Monday, July 31, 2006

Mike O'Neill benefit/memorial in Ybor City

I stopped by the Mike O'Neill memorial/benefit show on Friday night at New World Brewery in Ybor. The heat/humidity was typically oppressive for this time of year in Florida, but it was really rewarding seeing all those folks turn out to pay tribute to Mike.

I caught parts of sets by the Rancid Polecats, Will Quinlan and Crash Mitchell. Sadly, I missed the slide show/presentation that was played at the very beginning of the evening; who knew that anything in Ybor would start on time? It would be a GREAT idea if the folks responsible for that could find time to make it available online.

And even more fun -- I ran into a bunch of friends from Tampa's indie rock scene, including some people I've only seen on occasion since the late '80s, when I played in an "alternative pop" band called Liz Back On Booze. I spoke for a bit with musicians Flash Gordon, Robert Wegmann, Ray Villadonga, Mark Warren (Vodkanauts), Martin Rice (Sparky's Nightmare) and arts/entertainment writer Marty Clear, who co-owned the Blue Chair record store with former Creative Loafing music critic Tom Roe back when Ybor City's Seventh Avenue was actually worth visiting.

I also had a nice talk with singer-guitarist Shawn Beauville of the Beauvilles, an R&B- and jazz-influenced psychedelic indie-rock band that have made great strides, artistically and in terms of their fan base, since coming on the scene about six years. If Tampa had anything resembling viable local places to hear good local bands, the Beauvilles would be heard all the time in the area. Check their site for listings; St. Pete has more outlets these days (will address this a bit in another post).

I saw several other long-time indie-rock musicians and scenesters, including Karen Collins (Mike's bandmate in the old Monday Mornings), Kacy Ross (Deloris Telescope), Corey Jane Holt (Clang, Bonk regular) and Bob Pomeroy (rock writer and editor) but didn't get a chance to speak with them. I was hoping to run into drummers Fred Stoltz and Jeff Wood, but I didn't see them out there; maybe we just weren't there at the same time. And I saw several former colleagues of mine -- and mike's -- from the Friday Extra department at the Tampa Tribune. I talked with a few of them. I heard from a friend that former Mad For Electra singer-guitarist Ed Woltil and former St. Pete Times music critic Gina Vivinetto were on hand.

From what I understand, all the money collected at the door that night will go to a Mike O'Neill scholarship fund established at the Patel Conservatory in Tampa. The fund is designed to help underprivileged kids attend the conservatory's Rock School.

By the way, Scott Harrell's column on Mike in the Weekly Planet is worth a read.
Follow the link, or read it here:

It's Mike O'Neill's life, not the way it ended, that matters.

Published 07.26.06

The first real conversation I distinctly, lucidly remember having with Mike O'Neill was about my guitar amplifier.

It must've been '93 or so, and our bands were sharing a bill at The Brass Mug, which was (and still is) sort of the CBGB of Tampa.

By that point, I knew Mike both by musical reputation and socially, but I can't recall speaking to him at any length until he asked if he could borrow my amp that night. After the set by his band, The Nailbiters, he thanked me, and we spent a little time politely talking around the fact that my amplifier was a piece of shit.

(Later, he helped me out during my group's performance by bringing my microphone stand, which had been stolen by some burly cretin who didn't appreciate our irreverent cover of Duran Duran's "Rio," back to the stage.)

From that night on, we never crossed paths without exchanging a word or some sarcastic jokes, or getting into a mildly contentious but never serious drunken debate about whatever.
I was always thankful that Mike took a little time for me; I looked up to him. What I saw in him, besides his obvious intellect and passion for music, was a confidence in his identity -- he never seemed self-consciously eccentric to me, just unafraid to be himself. Mike O'Neill is the only local musician I've ever contacted to suggest an interview who demurred.

He didn't think the timing was right.

That, to me, is confidence in one's identity.

The last real conversation I distinctly, lucidly remember having with Mike O'Neill occurred as April 14 became April 15. He probably wouldn't remember it as well as I.

He wanted to know why Forkboy had just punched him in the face, apparently not realizing that Forkboy had punched him in the face because he'd kicked Forkboy in the groin only seconds earlier.

It wasn't really a big deal. Sure, Mike was shithoused, but who hasn't been? Very few of my friends, and even fewer of the local artists I know peripherally, would qualify as a spokesmodel for personal restraint in the areas of behavior or consumption.

And later, I heard that Mike had been on a peculiar sort of a tear since quitting his job at the
Tribune, giving people bizarre gifts, making spur-of-the-moment trips out of town. But I'd need both hands to count the people I know personally, including myself, who'd indulged in the sort of bender that gets people talking.

I worried about him vaguely for a while, and then my own life distracted me.

The amount of contact I had with Mike had been slowly dwindling ever since my relocation to St. Pete back at the end of the '90s. I still saw him regularly, but it was always at a show, at a bar, at a party -- places, in other words, where most folks are at least a little lubricated, the unexpected is expected, and it's a given that the way a person acts within the environment generally isn't the way the person acts outside of it.

Still, I ran into Mike briefly, several more times in the months following the Forkboy incident; he was always together, usually visibly happy, and often not drinking at all.

I had no idea.

Did anybody?

On the evening of Monday, July 17, Mike O'Neill committed suicide by jumping off the Sunshine Skyway.

I hope that soon our considerations of all the unanswered questions he left behind -- questions that will never be answered to our satisfaction -- will turn to celebration of all the beauty and inspiration he left as well, in such greater quantity.

There's a tendency to demand to know why that motherfucker had to do this to us; to mirror what we see as his selfishness with our own; to twist our perfectly natural guilt that we couldn't or didn't help Mike into anger at his actions.

But we can't go back and help Mike.

We can, however, do something for him now:
Remember him well, and always.

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