I first encountered Mike Meldrum at a concert during WNY Peace Week, in May 1983. Baby poet in glasses and braids, I marched alone in the crowd, then sat in the grass at Buffalo State College listening o Mike sing, a capella, the Steve Goodman song “Penny Evans”, about a young Vietnam War widow, who’d send back the government’s checks because they’d never return her lover.
Michael believed in the value of a song. When I got to know him a few years later, it was as a musician liaison to City Honors School. In one memorable season, he brought Eric Andersen, Suzanne Vega, Michelle Shocked, and 15 year old Ani DiFranco to our English and art classrooms. I hadn’t known him a half hour before he had me singing “In My Life” to a full room of people. He knew that doing it–writing, singing, meeting–was the way to help a person grow.
Michael held the first essential quality of any great teacher–get them started, and then keep getting them to do it. He didn’t have to be an expert to encourage all he met to improve, innovate, persevere, and grow. During the 28 years of his Monday night open mic at Nietzsche’s, I never saw him be impatient with the out of tune kids who’d play too long, or the shy girl who had to start her song three times. Some of these people became famous. Some drifted away. I know all counted him as a friend.
Michael helped us all grow up. I saw him grow, too, from Mike into Michael, husband, father, pillar of community.
Michael let me witness the life of an artist. It was no easy life, but it was one which held values of peace and choice, co-operation, creativity above all. Rust Belt Books founder Brian Lampkin wrote, “Michael was trying to make a world out of his Buffalo scene that made sense to him, that would fuel his own vision of what a life worth living might look and sound like.” He did this for me.
What do you do for the young poet, the young musician? You let her open for your set. You introduce her to songwriters, other poets, bartenders. You lend her your housemate’s Joni Mitchell LPs. You lend her your guitar. You bring her to those who will be her mentors, teachers, friends, lovers, compatriots…her tribe. You lead her to the places she’ll remember all her life.
If you haven’t already, please acquire a copy of Michael Meldrum’s Open-Ended Question CD, which showcases his music and the fruit of his long friendships with many musical and poetical friends (Ani DiFranco, Joe Rozler, Rob Lynch, Jimmie Gilliam, to name just a few.) See here for more information. The proceeds also support his wife and two creative, sweet kids, who will no doubt carry on his legacy, as will many souls in Lower Bohemia and beyond.
Photo: Rob Lynch