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Final Curtain

Mike Matteson: 1971-2000
Zoe Frazier

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 An unassuming artist whose passion for music superseded his need for acclaim; a man whose very persona radiated an uncommon warmth and soul that touched all those who stepped into his sphere.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.

"Mike was patient to a fault," says Ikner. "For two Tuesdays before his stroke, he came to the Green Room open mike at the beginning of the night, set up his stuff and, if things would run long, as they usually do, he would do his set in the last 10 minutes when people were getting kicked out."

According to Matt Strangewayes, who hosts the weekly showcase and wound up rushing Matteson to the hospital, "Mike really just wanted to play and never complained. So we rectified the situation and said, 'Let's get you on early to kick off the night instead and do the 8-to-10 slot.'

"On the way to the gig, we talked about making it his permanent slot," recalls Strangewayes ruefully. "Mike was really excited about the idea and was talking about promoting it and everything."

Clint "The Dirt Merchant" Filichia is a Green Room regular who was scheduled to perform with Matteson the night of his stroke. "I was supposed to go on and rap over Mike's grooves, and at about 9 o'clock, when Mike's got this repetitive skipping record thing happening, he walked out in front of his equipment table and in a second he was on the ground."

Also set to appear that evening with Mike was his brother. "I was supposed to play with him that Tuesday and I couldn't make it, and he gave me more shit about it than usual," says Rick, nodding. "It's like he knew. There's no greater freedom than choosing the way you're gonna die, and he always said that that was the way he wanted to go."

Even in death, Matteson's circle of friends continues to widen, his moody photo now a familiar image for scores of local musicians and entertainers who blinked and missed him in life. Since he had no medical insurance, the burden of the hospital costs will fall on his brother, who, in the midst of all this trauma, is expecting his second child this week.

Almost immediately after Matteson's stroke, the idea of establishing a fund or a series of benefit concerts was hatched. The first such show, held at the Green Room on Sunday, August 27, was a 14-hour musical affair, an odd assortment of death metal, belly dancing, rock bands and acoustic strummers.

It's indicative of the goodwill surrounding Matteson that half of the performers never even knew him or heard his music. Given his brief exposure to the Valley scene, it's doubtful that many of his acquaintances ever got a chance to hear it, either. Some of his work survives on cassettes, which Rick says will be distributed among his friends. Another idea being discussed is a tribute CD in which local performers will get to collaborate posthumously with Matteson, combining their work with pre-existing tracks.

"The wave of support I've received from everyone has been touching and inspirational," says Rick. "The one thing about Mike I would like everyone to remember and incorporate into their lives is his ability to work for three hours setting up and tearing down his gear in order to play a 15-minute set -- and be happy about it! He's no longer a musician, he is music. So if you hear a good groove, get up and dance and know that Mike is smiling."

In keeping with Mike Matteson's wishes, there will be no funeral, but Rick plans to go to Amsterdam in late December, on what would've been the twins' 29th birthday, to sprinkle his ashes.

Watcha Doin'?: In its second season, Watcha Tour comes back to remind us that Ricky Martin is not the sole face of Latin music, nor are Los Tigres del Norte or Tierra (do people actually think Mexican kids listen to these guys?). While one concert tour can only do so much to represent everything that's going on in Latino alternative music circles from here all the way down through South America, Watcha gives as good a sampling as can be expected.

The genre-destroying Café Tacuba brings so much stuff into the mix, from punk to banda to electronica to samba to ska to Tejano, that it's impossible to dissect. Critics' darlings, and rightfully so, the band's double CD, Reves/Yo Soy, was actually worth the doubled running time. Molotov's latest, Apocalypshit (the Ouija board cover might seem innocuous to us, but it got the CD booted off a lot of shelves in Mexico), wasn't as good as their previous, ¿Donde Jugaran las Ninas?, but it still kicks the shit out of most of the band's stateside rap/rock competition. Argentina's hard-rock monsters A.N.I.M.A.L. should crush everything in sight. And Colombia's Aterciopelados can weave together a dance beat, a beatnik rap, an old tango melody, strains of folk and rock, and a sweet-voiced female into a sound that's perfect for a cabaret or the street corner or the dance floor. Enanitos Verdes, and Fulano also fill out the Manzanita Speedway bill.

 

A special note: Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, and promoters are suggesting patrons buy them early to avoid massive walk-up delays. -- Sabrena Kaleta

The Watcha Tour, featuring Café Tacuba, Molotov, A.N.I.M.A.L., Aterciopelados, Enanitos Verdes, Fulano, and others, is scheduled for Monday, September 4, at Manzanita Speedway. Doors open at 4 p.m. Showtime is 5 p.m.


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