Hi everybody, it's Christmas morning, 2013, I just wanted to wish my Growing Old With Rock & Roll
readers a Merry Christmas. My lovely wife Debbie is away in New Jersey visiting her family, I'm
off in a little bit to my sister's house for our family Christmas and for some reason I found my
thoughts turning to Midgard Comics. This works out well for the blog, as with the conclusion of
I Love Distortion, the next part of my life of rock & roll was my action-packed solo acoustic act.
That act would never have lasted without Midgard Comics. It was my home away from home,
my laboratory, my sanctuary. I wrote the following piece in 2004 for my old MySpace page
(jeez, does anybody remember MySpace?), and I found it needed very little editing or updating.
My most heartfelt thanks to Keith & Derek and every last one of the Midgard Kidz.
I miss Midgard Comics, I really do. I played there starting in 2001 when owner Keith Cousineau first started booking (mostly) underage (mostly) punk bands in the empty storefront adjacent to his comic book store. It was a 20 by 60 foot room in a suburban shopping center in the north end of Columbus, Ohio. They had a great P.A. and a huge parking lot for hanging out.
Midgard Comics was my laboratory. It was the place where the Ricki C. act was honed. Not so much where the act was developed, that was at a variety of places: Cappuccino Café in Westerville, Ohio; Moonspinners Cafe near the Ohio State University campus; the Border’s Bookstore at Kenny & Henderson (where, one night, management informed me that I would have to play my second set “slower and softer” because I was “frightening the audience”).
I miss Midgard Comics. There was no such thing as frightening the audience at Midgard. I could play flat-out solo acoustic rock & roll - fast, loud & aggressive - and the kids would go right with me. It was at Midgard Comics that the Ricki C. act really blossomed. I would play the set breaks between electric punk bands young enough to be my children and once I could command the rather short to virtually non-existent attention span of hyperactive teenaged throngs, audiences of 20 and 30 year olds were child’s play.
I miss Midgard Comics. The Who had the Marquee Club in London, the MC5 had the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, the New York Dolls had the Mercer Arts Center in New York City, Hamell On Trial had the Electric Lounge in Austin. I had Midgard Comics.
By 2004, Midgard had grown to be a regular stop for national touring punk bands. Motion City Soundtrack, Bowling For Soup and Something Corporate had all played there. But constant money pressures, landlord hassles and problems with the police (hey, you try babysitting throngs of teenagers like Keith and his staff did every weekend) eventually took their toll.
I played the closing weekend festivities in June 2004. A kid came up to me after my last set and said, “You were the most punk rock thing ever about this place.” He was wrong, of course, but it might be the nicest thing anybody has said to me in 45 years of playing rock & roll.
That was Midgard Comics. I miss it. These are Tales Of Midgard. (Apologies to Stan Lee, but mostly to Jack Kirby.)
In the early days at Midgard, rock & roll speed and a healthy dose of profanity were my best teenage-attention-grabbing tools. Some nights I wouldn’t even play from the stage. I would set up by the soundboard with my own amp and microphone to stay out of the way of the band changeovers and so I could more closely confront the audience.
One of those nights I headed back in the dark to start my second set and discovered a 70-something white-haired grandmother IN A WHEELCHAIR parked right in front of my allotted play space. This pretty much shot my projected set plan to hell. It’s more difficult than you would imagine to adjust from teen-punk blitzkrieg to septuagenarian kum-ba-yah.
As luck would have it the woman’s grandson’s band (which, by the way, was a full-bore-screaming-stab-your-mother-hardcore-punk band) had just finished their set and the lead singer’s dad wheeled grandma away. After my set I caught up with Keith outside in the parking lot and said, “Hey man, you’re gonna have to tighten up your door policy. I had a grandmother in a wheelchair out in front of me tonight.”
Keith chuckled and replied, “Yeah, I saw her. She was on oxygen, too. I was hoping nobody would flip a cigarette at her and blow up her oxygen tank.” I love Keith. I miss Midgard Comics.
Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette
One night my buddy Kyle and I stopped at Midgard on the way home from seeing The Mooney Suzuki downtown. (I think I forgot to mention, not only was Midgard a great place to play, but it was less than a mile from where I live. It was the least far I’ve ever driven for a gig in my life. At one point I was running a Wednesday night acoustic open stage there and I realized I had left my guitar tuner at home. My good friend John Vincent started a Dylan song, I drove home, got my tuner and drove back before he finished the song. And it wasn’t even "Desolation Row.")
Anyway, The Mooney Suzuki was an early show, it was barely 11 p.m. when Kyle and I hit Midgard. Shows there usually went to about midnight, but the place was deserted. The front door was standing open and when we went in there was so much smoke hanging in the air we thought there had been a fire. While we were trying to figure out where the fire engines were Keith walked out from the back room. “What was on fire?” I asked. Keith looked around, concerned for a moment, “Something’s on fire?” he said. I said, “Wasn’t there a fire?” You couldn’t see the back wall of the club, 30 feet away.
“I guess it was a smoking crowd tonight.” Keith replied, his usual serene cool returning. I love Keith. I miss Midgard Comics.
Sterling Morrison Is Dead But I’m Still Around
One night in 2001 I debuted my song "If All My Heroes Are Losers." As I leaned into the last verse I noticed that one of the kids gathered down front stopped talking to his friend and perked up at the line “Now Sterling Morrison is dead, but I’m still around.” I didn’t think much about it, forgot it by the end of the set, but when I left the stage the kid came up and asked, “Sterling Morrison isn’t really dead is he? Why did you put that in a song?” I replied, “Yeah, he certainly is dead, he died about five years ago, of cancer.”
The kid was really, really distraught. He was only about 15 or 16 years old and had just discovered The Velvet Underground a few months earlier. His eyes started to glisten, he was almost crying. I thought, what a crummy way to find out that one of your new musical heroes is gone, having some loudmouth rocker blather it from a stage on a Saturday night. “I’m really sorry,” I said, “I just never could have imagined that somebody wouldn’t have heard about Sterling dying by now. I’m sorry you had to hear it this way.”
I tried to cheer the kid up by telling him that Sterling had three pretty cool jobs while he was alive: member of The Velvet Underground, college literature professor and tugboat captain. I told him most people never even have one cool job in their life, or find one thing they love, Sterling found and accomplished three. "Sterling Morrison was a college professor and a tugboat captain?” the kid wondered, incredulous, “I thought he was just always in The Velvet Underground.”
The kid’s friends wandered over and I found myself filling them in on all this stuff: about how The Velvets broke up in 1970 and got back together for the reunion tour in 1993 right before they found out about Sterling’s cancer; about how Lou Reed and John Cale hated each other; about Alejandro Escovedo writing a truly beautiful and moving song about Sterling called "Tugboat."
That was when it hit me. That this was why I had arrived at Midgard Comics, at that gig, at that time. That after all the years of playing guitar, all the years of songwriting, all the amplifiers, all the broken strings, all the roads traveled, all the smoke-filled bars, all the cool quiet bookstores, all the broken dreams of rock stardom, that it was time to pay up and start giving something back to rock & roll. That it was time to start trying to pass on some fragments of my accrued knowledge to a new generation of rockers. (blogger's note, 2013: In retrospect, that night just might have been when I started growing old with rock & roll.)
This was three years before that Jack Black movie. Midgard Comics was my School Of Rock. I miss it, I really do.
© 2004 & 2013 Ricki C.