Life has a tendency to meander in Cambodia. A lot like the meandering thoughts that permeate your mind on a Saturday or Sunday morning - after a great night of live music has you relaxed, happy and satisfied. You might be gazing at the shapes on the top of your coffee or at the patterns a boat makes as it glides down the Tonle Sap or even looking onto all the crazy Phnom Penh traffic from a high vantage point – but meander your thoughts will. As your thoughts meander they may move across many things – politics, work, friends, family, home. My thoughts meandered as usual this week....... until, each time, they would suddenly stop. They would come to a point of remembering. My heart would sink and my mind would tell me to adjust to the new reality. Big Mike has passed on.
That has, so unexpectedly, meant many things to me. I didn't even really fully realize just how much I used to rely on Mike. He occupied a place in my working life that no-one else could fulfill. He was somebody I could talk to about things of which I could talk to no-one else. He was someone who made me feel important and made me feel so special that he called me his friend. I could always rely on him when it came to the the buzz of the live music scene. I could learn things from him because he had a sharp mind, an amazing history, a large, diverse and loyal network of friends and a unique vantage point on the rock & roll lifestyle that circled around him. A Chinese-born, American citizen with a history in the Hell's Angels, CBGB's, Max's Kansas City and international financial dealings, he would spend part of his time in New York City but always loved to return to his rock & roll lifestyle in Cambodia. You can read more about the Mike and the history of Sharky's (the bar of which he has been principal owner for most of it's existence) in our article written by one-time manager David Rabie back in March 2013.
A few months back, whilst having lunch at the invitation of Mike together with local rock & roll legend and Schkoots front-man Bob Passion, I initiated a conversation. I knew I had to be careful and deft with the topic because I knew Mike would not like it. I started to tell him that may be he should think about slowing down a little, drink a little less, play a little less of the rock & roll lifestyle. This, as you can imagine, drew his ire – at first. He looked at me with sharp and unwavering eyes that demanded, even threatened me to not to bullshit him. I had to say what I meant and I had to say it quickly. I managed to regain his trust as he realized that I was genuinely concerned for his health. To me, his reply epitomized the man and his attitude. He said – “Ken, I'm 'Big Mike'. I have a lot of people who rely on me at that bar and if I don't share my time with them and have a drink with them then my time might as well be over anyway.”. It grieves me to write those words now.
|Artist and musician Conrad Keely drew this portrait of Mike|
I have had to keep reminding myself that he is just not there anymore and that has just been causing me a degree of forlornness, an emptiness, a longing, of reflection – not only for the man himself but also for everything his presence meant. It was not what I expected – but, I can tell you – it is what has happened. The continual list of tributes flooding across my Facebook timeline is testament to the fact that he had a similar effect on many people's lives. The fact that resident artists have been writing poems (Scott Bywater) and creating portraits (Conrad Keely) of him also lays testament to his influence and magnanimity as does the fact that local musicians have arranged 3-days of tribute to him later this month. It will definitely be the end of a very amazing, tumultuous and unique era in the Cambodian nightlife and live music scene.
He was a huge figure in the local music scene and did everything he could to foster a vibrant, happening and creative live music environment. He has a huge swag of friends throughout that scene and will be missed widely and sorely. He face will always be remembered for that big smile, with the loving, happy, moon-sliver eyes, that big heart and that air of total respect he permeated to all those around him. He was on a great rock & roll freight train that eventually and inevitably came to it's final destination.
Television Ted, 12th May 2016