The Mystery of Mingering Mike: imaginary soul superstar (NPR "Xeni Tech")

Longtime readers of BoingBoing will recall a post from 2004 about "Mingering Mike," the soul-funk legend of the 1960s and 70s who released over 50 records in just 10 years. Only — well, they were fake cardboard records, discovered in a flea market bin by a vinyl soul junkie named Dori Hadar.

Today and tomorrow, NPR is airing a two-part series I filed with the story of Mingering Mike. We learn how he came to be reunited with his "children" — those 4,000 songs and countless fantasy LPs — and just who this prolific, self-styled genius is.

The story is also documented in a new book filled with album cover scans, hand-scrawled lyrics (one on an empty box of Pampers!), and sweet old photos: Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar.

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NPR: "Mingering Mike: Digging Up a Long-Lost Star" Link to archived audio (Real/Win). Direct MP3 Link. Or, listen in the "Xeni Tech" podcast (subscribe via iTunes here). NPR "Xeni Tech" archives here.

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Dori Hadar is addicted to old soul and R&B music on old vinyl records. On weekends, he scours second-hand stores and junk markets to expand his collection.

On one expedition he happened on a treasure trove of albums by Mingering Mike, a soul superstar of the 1960s and 70s who released over 50 records in just 10 years.

Dori discovered Mike's releases while flipping through record crates fresh off the truck at a local flea market.

The find was a giant surprise because Hadar – who pays for his vinyl habit with a job as a criminal investigator in Washington, D.C. – had never before heard of the prolific Mingering Mike.

But they weren't real records at all. They were meticulously crafted cardboard creations, with vinyl grooves hand-drawn on the cut-out disc, and elaborate illustrated record jackets, with hand-lettering and ink portraits of the artist. They were even pretend-shrinkwrapped. Plastic wrap was taped over the covers, with pencil-drawn logos for the imaginary record labels that released them.

Dori bought what he could and rushed off to work. Later, he scanned some of the album jackets, to share with fellow vinyl junkies on the soul record Internet forum, Soul Strut.

Can Mingering Mike Stevens Really Sing!, read one album title. There was an imaginary sickle cell anemia benefit record, soundtracks for made-up movies like You Only Know What They Tell You, and a Bruce Lee style funk action concept album: Brother of the Dragon.

There were song titles like "Underwear Drying at My Front Door," "I'd Like to Teach the World (to Eat Like Me)" and "Sometimes I Get So Hungry I Can Eat a Light Bulb (or a Chair, or Even My Hair)."

On another LP, the track list reads like a diary: "She's Not a One-Guy Girl," "Come on Back," "Frustrations of an Angry Young Man" and, finally, "That's the Way Love Is."

"I'm very concern [sic] with the growing rates of suicide, threats killings, alcohalism [sic], addicts, prostitutes, fake's, frauds, high cost of living, high cost for being sick, death arrangements, child education, adult education, poverty, prejudice, bigatry [sic], the war -– and the success of this album," Mike wrote in one fantasy liner note.

Word spread fast. "Everyone on the forum just had to know more," recalled Hadar. "All of a sudden, Mingering Mike was a star."

Millions wanted to see these fantasy album covers for themselves. But, just as soon as the images had appeared, they vanished.

Hadar had taken them offline after thinking about how personal the material was. Since he didn't know how to reach Mingering Mike, he couldn't ask permission to share his obsessive musings with the rest of the world.

"If someone found a diary that belonged to me, how would I feel if they just published it on the internet?" Hadar asked.

Who was Mingering Mike? Was he still alive? Had he thrown this stuff away? Was it stolen from him? Hadar wasn't the only one who just had to know.

At the urging of e-mailers, and using his criminal investigator skills, Hadar went to work tracking Mingering Mike down.

The mystery of Mingering Mike continues when part two of this story airs Thursday.

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Mingering Mike online (home-recorded audio, and scans of some of his album covers):
website, Myspace.