By Michael Massey
(2022 Little Creek Press 323pp.)
Since I was a kid I have always loved to read biographies and autobiographies. I have lots of books and like to alternate between history and music. Occasionally I read historical fiction or outright fiction. As my wife would say, I’m a pack-rat, bordering on hoarding. Aside from an immense recorded music and memorabilia collection I have a couple hundred music biographies and autobiographies.
Some of them are better than others.
Some boggle the mind such as the first volume of Mark Lewison’s epic on the Beatles entitled Tune In. At 924 pages it offers extensive detail on the Beatles’ very early years. Of course, I had to buy the extended version at 1,728 pages because that’s how I roll. Mind you, this is part one of three and took ten years to write. Nearly ten years later, part two has yet to appear. Or the three-part autobiography of Mark Twain; Volume 1 being 760 pages with a font that’s so tiny it challenges my bifocals and pages as thin as the old Bibles and with twice the heft. I could barely hold it up to read. Twain attempted numerous times to write this as he didn’t want the typical “timeline” version of things. After he finally satisfied himself that it was written he ordered his publisher not to release it until one hundred years after his death so no one could be offended. Volume 1 appeared in 2010.
Some are outrageous like the humor thrown into Dave Stewart’s Sweet Dreams are Made of This. The chapter titled “Clam Chowder” is worth the price of the book alone. Stewart is right up there with Keith Richards in debauchery. Speaking of Richards, his book Life is one I’m sure many of you have read and were shocked to find out that the truth was every bit as intense as the fiction.
Some are dull like the Genesis books I’ve read. The members, though excellent musicians, aren’t interesting enough; they’re boring like me.
One commonality among all the books I’ve read is that the subjects usually have very little to lose. Most whitewash the most lurid parts of their lives and some can’t even remember. Of course, they have already achieved fame and usually write their books after they’ve peaked. Why write a memoir if you’re not well-known enough to sell it?
This begs the question then: why would a local musician write a book? Well, let me tell you a little about Mike Massey. Massey is a beloved Madison musician who has had a lot of success on the local level. His history, however, is longer than most people know. As you read in the book, he had brushes with breakout success; like a gazillion other musicians and bands. But beyond being a talented musician, Massey is one of the most life-affirming persons I have certainly ever met and I’m sure many of you would agree. Massey’s book is practically a guide on what not to do in the music business. More importantly however, Massey has offered a beacon of hope to anyone who has or is suffering from substance abuse.
The book is so riveting you might be inclined to read it in one sitting. The structure is unique with two storylines: one that follows Massey’s life story and music career and another that starts with his admittance for treatment in 1993. Both are equally shocking. The chapters are short and occasionally jump between these two storylines. Finally, they converge around mid-book. From there on Massey recounts the many opportunities and successes he’s had since getting sober and always with a nod toward that transformation. He couples that with his own advice on how to get through treatment, how to “flip the switch,” and his own take on treatment methods and their effectiveness.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the level of self-abuse Massey put himself through could rival anyone’s, fame or no fame. The brushes with stardom are impressive and a litany of characters light up the tale. It’s also a love story that proves to be life-saving. There are no holds barred in Massey’s telling. He recounts all the ugly truths with such humility and self-awareness; a brutal honesty that, in the end, is his ultimate gift to the world.
I’d heard this story in broad brushstrokes. Massey and I have known each other since first grade when he’d pick me up for school. He moved away from Mt. Horeb and I left two months after graduating high school in 1976. I returned late in 1980 and when I heard of Chaser I incredulously said, “That Mike Massey??” Of course, what frequently happens with musicians is that you’re so caught up in your own band that you don’t really get out to see others. It was wonderful for me to read the story now and in such detail, despite the immensity of the suffering he was going through. Massey’s memory is sharp, right down to details in conversations, clothing and the adornment of hotels, restaurants and other locales.
The amount of guts it took for Massey to write this book is colossal. The first half of the book is less than flattering. The mission of the process comes through loud and clear however. As musicians age it becomes less about impacting millions and more about impacting those that you can. In Massey’s case, those who are battling substance abuse. What an enormous offering and an undisputed achievement.
We could really use more books by local artists and their brushes with stardom. John Masino and Cub Tracy: I’m looking at you. It’s important that this history be captured. More on this to come…