Lessons Learned, Volume II


Image Source: Mikey Dee

All train wrecks occur on a timeline.

Everything is, and is exactly how it should be, and everything is inevitable. Life happens exactly as it should, every breath and occurrence unfolding perfectly at the perfect time, and we don’t get to pick and choose the outcomes. All we can do is piece together the aftermath and try to consider ourselves wiser.

I was twenty seven and old before my time when I met Mikey Dee. After years of going nowhere by myself and dreaming, I had finally started to get my shit together, becoming a staff writer for The Noise. Mikey was an editor, and I had seen his name on thank you lists in various liner notes. Big Time Boston at last.

I got an e-mail from Mikey, addressed to “Mikey’s Pals,” inviting me to a party at his house. I was so painfully shy and socially awkward that I thought he might have invited me by mistake, so I called his office at The Planetary Group, where he was Director of Radio Promotions. I called at 8:00 PM, or some such ridiculous hour, figuring no way he’d be there and I could leave a voice mail and ask for an e-mail.

He answered the phone. Shit.

“Um, well,” I stammered, “I haven’t been on staff for long, so I just wanted to make sure that invite wasn’t a mistake.”

“No way, man!” he said, amazed at my emerald green. “C’mon out!” I did, and we became fast friends.

Mikey Dee was a writer, an editor, a DJ on WMFO Tufts, a radio promotions tsunami and a fierce advocate for the Boston scene. He was a life force: a respectful Jew who devoured pulled pork from Redbones, a fanatic of all things Hollywood and a delightful cad (his take on …ahem… subtropical interactions with Amazon Redheads: “I’d pack a lunch and stay all day!”). He was out at live shows six nights a week, always front and center, air-drumming like mad and having the time of his life.

Except for Sundays (“It’s a day of rest!”) when he’d be home making his famous breakfast bonanzas, doing the Times crossword and generally chilling.

If he didn’t like your band, he’d play you anyway and say, “You COULD be great. IF…” If he loved your band, he’d use his benevolent pulpit to shout, “BEST BAND IN BOSTON.” And he took me under his wing and ample nose. ME! Who the fuck was I to get such friend treatment from such an untouchable?!?

Oh, life! The throwaway moments that seem like nothing at the time, but end up resonating forevermore. One night at the apartment I had the balls to say, at twenty seven, that I felt old. Mikey sized me up a nanosecond and said, “You’re what, twenty seven? Well, I’ve got ten years on you, and I’m still rocking!”

So subtle are these gifts, so gently offered. The message: straight-up Andy Dufresne in Shawshank: get busy living or get busy dying. That one throwaway line, proffered out of love on a nothing night in the late autumn of our lives, 1999, changed my life and worldview. Now, at thirty nine, I feel younger than ever.

Mikey’s roommate Tina called me at 4:00 AM, three months after we had all met, when we were so young, crying, “Mikey didn’t make it through the procedure!” I was on the first subway to Children’s Hospital. He went in the night before to have a shunt inserted into a cognitively narrow aorta. In and out, a few weeks recovering and back to normal.

No, three massive brainstem strokes.

I arrived at the beginning of the rest of Mikey Dee’s life, and I was there for the first thirty-six hours, from the first utterances of the word “stroke” to the talk of “baselines” and “prognosis” and well beyond. From that moment a group of friends came together, dubbed “Team Dee.” We fought like hell, and did everything possible.

Mikey’s strokes had left him in a locked-in state: cognitively all there, but unable to speak or move. We did everything we could, moving him to Spaulding Rehab Boston, and instituting Sunday Singalongs at Spaulding.

If you were there on a Sunday, you would have seen anyone from T-Max, Publisher of The Noise, to Boston rock mainstays Sean O’Brien and Linda Jung and Lynette Estes and Pete Sutton to Boston Rock Opera founders Eleanor Ramsay and Mick Mondo to Kay Hanley and Mike Eisenstein from Letters to Cleo to Gary Cherone from Extreme and Van Halen to Sir David Minehan from The Neighborhoods strumming an acoustic and singing Beatles songs at 11, while our wheelchair-bound friend Mikey bobbed along internally. No publicity, no big deal at all. This is what we do for one of our own.

At first I felt completely responsible: for informing all of Mikey’s Pal’s of every millisecond of movement and every blink-once-for-yes-twice-for-no movements. I wanted to be there every nanosecond of every day, and never let anyone down, ever. I was the rock for Team Dee, right? No fallibility here, never mind that I had only known the guy for three months.

After a while I distanced myself a bit from Team Dee. My band played along with 140 bands for the second round of For The Benefit of Mr. Dee! Shows in 2001, and I visited whenever I could. Eventually my “Yoko” came along from Seattle and we moved to my home of Portland, Maine.

And on July 6, 2003, Mikey Dee passed away. Official cause: pneumonia. Unofficial cause: dying well before his time of an unexpected stroke three years earlier.

I still wish that I could have done more for my friend: I couldn’t instantly cure him and heal all of his friends and well-wishers. But I still to this day carry the lessons that Mike imparted on me: don’t feel sorry for yourself, live like it’s your last day and mentor whenever and wherever you can.

The first line of this piece came from Michael Wolff’s heartbreakingly poignant cover story in the May 20, 2010 issue of New York Magazine, and I give full accreditation here.

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25 comments
  1. Powerful, Brian. Everyone should be lucky enough to know a Mikey Dee.
    Though it doesn’t sound like your girl was Yoko. Seems like Mikey would have encouraged you to chase her,regardless of her condition.
    And all these years later, you’re still rocking.

    • Said it before, say it again: I’m the luckiest sonofabitch alive.

  2. Oh, Brian. I really needed to read this essay tonight.

    I’m so sorry for your (and everyone’s) loss of this obviously magnificent human being, but my heart soars to hear you tell such a personal story with such grace. Moments like this one, full of great art and great pathos, help a legacy survive.

    You’ve given your readers a little bit of Mikey Dee’s magic. Thank you for this experience. Thank you so much.

    • I wish you could’ve known him. Unfortunately, that’s all I can say. ;)

      • I understand. You’ve given your best to this memorial, and I am amazed. Gorgeous stuff.

    • And I’m so unspeakably fortunate that I had the three months with Dee that I did.

      • You relay this truth beautifully.

  3. Hard piece to write, but you did it beautifully. So sorry.

    • Thanks, sweets.

  4. Brilliant, really.

    You did your friend proud with this post. Somewhere he’s air drumming and smiling down on you.

    • And dripping pork…

  5. “get busy living or get busy dying” – Three full months of being near a spectacular man, it’s an experience worth remembering. Touching tribute for a mentor… :)

    • A lifetime of lessons learned, for sure. ;)

      • ;) Hello!

  6. Brian, I like your fiction but these personal essays are exceptional! I personally think it is harder to tell a true story well than to write fiction, and you seem to have an incredible gift for capturing a moment, a personality, a memory, a life force . . . Well done.

    • I can’t tell you how much I needed this today. Thank you so much.

  7. How lucky you are to have had your Andy Dufresne moment and how wise you were to recognize it. Your friend sounds like he had the joy of life in him, and I think he must have passed some of that on to you. With that and with this touching tribute, you make sure he still lives and that other people, like me, can know him, if only a little.

    • Thank you so much, Jeannette. This comment really means a lot.

  8. Yes, this is a wonderful tribute. I hope you take this in the good spirit; I’m happy for you!

    • Live it like you stole it. *grin*

  9. Red said:

    This is a poignant tribute. You captured his spirit well. Many of us are blessed with a few life forces who leave an unending impression on us. Mikey did for you.
    Red.

    • Great to see you, Red. Thank you so much for your heartfelt thoughts.

  10. Lovely, Brian. Guilt is the one emotion we all seem to spend our lives trying to escape, but it’s probably the one that demonstrates our humanity more so than any other. We all have stories like this, but we all don’t communicate them as compellingly, authentically and beautifully as you did here. Well done. Mikey would have been proud, I’m sure.

    • I love that my man is still touching so many people. Awesome. Thanks, Cristy: you fab girl.

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