Farewell, Mike Meldrum
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:45 am, May 6, 2011
In 2006, Michael Meldrum released his first ever studio album. His first and only. This from a guy who’d been playing music in Buffalo for more than 30 years, while mentoring and championing generations of songwriters and performers, and providing them a stage every Monday evening at Nietzsche’s, the longest-running and most famous open mic night in the city.
It was absurd on all sorts of counts: absurd that his one and only recording came so late in his musical career; absurd how good the songs were; and absurd the wealth of talent on the record, a who’s who of local musicians who joined their old friend in the studio, giving to his songs the depth they deserved and to the record the sense of musical community that he had worked so diligently and lovingly to cultivate.
“Well,” Mike told Artvoice’s Mark Norris shortly before the CD release party (which, naturally, was held at Nietzsche’s, his home away from home), “if you can judge a person by the friends he chooses and keeps for life, then I come up looking pretty good.”
We should all look so good. Mike passed away Thursday evening, after a long struggle with an illness that slowed him but could not keep him down. Over the course of the next week, we’ll be sharing some thoughts on Mike and the role he played in the music scene here, as expressed by some of those friends.
That record, by the way, is called Open Ended Question, and you can listen to it and buy a copy through Righteous Babe Records, the record label founded by Meldrum’s most famous protege, Ani DiFranco, who had this to say about Mike when the record was released:
I met Michael when I was nine at the guitar shop where I got my first guitar. From the beginning, he treated me as a friend, not as a kid, and immediately started bringing me to his gigs and letting me perform with him. He taught me to respect the art of song-crafting and inspired me to be a musician by trade. He taught me that music can be the fire around which a community can gather. To me, Michael exemplifies the notion that music is not just something you buy, it’s something you do.
And here’s what singer/songwriter Alison Pipitone says about Mike:
One word that comes to mind when I think of Michael Meldrum is “generosity”—generosity of spirit and generosity in everyday works. Michael was always so gracious about including me in the shows he produced. He and Diane opened their home to me and so many others for dinners, parties, rehearsals, and the occasional bicycle repair. He shared his original musical ideas and his catalogue of cover songs without hesitation and without restraint.
In the eighteen years I knew him, Michael NEVER said a bad word about another musician. Trust me, this is rare. I’m sure there was plenty he could have said, but he never did. Indeed, this quality has inspired me to try and do the same.
Michael spent much of his professional life promoting other songwriters, but his own songwriting should not be underestimated. His album Open Ended Question is filled with poetry and honesty and passion and life.
I will miss so many things about Michael, including the twinkle in his eye and the kindness he carried with him always. He leaves behind an amazing wife and two fun, funny, intelligent, beautiful kids.
Congratulations, Michael, on a life well lived. God bless you. With love from Alison Pipitone.
And Artvoice publisher Jamie Moses:
For the past 25 years, Michael Meldrum gave a stage to some truly gifted singer-songwriters like Suzanne Vega or Ani DiFranco and others, who played at his long-running open mic at Nietzsche’s. He also created a warm home to gawky kids fumbling with guitars they could barely play and who, singing off-key, nervously presented original songs they’d hammered out in their bedrooms. Everyone was welcome and everyone got respect. For Meldrum, folk music was the absolute best of American music, and he had an almost unearthly sense for creating those magic moments in which a group of people are joined onstage singing harmonies and picking guitars or banjos, with him gleefully plucking a mandolin or playing harmonica. Michael Meldrum’s open mic at Nietzsche’s was a shelter from the storm of hip-hop and rock and roll. It was the mystical place sung about in “Bob Dylan’s Dream”:
By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that
And God bless Nietzsche’s owner Joe Rubino for giving Michael a home for so many years, through so many winters, and so many Monday nights. Whether no one showed up or the place was packed, Joe never wavered in supporting the music. With Michael Meldrum’s passing the question facing us all now is “Will the circle be unbroken?”
Much more to come. Please send your memories of Michael Meldrum to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or post them below.