The Classics – The Interview: Mike G, Pt. 1
While promoting my first exhibition, RAP, I first met Mike G, owner of RockPop Gallery (an online platform that specializes in classic album art, photography, and more), who followed up letting me know that he was down to post my flyer and also hipped me to the niche/industry of album cover collecting.
We’ve since kept in communication, during which time I came to learn that Mike is a music industry vet, as he’s one of the founding fathers of a little cutting-edge network called FUSE TV (VP Interactive/Programming to be exact), has a museum-level personal collection of music memorabilia, and has quite a few stories about some of the industry’s most notorious – just ask him about 50 Cent!
Check out the read below and click the pics for the items featured on his site:
When you were younger what role did rock music play in your life?
As a kid growing up in the 60s, it was part of just about every aspect of my life. Rock personalities set the styles – Nehru shirts, bell bottoms, black light posters, flicker bulbs, etc. – and most kids wanted, in some way or another, to be rock stars. I was a drummer, and my first group played what was popular at the time – Turtles, Box Tops, Beatles, a little Hendrix, Santana, etc.
Who were some of your favorite artists/groups growing up?
I tended to like the bands that would upset my parents the most (“would you please turn that noise off!?!”) – Iron Butterfly, Electric Prunes, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Sir Douglas Quintet. During a listening session, I’d throw on Simon & Garfunkel, The Association, and other lighter fare but, to my parents, it was all “noise”, so I was happy. 🙂
What do you think it was about the sound that drew you to the genre?
I liked the energy, the strange themes and, of course, the VOLUME! I was really into all kinds of music, though – not simply rock. I liked jazz (Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock), folk (Steve Goodman, Bryan Bowers), R&B (Temptations, Four Tops, Miracles, Supremes), as well, but I would only play rock as a musician.
What were some of the first album covers, posters, etc…to make it in your collection?
Do you mean as a collector, or simply album covers/posters that I particularly liked? LPs that I saved just for the cover art? Santana Lion, Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Paranoid), Bitches Brew, Big Brother & The Holding Company (Crumb cover), King Crimson (Court of the Crimson King and Wake of Posiedon), any Mothers of Invention…I had a number of black light posters as well…
What was it about those works that struck a nerve?
Psychedelic covers and those with more disturbing/confusing images always fascinated me – I mean, what were the conditions that made the artist or photographer create that image? With the drug culture growing at the time, I wanted to understand whether “normal” brains came up with these ideas, or if they came from more “elevated” minds.
Creatively, I really like how rock music albums (60s – early 90s) pushed the envelope. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
Records needed to be packaged in such a way that they’d jump out of a bin or off a wall display, so the artwork had to do most of the talking. If you talk to record buyers from that period, they’ll all tell you that, in at least 50% of the cases, a record was bought because the cover intrigued them enough for them to at least stop, pick the record up, read the notes/song titles, and perhaps ask a store clerk “is this any good?”
Pop art at the time was also based (in some part) in commercialism, so you had artists such as Warhol and Rauschenberg contributing images and, therefore, introducing music fans to samples of “fine art”.
When did you first notice your personal collection begin to amass?
I’ve collected bits and pieces for as long as I can remember – autographed items, posters, etc. I actually started collecting modern art (with a focus on early California Modernism and printmaking) in the 1980s – I didn’t have any money to spare before then! I found a great gallery in LA – The Tobey C. Moss Gallery on Beverly Blvd – and she introduced me to the works of a number of artists, including Helen Lundeberg, Clinton Adams, Palmer Shoppe and Jules Engel, who did a lot of work on the original Fantasia movie for Disney. So, if you see my personal collection today, it’s about 50/50 music-related/other fine art.
At what point did you decide to start RockPop Gallery?
How can I put this delicately? Let’s say, when the pressures of developing and operating a cutting-edge TV/Web programming business – inside of a large, publicly-held media company – began to slowly siphon the fun out of my job, I started thinking more about what I’d do next. I found that I enjoyed talking to people – both inside and outside my sphere of friends and colleagues – about the art and artistry I found attached to the music business, so that, coupled with my knowledge of how to run a web-based business, provided the fuel for further thought.
Then, in mid-2005, my company gave me the opportunity to walk away with the resources to start something new, and I took that as the signal that it was time to pursue my dream (my wife told me that I’d regret it forever if I didn’t give it a try, and she’s usually right about these sorts of things). I asked some of the folks that had done such great work for me at Fuse/CVC to help with this new effort and, after 6 months of intense prep work, we launched the RockPoP Gallery site in late December, 2005.
How did your roles at FUSE and Cablevision lend themselves to you meeting the artists whose work you feature?
In some cases, they were relationships that were started at the network, either folks who’d done work for us, or who we had featured somehow in related programming. For example, I met Justin Hampton at SXSW in 2005 (or was it 2004?) when I brought a crew to Austin to shoot some interview segments with some of the artists at the Flatstock event there. We kept in touch and, voila, we’re working together today (he also lives in Portland now, which makes it even easier to stay in touch).
I also met a couple of people via my fundraising efforts for the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares – I’d contacted some of them for donations to auctions.
Overall, though, I used my background as a high-powered programming executive to try and prove to some of the initial artists/photographers I approached that A) I wasn’t some young punk trying to make a go of it – without any business background or experience, and B) I had had enough experience in the music business to understand what many of them had gone through – the good and the bad – as visual artists inside the music business.
Part 2 coming soon….