Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mike Atta & The Middle Class

The Middle Class were a band of LA area teenagers (3 brothers + another guy) who started up in 1977. They put the Out Of Vogue 45 out in 1978. There's people who will call it the "first hardcore record" and say "they started hardcore". Since genres of anything are never cut and dry, those types of assertions can be difficult to defend. I'd argue that they didn't start hardcore because not enough people heard it. And you'd say that the right people around LA heard it and started playing faster and harder to be more like them. Fine. I do think it's fairly safe to say that, at the moment of its release, it was the fastest record ever made. They made another 45 that's a lot slower (still good) and an album that's also really good.

At this point it takes a lot to get me to write a blog entry. There's a total lack of time for these things but this time, sadly, it must be done. All the way back in 2012, I was in Los Angeles for a few days. Mike Atta, who played guitar for the Middle Class, ran a vintage shop in Riverside called, naturally, Out Of Vogue. I called to make sure they were open and to feel him out as to whether he would be surly about an autograph request. He was happy to oblige and said to come on down. He asked me if I was getting it signed to resell it. I was actually a little surprised by the question. There's a fine line to walk with that answer. I needed to be convincing that I was, in fact, keeping it, but I also needed to stop short of fawning too much over a grown man. Whatever I said was good enough. I was also a little surprised to learn that he did not have even one copy of the Out Of Vogue EP. He told me that the band was rehearsing in the back room of the store later that night and that I could leave my record and they would all sign it. He also sold me a sealed copy of the Middle Class album for $10 and told me he'd get that signed too.

Mike's store was next to his wife's store - I don't remember what kind hers was. He told some funny story about how the physical separation of the stores, even if only by a few feet, was part of the success of their marriage since it was still special to have lunch with her or to come home together at night. He talked about his son and I talked about my kids and looked around the store. He talked about how the Middle Class was playing occasional shows and that there was even a very long shot of a trip east to play New York. I thanked him and left. The next day I went back and picked up the records and thanked him again.

When I got home from LA, I liked the Middle Class page on Facebook, mostly to make sure I'd be aware if they actually made it to New York. A few months later, there was a post about a benefit for Mike, to help him pay for his cancer treatments. I was a stunned to read it. Facebook has a way of punching you in the face sometimes. It's not like we were friends but it's shocking to learn that someone I was just talking to is sick with cancer and dealing with all that comes with that. There were more posts about benefits and he was getting treatment and even still playing Middle Class shows. Somehow I lost track of it and then a post from their page showed up the other day. When I went to the page I learned that Mike had died this past Easter. A terrible loss for his family.

I've spent more time writing this than I did when I met Mike, yet somehow he left an impression that's worth trying to articulate. In twenty minutes spread over two days, the feeling I had was that he was purely enthusiastic about his life and what was happening in it (family, work, friends, band, etc). There was nothing that appeared fancy, but this was a life well worth living. Who knows, he could have been miserable and just really good at seeming content. I don't think so though. By way of contrast, I meet a lot of people who have (or aspire to have) a lot of stuff but are completely lacking in enthusiasm for their own lives. Always wanting. A friend of mine slyly slips into conversation that he's spent $1,400,000 (I type out the zeroes for emphasis) on his home renovation and he is absolutely miserable. There's plenty more examples but they're boring boring boring. Anyway, that's what I'll remember from briefly meeting Mike Atta. Also, in 1978, he and his band made an absolutely ferocious punk record.

If you haven't heard it, do it now.

Here's a link to his obituary. RIP.