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Mingering Mike: Digging Up a Long-Lost Star

Dori Hadar is addicted to old soul and R&B music on old vinyl records. On weekends, he scours second-hand stores and junk markets to expand his collection.

On one expedition he happened on a treasure trove of albums by Mingering Mike, a soul superstar of the 1960s and 70s who released over 50 records in just 10 years.

Dori discovered Mike's releases while flipping through record crates fresh off the truck at a local flea market.

The find was a giant surprise because Hadar — who pays for his vinyl habit with a job as a criminal investigator in Washington, D.C. — had never before heard of the prolific Mingering Mike.

But they weren't real records at all. They were meticulously crafted cardboard creations, with vinyl grooves hand-drawn on the cut-out disc, and elaborate illustrated record jackets, with hand-lettering and ink portraits of the artist. They were even pretend-shrinkwrapped. Plastic wrap was taped over the covers, with pencil-drawn logos for the imaginary record labels that released them.

Dori bought what he could and rushed off to work. Later, he scanned some of the album jackets, to share with fellow vinyl junkies on a soul record Internet forum called Soul Strut.

Can Mingering Mike Stevens Really Sing!, read one album title. There was an imaginary sickle cell anemia benefit record, soundtracks for made-up movies like You Only Know What They Tell You, and a Bruce Lee style funk action concept album: Brother of the Dragon.

There were song titles like "Underwear Drying at My Front Door," "I'd Like to Teach the World (to Eat Like Me)" and "Sometimes I get So Hungry I Can Eat a Light Bulb (or a Chair, or Even My Hair)."

On another LP, the track list reads like a diary: "She's Not a One-Guy Girl," "Come on Back," "Frustrations of an Angry Young Man" and, finally, "That's the Way Love Is."

"I'm very concerned with the growing rates of suicide, threats, killings, alcoholism, addicts, prostitutes, fakes, frauds — and the success of this album," Mike wrote in one fantasy liner note.

Word spread fast across the Internet.

"Everyone on the forum just had to know more," recalled Hadar. "All of a sudden, Mingering Mike was a star."

Millions wanted to see these fantasy album covers for themselves. But, just as soon as the images had appeared, they vanished.

Hadar had taken them offline after thinking about how personal the material was. Since he didn't know how to reach Mingering Mike, he couldn't ask permission to share his obsessive musings with the rest of the world.

"If someone found a diary that belonged to me, how would I feel if they just published it on the internet?" Hadar asked.

Who was Mingering Mike? Was he still alive? Had he thrown this stuff away? Was it stolen from him? Hadar wasn't the only one who just had to know.

At the urging of e-mailers, and using his criminal investigator skills, Hadar went to work tracking Mingering Mike down.

The mystery of Mingering Mike continues when part two of this story airs Thursday.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Xeni Jardin
Xeni Jardin can be heard on NPR’s Day to Day, offering technology insights for listeners nationwide. Jardin is also a contributing writer for Wired Magazine, as well as a tech culture journalist and co-editor of the collaborative weblog BoingBoing.net, the award-winning "Directory of Wonderful Things."