thing where it was that hot. And it was snowing. The kids had slept in the snow to see the Rolling Stones. You know, those were the last days when you bought a ticket to get in. They’d open the doors, and the first people that were in the front got in. And people died from that.
The whole Rolling Stones thing was nuts, and it wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. First of all, the Stones were a band that I’d looked up to all my life. They came to our shows in New York, and that’s how we got the gig playing with them. I think it was the Tattoo You tour or something. They came because Iggy Pop was the real deal. There’s a couple of real deals. Mick Jagger is a real deal. Keith Richards is a real deal. There are only a few talents like that. And I shared their acknowledgment of what Iggy does with a lot of other guys, people, artists. I saw William Burroughs come and hang on Iggy’s every word. I’ve seen world heavies come and hang.They’re interested in what Iggy’s got to say. I don’t know if Iggy’s a visionary. It’s hard to put your finger on it. But he has the art of communicating with people. And at the same time, he does not bait a hook.
The Pontiac stadium show was the best show that we were ever going to do, because we’re playing with the Stones. Kids slept in the snow to see that show, and by the time they came in after sleeping all night in the snow, they wanted to see the Rolling Stones, goddamn it. We opened, Santana opened after us, and then the Stones, and it was too much of a wait. It was too much pressure for these kids to wait to see the Stones.
Each of us had our own private limousine. Wrong. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be around my guys, and I was scared. This is the biggest thing we’d ever done. Give me a band to talk to so I won’t be so scared. But they sent us people with their own limousines, and right off the bat, it didn’t start out right. Well,we got to the venue, but then we didn’t have any sound check. We were the sound check.And that was the first time I’d played a venue of that size, except for playing with Chubby at the Chicago Fest. But with Chubby, it was a big sea of friendly, smiling faces, all doing the twist, with crowds of people as far as you can see, waving their hands in the air and smiling.
But here, the natives weren’t friendly. They were there to see the Stones. Iggy came out in a miniskirt, garters, a military helmet, and a leather jacket. He’d just hit the stage, and I figured it was close enough to Detroit that we’d be okay, because Iggy was from Michigan. That particular tour, a couple of people didn’t do well. Prince did really badly and got booed and bottled. And we got booed and bottled. Those kids weren’t there for Prince. They went for Huey Lewis and the News, and J. Geils did really well too. Bands like that that were not threatening.
Now, Keith Richards is a hard-core Iggy fan. Keith asked Iggy to be on his New Barbarians tour. He had Stanley Clarke on bass, and he asked Iggy to sing on that. Keith dug Iggy as much as he dug Mick Jagger, or more, because Iggy didn’t have all the pretension and stuff. Keith and Iggy are inseparable. When they get together, it’s for days. So we were opening for the Stones and getting into our first song. I look at Carlos,and we start making our way down to the front crowds to see what’s happening, playing “Lust for Life.” And then the bottles started coming. Carlos wasn’t used to it. He’d played with James Brown and John Lennon, and he was on Mick Jagger’s solo album. Carlos was one of the musicians that was way up there in the world, but he wasn’t used to the bottles and stuff.
And they kept coming, and they were flying. I looked over at Clem, and a bottle had just smashed on Clem’s drums and split into little miniature grenades. The glass was just like shrapnel. I saw that Clem had all these little cuts, and then, pow, it happened. I got hit right between the eyes with a Jack Daniel’s bottle.KO’d. All I can remember was blood, a lot of blood. But I’d been playing with Iggy for a long time by then, and I was just used to that kind of stuff.
I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came to, I don’t think anybody else knew except Carlos. And he couldn’t stop playing. He saw me go out, and when I came to, there was just blood everywhere, and that’s all that I can remember. And I just picked up where we left off and started playing again, because what am I going to do? Call timeout, or say, hey, is this some kind of a joke, people? You hit me, and that could be dangerous. There was nothing I could say and nothing I could do. And Iggy was oblivious.He was out there doing his Iggy Pop thing.
And Iggy gets oblivious. I’ve seen him fall off huge things where normal people would have their legs broken. So I got up to play again, and kaboom. Within the next five minutes, another bottle was thrown, and it knocked my front teeth out. Somehow I got finished doing the show,and we went right from the stage to the infirmary. They had doctors there that were treating the crowds for heat exhaustion. Whatever. But it was not what I thought it was going to be, like, playing with the Rolling Stones.
It was a big drag. And we had to do it again the next night. I went up there with a bandaged-up nose, no teeth, and makeup. This was toward the end of my time touring with Iggy.
One of our last tours was called the Breaking Point tour. And we thought somebody was going to die on that tour, because the drug and alcohol use had gone to record proportions, and it was just out of control. But basically, who’s going to tell you no when you’re the one calling the shots?
Well, about this time, I started thinking about retiring. It was just, like, you know, I’d done pretty much everything that I could do in the rock and roll thing. And right now, I’m tired. How much more can you do, really? How much more coke can you do? How much more can you drink? How many more girls can you meet, or whatever was happening? And I started getting a time clock that was ticking.
See, right towards the end I met a girl in San Diego. Now, I’ve met girls from all over, but this one I got serious about. She was a homegirl, and she knew what was going on with me, being a rock and roll guy from San Diego. Circumstances led to our meeting, and we hit it off right away. And it just so happened that I had a little bit of time off, a matter of days or whatever, and we developed a relationship. Then when I came back again and had a little bit more time off, our relationship got heavy. And I asked Charlene to marry me.
Actually, I asked her if she’d like to come to Paris, because I was going on another Iggy tour. And I got my great-grandmother’s platinum wedding ring, and whatever. And she’s, like,“Yeah, go figure. Yes, of course,dummy. I’ll marry you.” So she came to Europe with us. And I’m still honorable with Iggy, and I’m not going to drag her around with me. He’d hired me as a musician and didn’t want me to bring an entourage with me. We found it difficult to get married in Paris, but I cemented my relationship with her. And my buddy, Frankie Infante from Blondie — one of the most talented musicians I’d ever met — we bonded on that tour.Charlene and Frankie and I went to the Louvre in Paris, and we did all the stuff that tourists did. Paris, London, like it would never end.
And I warned Charlene about Iggy, that he didn’t really think anything about running around naked, so just get used to it. Whatever crazy, wild thing that could happen probably would happen. So just kind of stand behind me, take it all in, and relax. The next thing you know, there was a tap on the window, and it was Iggy. We were up eight floors from a boulevard in Paris, and somehow, he’d gotten outside. He was naked and banging on my window, saying,“Mikey, do you have toothpaste? We’re out of toothpaste.” So there he was. And I said, “Well, honey…Char…this is Iggy…Jim. And Jim, this is Char.”
Frankie and I ended up doing a couple of tours. We did the Australia and Japan tour and went to Hawaii for two weeks to rehearse for it. Charlene flew to Hawaii to be with me, so we rented cars and spent the day tooling around the island. And it was like it couldn’t have been better. Frankie became like a family member to me. So we do Japan. And I introduced Iggy to this girl, Suchi, who we’d met in Tokyo, and he brought her to Australia with him. I’d gotten married by then, and after I got married, things were a little bit different with me and Iggy. That’s just what happens when guys get married. We used to clown around about it, and Iggy used to ask me, “Mikey, do you think maybe one of these days I’ll be like you, be a lucky guy, meet the right girl, and settle down?” We’d think about it for a little bit, and then say, “Nah. It ain’t going to happen.” And we’d laugh about it. But he’d finally met the girl. He’d finally met Suchi and brought her back.And on the way back from Japan, I believe it was, we had a talk, and he was half drunk and stuff. But he said, “You know, she’s concerned. She thinks I drink too much. Do you think I drink too much?” And I went, “Of course not. You taught me everything I know about drinking.”
Then he told me that he was going to take a break. He was thinking about getting into acting, and he wanted to try his hand at a couple of other things. And he said, “You know, it’s kind of hard for me to tell you this, and I don’t know how to say it, but I kind of don’t want to be your main boss anymore, for now.” And it’s, like, cool. At that time, I was burned out. I was ready to call it quits while I was still alive.
So we came back, and I think Frankie came with me. Iggy started doing a couple of movies and stuff, and I kind of got out of touch with him. He was living in Los Angeles for a while, and everything was new to him. He got married, and I didn’t know about it, and we hadn’t set any next tour kind of thing. I had just figured I would be with him for good, you know. But I wanted to do some stuff. I had money. We’d just finished a couple of successful albums, and I’d done my share of world touring. Now it was time to settle down for a change.
Charlene and I ended up staying with my dad in Mendocino County for a little while, because my dad had secured a ranch up there. But we got married here in San Diego. We rented the Catamaran and the Bahia Belle and spent the day tooling around there. All of my friends from New York City showed up, and it just blew my mind. Markey and Andy and Vinnie and Rocca. It was just all the guys. And half of them brought their mothers. We had a wonderful, wonderful wedding and ended up planning to have a family.
We had my daughter, Nina, up in the mountains of Mendocino. She was born in Willits, a little logging town, and it was just the perfect environment. Somehow my dad had secured this 16-bedroom racehorse ranch up there, with a full racetrack and stables for 30 horses. He’d gotten the job of caretaking this place. But it was a white elephant. He was on salary and sitting with European antiques in the middle of nowhere. Our nearest neighbor was 20 miles away.We had horses to ride, a stocked fishing pond, bear, pig, deer, and a 5000-acre ranch. And it was, like, well, here we are. This is it. And we had a baby on that ranch, the best thing that’s happened to me in my life.
Who did I think of as a star? I have a problem with that word. Sting.That friggin’ creep! I don’t know, you know. I guess I know a lot of them, but I don’t see them that way. And I think about that sometimes. It’s interesting. A star is someone who’s at least had some media attention.
As a kid growing up in San Diego, I bought magazines like Rock Scene, and I’d read about these people. I’m here in San Diego, and all this rock stuff is going on in New York. The guys in the magazines became rock stars to me. Then I went to New York, and the next thing you knew, I was there with them. And they didn’t consider themselves rock stars. But to some kid in Oklahoma with nothing else to do, looking through the magazines and seeing them on TV and stuff, they were stars — to them, anyway. I wouldn’t know. They were the results of the media thing, and most of them were pretty fucked up in the head.
But they all had something, and they were unique. They definitely had something going, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. I’m not like a motion picture mogul who could look at someone and say, “That guy has star quality.” There’s a lot of people that I think have star quality that don’t end up doing much, and those are the people that I usually gravitate toward. I’m into the bohemian, unheard-of stuff. It doesn’t happen very often, because usually, if they’re good at what they do, you’re going to hear about them. It’s like military intelligence. It doesn’t happen that often.
There are some obvious stars, and those are the people I usually had problems with — the ones that think that they are stars. Because everyone poops and does all that kind of stuff. And for somebody that gets all these perks to do that… But I’ve seen it. I know a lot of them. And I’m not friendly with them.
I was notified that I’d gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by a kid in France who I didn’t know who e-mailed me about three years ago.Yep, I’d won the “Legends of Bass”award with about 50 other guys. It was mainly guys like Paul McCartney and Stanley Clarke, so I definitely thought that it was some kind of misprint. There are real guys on that list, like Jaco Pastorius, Les Claypool. There were all the given guys that are in the big bands and stuff. Then there are a couple on the list who skated in on the skin of their teeth. There’s the girl from Smashing Pumpkins — and I don’t even know what her name is — who got in. But there’s some real big names, too — Entwistle from the Who, and so on.
Seeing my name on the list, I thought they’d definitely made a mistake somehow. But they’d done it through a census thing. Now, being a bass player, I was always behind the scenes of what was happening. When I played with Chubby Checker, people would ask me for autographs, and I always had a problem with it. Instead, I spent time explaining to people that I would get them Chubby’s autograph, if that’s what they really wanted.
But Chubby had a talk with me about this, and he said,“You know, I’d prefer that you didn’t do that. This is how it is. We’re playing at the Nashville State Fair, or whatever, and we’re doing it with Chuck Berry and Little Richard. And these kids come from a long distance away. They’ve got you built up in their minds as some kind of whatever it is.
“They don’t even know you, but you’re somebody else, and they go to great lengths to come to see you.” Chubby’s explanation was, you know, that you never knew when you might go solo. And if you think that those kids that you signed an autograph for aren’t going to buy your records, then you’re way off. But to me, it was like, well, that’s your way of projecting record sales. I don’t think like that. I’m a bass guy from San Diego, and this stuff makes me really uncomfortable. I got to work with some really, really heavy guys, and I don’t consider myself a heavy guy at all. Maybe a little heavy around the belly these days, but that’s about it.
I didn’t realize how far I’d come from San Diego when I got that nomination because I was here in San Diego when it happened. I got the feeling that it probably didn’t mean anything to anybody in San Diego, though. Somehow San Diego is like that. We’ve got some pretty cool groups that come out of here. Eric Clapton’s bass player lives in San Diego, but you never hear about that guy. The band P.O.D. is way up there, but you never hear San Diegans say, “Wow, P.O.D.’s from San Diego.” San Diegans don’t do that. It doesn’t really matter to San Diego that someone from Michael Jackson’s band lives in Coronado. That’s just how it is here in Avocadoland, and it suits me just fine.
But I retired from music, basically, when I went to Mendocino. It was a choice that Iggy and I talked about, and it was a natural chain of events that happened. It was time for me to be a dad. And that is probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done. I’m proud as hell of my daughter. She’s a teenager now, and she’s a knockout.
What advice would I give to musicians today? Number one, keep your day job. That’s what I always tell them.You know what, I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t really have any advice to give. Jeez, if I had listened to the advice that was given me, I never would have gone to New York. Except for the advice that came from Mrs. Fleet.
Don’t ever lose your sense of humor. That’s a big one. You know, the odds are stacked incredibly against you. I mean, it’s a really competitive industry, and basically, you probably aren’t going to make it. The odds of an individual turning into Iggy Two are nearly impossible. Not too many people go out there with a preconceived idea that they’re going to be really successful in rock and roll, except for Madonna or Britney or Pink. I’ll take the Dragons at the Casbah any day over that shit.
I don’t really have a clue about the state of rock and roll these days. But I heard David Bowie talking about it one time. I introduced my daughter and Charlene to David when he was playing here with a band, and I overheard David talking to an interviewer. David was telling him that he’d just had a confrontation with his son and yelled at him, saying, “You call that music? Turn that damn thing down.” He was doing the same thing that his parents had done.
I’m getting older, and I do that with my daughter. One time, she had some rap music on her answering machine, and it was, like, “Honey, come on. You’re my baby. Dad’s got history. You can’t do this to me. You can’t play rap music.” I’m basically clueless about all the forms of music and the new stuff that’s happening today — hip-hop, rap, and so on. But it’s here to stay. These are legitimate musical forms. All I can say is, I just don’t understand them. Which cracks me up, because I’m about as open-minded as you can possibly get. And it’s, like, those darn kids.
Obviously, I don’t think anybody’s into the prepackaged Britney stuff that we’re supposed to accept as legitimate music these days. But probably one of the cool things that’s happening now is that any kid with a computer can get out there, do their band, and then make their own CDs. It’s a far cry from when I was younger and we were doing it.We tried to start our own independent record label in New York, Sing Sing Records, when I was with the Criminals. And I had to learn the process of how records were stamped, how you made sleeves, and how you put the whole thing together. Vinyl. I have a record player here, but I don’t play my records very often.
I don’t even have half the records that I’m on, and I definitely would never listen to any of them if I did. There’s no point in listening to the stuff that you are already on. But everything has changed so radically. I don’t think it really matters what advice I’d give, because this was all a shot-in-the-dark, lucky thing for me. For me, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and having the guts to pick up and leave a comfortable situation, of having the courage to move to lands unknown, with absolutely no guarantee that anything was going to happen.With just a couple hundred bucks. It’s, like, go figure!
I still keep in touch with some of the guys that I’ve worked with. My buddy, Frank Infante — the Blondie guy who did some tours with me — he ended up working doing some other stuff. But Frankie has tagged along with me for over 20 years, and I don’t see any end in sight.
And my friend Carlos Alomar. When he hooked up with us, he was David Bowie’s musical director. Carlos wrote “Fame”with John Lennon and David Bowie. I’d hear people talk about how the song “Fame” was a James Brown rip-off, and I have to chuckle about that, because Carlos, when he was 14 years old, played with James Brown.He was the youngest guy ever to play the Apollo Theater, besides Stevie Wonder. Carlos is my soul mate, and he’s stayed with his wife Robin for 30 years. Carlos has been with me for a good 20 years, and we’ve watched our children grow up together. And he remains one of my heavy, heavy soul mates.
I’ve seen Carlos’s résumé and the groups that he’s played with. I was on the phone one time with Carlos back in New York, just touching base to see what was happening. He had to put me on hold because he had call waiting, and it was Mick Jagger calling, asking Carlos to do his solo album. You look at Carlos’s roster, and it’s just mind-boggling how many people he’s played with. It’s easier to make a list of the people that he hasn’t played with than the people that he has. He’s one of the most respected people in the whole industry.
I had a very scary situation with Carlos on September 11. My partner Joe and I were going to have lunch with Carlos that day in Los Angeles. Carlos became tired of touring, and he’d picked up a position with Sony Records.
I wanted to get a record deal with them for a band I’d formed with Joe, Eddie, and Diana called A-Bing A-Bang A-Boom. I’d sent him a concept of what we were doing, and it kind of went back to the Dolls thing a little bit. We had big pompadour wigs and makeup and stuff. And with all my musical experience, we had some pretty hard-core music, and it was a theater-production trip. We were negotiating with Carlos when he was working for Sony. But then he got a gig working with Disney and worked there for a short time. Then he got the job he’d always wanted, being cochairman of the Grammys! It took him three years to land that gig.
Well, on September 11, Carlos was flying out to Los Angeles to do the Latin Grammys, and Joe and I were supposed to meet him in L.A. for lunch.Then Joe called me in the morning, asking if I’d seen the news about the World Trade Center.And that was like — holy moly, was that really going on? I was more focused on getting my ride arrangements to L.A. than on what was happening on the news, because that didn’t seem like reality.
But it was a real scary situation. I couldn’t get Carlos on his cell phone or through the Grammys or his wife. All the phones in New York City were shut down, and as far as I know, he was on one of those planes. I tried to trace what flight he was on, but I couldn’t get ahold of the airlines. All of the airlines were basically closed down, and all telephone systems were down in New York City.
I wanted to find out about a buddy. It turned out that my old drummer, Tony Machine, was in the World Trade Center when it happened, but Tony escaped all right. And my friends that are back there now— the guys that live in that neighborhood — they all say that,wow, things are really, really different.
Carlos didn’t call me for three days, so I assumed that he was on one of the planes. I lost sleep for days. But he finally called me back three days later, apologized like crazy, and said, “You can’t imagine the chaos. It’s not only that here I am for the first time. I’ve been working all these years to get the Grammys together, and I’m doing the Latin Grammys. And if there were 28 hours in the day, I wouldn’t have enough time to do what I’m doing. Then I get on the plane, and an hour later,when we are in midair, the event happens.When we landed in Los Angeles, not only security but the whole thing was just chaos.”
The Grammys were canceled, and everything was canceled.Nothing was more important than what was happening with the World Trade Center. But he apologized for not getting in touch with me and scaring me like he did. So anyway, he went back to New York, the Grammys happened later, and he had his first successful thing.
But I’m in touch with some of the guys. Frankie will be down here tomorrow. He comes down here all the time. He loves San Diego, and he’s looking for a house here. Clem Burke — the drummer from Blondie that did my tours with me and stuff — he’s always playing somewhere. The last time he was playing with the Romantics, he opened at the House of Blues in Chicago. He’s played with the Eurythmics, and he’s booked all the time. He’s one of those working musicians, and that doesn’t happen all the time, again, like military intelligence.
But a lot of them right now have admiration for my situation in getting into film scoring,because I don’t need to do all the grueling tour work. I can be creative, do music, and work right here out of my own studio. I started from scratch and didn’t even know how you get involved with some of this stuff. I’ve been doing some films with students from State, and I’m sifting through to pick out the kids that are more serious. I’ve done a good five or ten films already, and I’m going to another independent film festival next week in hopes of picking up some more clients.
So that’s what I’m doing. And my rock and roll buddies are saying, “Wow, what a perfect thing for you to get involved with. You’re still doing music.You can watch visual things and do soundtracks for films.” My friend Mike Andrews is up in Los Angeles right now. He’s done the same thing, and he’s really encouraging. He’s just gotten to do Drew Barrymore’s film, and one of the movie companies moved him to Los Angeles. The last I heard was that he was at the Cannes Film Festival, and he went to Sundance.
Mike’s very shy about talking about what he’s doing. But usually he’s doing a lot better than he lets on. I think he’s hooked up with some Disney things, and if that happens he’s over the top. He just sent me a letter the other day saying, “You know what? You’re on to something really cool. Maybe we should think about letting the young kids take up the rock and roll flag. Maybe you should settle down a little bit and do this other stuff.” That’s good advice.
One thing that I haven’t talked about was the toll that the rock and roll lifestyle takes. This lifestyle definitely took a really heavy toll on my personal life and habits. I’d never let any of this stuff go to my head. I mean, it wasn’t me doing the Johnny Carson show. I did it because I was playing there with Chubby. I didn’t do the Letterman show because the Mike Page nation wanted to see me. I was there because they wanted to see Iggy Pop; I just happened to be a guy behind the scenes on all this stuff. So I had all that stuff straight in my head. I’m a Dago bassman is all.
But something happened along the way, and I don’t remember what day it was or when it came about. But at some point, I’d crossed the line in my social drinking and developed into a hard-core alcoholic. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and it used to be a bad thing to be an alcoholic. Now it’s, like, basically, if you’re looking for a record deal these days, your best chance of getting one is to go to a 12-step meeting up in L.A.
A 12-step program saved my life, because at some point, drinking became a natural part of what I was doing. It didn’t matter what city I was in, I’d wake up in the morning and I’d be disoriented. I didn’t know who I was with, and we only had a certain amount of time to get up, pack up, split, and go to the next city that we were performing in. There was a good chance that those beers lying around were going to help me start my day off, because it didn’t matter. I wasn’t driving, and I wasn’t responsible for anything. I’d jump in the shower, and I’d have clean clothes on when I’d meet the guys.We’d usually meet in a bar in the morning and have a bloody mary and then drink throughout the day and into the evening.
When I got off the road, I found that these habits were continuing, and after a while, I developed shaking in the morning. And it progressed and got worse and worse.And the big deal now was it was different from when I was playing rock and roll. Now I was being domesticated, and alcoholism didn’t fit into domesticated life. I mean, financially, I didn’t need to work. So I had some spare time. And now I was killing spare time. And at some point — and I don’t know when or where — my alcoholism got out of control.
At first I didn’t really have a desire to get sober, because I thought I was doing okay. I picked up a job working for several guitar stores in San Diego for a while,and somewhere, at some point, the alcohol thing would rear its head. I’d get things under control. Then they’d get out of control, back under control, and out of control again. And it basically stopped being fun. I wasn’t drinking for the same reasons that I was drinking before. I was just drinking out of habit, to feel better. The whole thing about drinking to feel happy — I’d drink and I’d feel sad. I’d drink for courage, but that didn’t happen. Yeah, it just stopped working. I drank to erase problems and saw them multiply.
I found myself physically addicted, and I really wasn’t aware this happened. I tried to stop drinking on my own once, and about the third day, I had an alcohol- withdrawal seizure on the street. I had no clue about what was happening. I went down, knocked my head, and the next thing I knew, I was inside an ambulance. I knew I didn’t have epilepsy, but I still hadn’t come to terms with it being alcohol. See, I’d drank successfully for a long time.
People were concerned about me, but when you’re in that state of alcoholism, you don’t really think about that kind of thing. And you don’t think about harming people that you end up harming and doing the things that you end up doing. I’m not copping an easy way out by saying it wasn’t my fault. It’s just something that alcoholics go through. And they don’t realize the destruction and devastation that they’re leaving in their paths.Even after my wife finally couldn’t take it anymore and left with my daughter, I somehow turned that into her problem and not mine. The last words my father spoke to me were, “You’re helpless and you’re hopeless and you disgust me.”He passed away a few weeks later.
Then I had another alcohol-withdrawal seizure. And another. And another. It just blew my mind, because you can die from just one, which I wasn’t aware of. Well, I ended up having a total of six alcohol-withdrawal seizures, which shows what a hardcore alcoholic I’d become. I wasn’t in a treatment program at that time, because I didn’t think I needed treatment. I could quit any time I wanted. So I quit 20 or 30 times.
At one point, I must have seen the light and saw that I was hooked. It was just like being that junkie on heroin. You know, it doesn’t work for you anymore. You want to quit, then you don’t want to quit, and you end up doing it. And no matter what’s going to happen, you’re going to end up fighting it. I figured that since alcohol was legal, it wasn’t going to be like that. And I had no clue anything like this was ever going to happen to me. Up until then, I was jolly old good-time Mikey, the life of the party.
Finally, I was at a big estate in the Muirlands in La Jolla. Things weren’t working out at all, and I was asked to leave. And I think, at that time, I walked away with $100. From the Muirlands, I walked down to Windansea with a pint of vodka. I watched the sun set, drank the pint, and bought another pint. Then I jumped on a bus, went to my little brother’s house in El Cajon, and showed up out there. My little brother said to me, “You need help.” People had been telling me that for a while, but it was like it hadn’t sunk in.
And he said,“You need help right now. You can stay here tonight, but we’re going to have to get you into some kind of treatment, because everything is falling apart.”So he called up a guy who was involved in this 12-step program. And the guy talked to me for a minute and asked me if I thought I was done, and I told him, “I think I am. I think I’m done. Finally.” And he said,“Well, we’re going to get you into a treatment center tomorrow. I’m going to get you a backstage pass. I’ve got a backstage pass to the ten-day program at detox.” Well, he was talking my language, and it was a language that I could understand.
He said he knew a guy that knew a guy who could pull some weight. And that’s it. He was connected. So this guy Steve, you know, who I’d never met before in my life, drove the next day from Imperial Beach all the way to El Cajon. He saw that I was shaking really bad and saw what state I was in.He took me to the hospital, which is one of the prerequisites of the ten-day detox program, and got me a prescription for Librium. I was required to take that because of my history of seizures, or they wouldn’t let me in. Steve paid for the prescription himself.
And later, when I walked in the doors of detox, I’ll never forget what he told me. He said, “You know, all the stuff you’re going through now, everything that’s happening to you, when you walk through these doors, leave all that stuff behind you. You just need to listen to what they’re saying in here.” And he gave me a couple of bucks, a couple packs of cigarettes, and his phone number and said that I could call him whenever I needed to. Go figure.
He said that I was going to do a five-day detox and then the ten-day program where I would learn about the disease I suffered from. And I went through the five-day thing and didn’t have any seizures. Of course, now I’m being monitored, and I don’t have a choice about drinking. But I’m scared. I’m downtown with what I took to be skid-row bums. I’d been on the mattresses at 1111 Island three times in one month after being taken off the street. But I’m taken down there only until I sober up enough so they can let me go. One time, I found myself drinking a beer in Balboa Park, and it was, like, how did this happen? How did it get like this? I contemplated suicide but didn’t have the balls.
I listened, and halfway through the ten-day program something happened. They said something about the fact that it wasn’t going to work until you put the sword down and stopped fighting; you realize that you have a disease that’s going to kill you, it’s more powerful than you are, and there is no cure for it. So there’s only one place to go. You need to ask God for help.My first reaction was, maybe these bums need help, but not me! But the seed was planted.
For me, that was a pretty weird thing to do.But I figured that I’d tried everything else, and nothing else worked. Here I am, Mr. Big Shot Rock and Roller, asking for help. So I went to bed that night and thought, I’ve tried everything. And that night,when I went to bed, I kind of put my hands together in whatever way I could. See, I don’t know any prayers except “Now I lay me down to sleep.” But I guess for the first time I found myself asking for help. And halfway through, it was, like, oh, my God, I’m really doing this. I realized that I was no longer faking myself out, that I couldn’t trick myself anymore, and that I needed to look at what was happening. And I actually asked God for help in whatever way that I could.
The next day I woke up, and it’s one of those things — I didn’t know what was up, but something was different. I felt it. Something was different. If I look back on it now, it sounds crazy, and it is, but the obsession was lifted. But I guess that that was all I needed to do. I asked for help, and I got it, because I’m getting on five years now without a drink or a drug. I’m still blown away!
And everything is different. All the things that were important to me before came back — stuff that I had lost back in my life. I’ve never been closer with my daughter than now, and I’ve started a whole new career at my age. It still involves music and writing film scores, which is something I’ve always wanted to do,without the need for a drink.
Being in the ten-day program gave me time for the clarity. I got my health together a little bit, and I was able to listen to some of the suggestions that were being offered. But when I got out of there, I thought, it’s cool that I’ve learned what I’ve learned, but I’m still only a couple of weeks sober. And if I go back out on the streets, am I really going to be strong enough to survive? I’d learned that alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful.
I’d heard about recovery homes while I was in detox, and probably for the first time ever, I started thinking that I probably wouldn’t have a lot to lose thinking about something like that.And it was funny, because they offered me a place at a ranch in Descanso. Of course, I tried to sweet-talk the guys, saying,“ Yeah, I’d be really useful at your ranch, because I lived on a ranch in Mendocino. I can shoe horses. I can fix barbed-wire fence.” But it wasn’t that kind of a ranch. I heard it was a place where convicts come out of the joint, and it was in the middle of nowhere.
But I went to talk with the guy, and he said,“Well, we’re going to let you in.” And I said, “Well, I’ve changed my mind. I have a daughter here in San Diego. I can’t leave for long periods of time without knowing what’s going on with her.” And they said, “Well, then we’ve changed our mind too, because you told us you were willing to do anything. And now you’re almost willing to do anything. We don’t want you, and good luck. Do you know what your odds are? The odds of a hardcore alcoholic recovering are against you.With hardcore, it’s only 20 percent that recover,”or something like that. “So, good luck, buddy. You ain’t going to make it.”
Steve from Imperial Beach came to pick me up the day I got out. He’s my buddy and I owe him. For a stranger to do something like that is unreal. He picked me up and took me to this place called Pathfinders. I’d heard of Pathfinders when I was in detox and that it was the oldest recovery home in California. And I’d heard that they had a pretty good success rate. I’d heard that it was in Golden Hill, but I didn’t know anything about that. And I said to myself, just check it out and see what’s happening there. Maybe, just maybe…
So Steve picked me up and took me to Pathfinders, which is a beautiful old place at 30th and Cedar. And I went in there pretty scared. I did an interview, and they asked me if I was qualified.And it was, like, “I’m qualified.” “Well, how much did you drink?” “Well, too much.”And they were, like, “So what, are you a wiseass? How much is too much?”“Okay. A half gallon of vodka from the bottle each day.” See, they were checking me out and testing me to see if I was real. And I said,“Trust me, I’m a real alcoholic.”
So I did the interview at Pathfinders. And they said, “Okay, we need you to come back tomorrow. Do you have a place to stay tonight?”And I said,“No, actually I don’t.”And Steve stepped up and said,“Yes, he does. He can stay with me.”And I was, like,“Well, wait.You’re married, you’ve got a kid, and you don’t even know me.”
But he ended up taking me to his house and introducing me to his wife and his couch. Of course, I wanted to sleep in his little converted garage downstairs, but his wife insisted that I stay on the couch in the living room. I wasn’t used to somebody doing such nice things without an ulterior motive, like backstage passes or whatever. But these people were doing something where I couldn’t see the payoff. And they had a beautiful little kid, Zack,who was all over me. He was just a cool little kid. The entire family went overboard with making me feel comfortable.
I told him that I’d rather stay down in the garage. But I think he thought that if I was in the garage, I’d go to the store that was just around the corner. And he wasn’t going to let me take off.
The next morning, we had breakfast, and he took me back to Pathfinders. We arrived about 9 o’clock in the morning, and I did my interview. They told me to wait on the porch with six other guys who were also waiting out there. It was 10 o’clock. And the next thing, it was 11 o’clock, and then 12 o’clock. By 11 o’clock, a couple of the guys had split, and by 12 o’clock, a couple more had split. They said, “I don’t need this stuff. I’m not going to wait around here all day.”
By four o’clock in the afternoon, I was still sitting on the porch, and it was time for them to have dinner. I’d been there since nine o’clock in the morning. A guy came out and said, “Excuse me, sir. Can I help you? You’ve been out here all day.” And I said, “Well, they told me to wait out here.”He said, “Come on. What do you mean? They said for you to wait out here at ten o’clock. It’s four o’clock, dude. What are you doing?” And I said, “Well, I’m just doing what I was told to do. I was told to wait out here.” And he said, “Well, look, man…” I don’t know what kind of response he gave me, but it was something like this was the most insane thing that he’d ever heard — that I was told to wait out here for a minute and now it was four o’clock in the afternoon.
But then he said, “What happened to the other guys?” I think he was expecting some kind of explanation from me.But I said,“I don’t know what happened to them.” And he goes, “Let me get this straight.You’re still here.” “Yeah, I’m still here.”“Did you bring anything with you?” “No.” And he said, “Then come on in.You’re in.”
I went inside, and I kept thinking Candid Camera was on. All these guys came up and were hugging me and telling me, “Welcome home.” I found out that there were 50 men living in three different houses at Pathfinders.One house you stayed in for the first couple months, but we’re talking about a nine-month program here. Nine months is a lot of time to give out of your life. But when I looked back and looked at all the time that I’d wasted in my life, I realized that I needed a whole overhaul of my way of thinking. And I needed the time to do it.
So I told them, “You know, I have a daughter and stuff.” And they told me,“Well, you’re not going to be any good to your daughter or anybody until you take care of yourself. You need to start all over and build a new foundation, and we’re giving you the chance to do that here. You’ll have a room, shelter, and meals.Rent is minimal, and we’ll even help you pay your rent, if need be.” I kept wondering what the angle was. There’s got to be an angle here. And gradually I learned what it was. It was basically that that’s the only way alcoholism can be treated — one alcoholic helping another alcoholic. Even the directors and bosses here were just plain simple alcoholics helping one another.
So I stayed the whole nine months at Pathfinders and ended up working on staff at the place. And it was real difficult for me to leave, because getting sober was not an easy thing to do. It’s a daily thing, and I had to be force fed. I’ve heard it called a million-dollar program, shoved up your ass a nickel at a time. And that’s the way I had to do it,with the supervision of going to meetings and doing all the stuff that was required. I learned how to make my bed and how to do other stuff, you know. And I’ll tell you what. I’m one of thousands of men that will always owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Pathfinders. It changed my life radically. I have a life, I mean, and more will be revealed!
We had a guy come in maybe a month after I was in there. Of course, I’d been sober a month, so I was being a big-shot professional about it now. I was the housemom there, and this new guy comes in. He was brought in from the ten-day program with a little note attached to him, saying, “Hey, Mikey, this is Tom. He’s one of us. Take him under your wing and show him the ropes.” And it was, like, “Yeah, come on in, buddy! I know what the hell is going on here now. Welcome home! Don’t worry about a thing. More will be revealed.”
I looked at him, and he was scared, shaking, underweight, and just beat. He came in, and now he’s the director. There’s another guy at Pathfinders named Stan who’s been there forever. They have a meeting every Sunday that I go to where there are a couple of hundred men, and there’s no horseshit. These guys tell it like it is. These guys are grateful to be alive, because they really shouldn’t be. They’ve beaten the odds, at least for that day. Their attitude is contagious. There are guys there with 40 years of sobriety, and there are guys with just one day.
You know, I used to gravitate toward that element in rock and roll that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was all that energy and whatever else that was happening. And these days, I gravitate towards the energy of gratitude — that I can see the people who have been there, done that, and have lived through it. It takes a lot of courage, and the odds are stacked against you. But they are my people, and I share something in common with them. We’ve been to hell and looked the devil in the face, and we’ve lived to tell about it. And it’s an awesome thing that’s so radically changed my life that there are no words to even describe it. And it’s just, that’s it. Rock on!
Part 1 | a href="/news/2003/may/08/youre-just-my-girlfriend/">Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4