Final Curtain

Valley music figure Mike Matteson, 28, dies after onstage collapse

I'm gonna take out my eyes and wash them clean/Filling them in the decay/Removing all the debris, because the world I'd like to see is not behind, beside, below, above or in front of me.

-- Mike Matteson

Mike Matteson was eagerly awaiting his upcoming performance at the Green Room. After having been bumped the previous two weeks during the Tempe nightclub's open-mike night, the 28-year-old musician took the stage filled with anticipation, unaware that it would be his final performance. Midway through the set, Matteson collapsed, spending much of the next three weeks in a coma, until his death last Monday from a brain aneurysm.

In a music scene populated by hipsters, loudmouths and egotists, Matteson was a rarity. An unassuming artist whose passion for music superseded his need for acclaim; a man whose very persona radiated an uncommon warmth and soul that touched all those who stepped into his sphere. Even people whose contact with him was brief or tenuous recalled the immediate and lasting connection he seemed to make.

Nowhere was that bond more evident than on the third floor of the Neurological Center at St. Joseph's Hospital. There, scores of Matteson's friends and loved ones were allowed, two at a time, into the intensive care unit to hug, touch and converse with his comatose body. Many of those who gathered for the bedside ritual were encountering one another for the first time. Even Rick Matteson, Mike's twin and only family member, was astonished at how many people his brother knew.

Matteson's visitor list was considerably larger than the modest early evening crowd at the Green Room on Tuesday, August 1. The few who gathered that night witnessed Matteson's final bow, watching him perform his unique brand of electronic music before being struck down. For the next 20 days, he lay precariously between life and death. Though his condition seemed to improve -- he opened his eyes after the first week -- the doctors' prognosis remained grim.

With his body struggling, eventually a decision had to be made whether to keep him on life support. Hoping to find some sanction for the impossible choice before him, Rick hiked up South Mountain seeking solace. In a dint of cosmic rationale, he asked his brother to help make the difficult decision for him. He didn't have to wait long for the answer. On August 21, Mike's brain hemorrhaged and became so swollen that it cut off all blood flow and started shutting off itself.

"In two minutes, he was dead. I actually sucked the last breath out of his trachea tube," Rick says, pointing to his neck, "and I can still feel it in here."


The Matteson brothers grew up in New York, adopted sons of a couple who were, by all accounts, less than exemplary parents. The two severed all ties with them when Rick moved to the Valley in 1993. Mike followed his brother west nearly two years ago. Initially, the plan was for the twins to return to playing music together, as they had when they were teens. But in the interim, Rick had decided to put his bass down and start a family, while his brother began to embrace a brand of autonomous electronic music.

It was at the 1999 Earth Mother Mind Jam Festival that Mike Matteson first touched the core group of friends and colleagues he would remain close with for the rest of his short life. Of Matteson's first Southwest appearance, fellow musician and friend Tres Ikner recalls, "I was blown away by this guy with two keyboards and two drum machines all MIDI'd together. [He] would take a sound he liked and let it repeat in time wherever he liked. No other artists I know of do what he did."

There is a misconception even among those who booked Matteson for shows that he was a DJ. "Mike didn't have turntables, at least not then. He never DJ'd anything," Ikner says. "Mike referred to himself as a 'sound sculptor.' When he got more courageous or drunk, he would recite some of his poetry over it."

Another close friend, Jennifer Robbins -- known as the "Sheriff of Love County" and a member of electronic combo Joined -- once shared a rehearsal space with Matteson and rock band Big Blue Couch. "Mike used to hole himself in this space for days, a place with no food and water, because he would obsess over his music. So we would periodically check in on him, offer encouragement and bring water sandwiches."

Matteson's sudden passing occurred just as he was starting to make inroads in a scene where he was already a much beloved figure. The glammed-up publicity photo of Matteson, which has hung behind the Green Room bar since the night of his stroke, was perhaps the first sign that he was making a move toward getting himself recognized for his music.

Although hungry to perform, Matteson was never motivated by ego, which led him to accept less than desirable time slots or last-minute shows that other artists would have regarded as beneath them. In April, his end-of-the-night Earth Mother Mind Jam set at Monsoon's in Flagstaff was truncated to a scant 15 minutes because of time constraints.

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