Thomas Spiegel, Dj Man-x at the cricket theater 1990- Photo Tony Larson
Thomas Spiegel or DJ Man-X his nom de guerre passed away this week; he was a friend of mine, he was a business partner, he was a teacher, and for one magical night in 1990 a fellow monster truck enthusiast.
I met Thomas at some point in lets call it 1988 (I suck at dates, and order of things so times may be way off but it gets the gist and that’s something) he had moved back from New York after doing a House Nation night, and wanted to start doing them here in Mpls, he had partnered with Kevin Cole doing some shows and starting their regular Thursday night gig in the 7th street entry opposite More Funk. I think I started working with him on the second night of it. It was during that time with my business partner Sonia (she owned Hair Police, I ran the Gallery and did the events) that together we started doing bigger events late nights at the salon, and eventually turning to what would later be called raves, but to us were just events.
Most “techno” fans know about Detroit, they know about Chicago, but what they don’t know that we had as big a scene here and we did it all without any press or radio. Because at the time this was the real underground music, you had to know someone to be on the in at all. It was wild, reckless and just barely legal; it was glorious. You have to understand that this was a different era, up until this point you never saw the DJs name on a flyer, you didn’t go to a party unless there was beer, and certainly not to dance, maybe drunkenly pogo but never dance. In fact dancing after bar close was a crime in Mpls- seriously. You can thank Sonia for busting that rule up. The point is there was a big secret scene that existed and largely because Thomas wanted to play house music really really loud.
Eventually the band broke up, one by one we all splintered away to do other things, each person moving to the next bright shiny thing (it may sound a tad nostalgic but things did seem much shinier and brighter then) But Thomas always stayed true, he was Deep House through and through. , I always admired his ability to always find new and interesting threads in the same flag; I wish I had told him that. Over the years we stopped speaking as much, because that’s what people do. That said he has never been far from my heart, because those days have never been far from my memory. We started a small quiet revolution that begat some much bigger ones, ones that don’t even necessarily know about the previous wars- it’s the downside of a culture based so much on the” now” that we forget the how, and ultimately the “why”.
I could go on about how many are standing on his shoulders, how many folks got there start there, or it was the inspiration point to start doing something new .the fact that you can here techno and house almost everywhere, and can really only hear the alt rock of the time on oldies alternative. Or that even First Ave, where it was fight to get equal rights for dance nights is more disco than ever. And its not like he stopped- ever, he was a staple of that deep garage scene, and a mentor to generations of up and comers, but in truth that doesn’t matter, not really anyway, not tonight.
Tonight I am thinking about how much I owe this guy, the fact that he let me produce things well before I was of legal age to go to them, that he wanted to make sure that I knew the music, its roots well deeper than my acid house summer of love entry point. Thomas was the guy who always got on my case for not paying myself what I am worth, a problem I still have to day and truth be told when I hear my subconscious telling me that it’s in Spiegel’s voice. He was complex, and difficult, a day trader in dreadlocks, a fighter with a rather large collection of Fred Flintstone items. People are complex, and Thomas wasn’t any exception.
The golden age of anything in music seems to last for 3- 5 years and I don’t know that was any different for House. For a time: it was utter and complete fucking magic. If you were there it changed your life, and if you weren’t than it sill sort of did anyway, we were surfers on a wave of drum machine inevitability.
“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” sure Shakespeare was using this as a rallying cry to battle. But I think it covers the battles already fought.
Bon Route, brother I hope Heaven has enough Bass bins for you
As a transplant patient you are taught to live in an almost continual state of thanks, it is a thing that I sort of suck at, in part because of my rather Daffy Duck like tendencies towards frustration. Fortunately thankfulness isn’t a destination it’s a journey, one that we all have to work towards. Sometimes the frustrations no matter how great or small get in the way of knowing how fortunate we are. In the midst of making turkeys or trying to open canned cranberries we can miss the point. To be thankful for what we have and how we got here, to remember that we are all standing on the shoulders of the ones before us. It’s a sentiment too easily lost in football games and black Friday sales.
To be honest who truly relates to Pilgrims – I mean outside of the Amish. It’s a day where we celebrate there devotion to puritanical ideals by indulging in a bunch of sins: gluttony, sloth, greed (seriously you celebrate thanksgiving by camping out in front of Best Buy? To get a deal on a tv- its not a free tv. It’s a deal on tv), and of course wrath, envy and pride- that all involves football though. Not a lot of lust, but I think that’s because most of the nation is in a tryptophan hole.
In ’89 or ’90 I started to do an Orphan’s Thanksgiving for everyone like myself who had nowhere to go (one parent had disinherited me, the other was living in the UK) so my friend and partner Sonia and I talked a bunch of people to come out to Fridley eat Turkey and watch Disney and John Waters movies. At some point the stove may have caught fire and people may have been voguing on the kitchen counter. It was the first time I actually truly connected with it as a holiday the very simple idea of giving thanks.
It wasn’t until 92 that it became a tradition with guests who have come in from all of the world, its been host to whoever was on tour, its been the meeting point for lifelong relationships and super unfortunate hook ups We have had it in time of great prosperity and utter disparity, When Mo and I separated for a time we even got back together in time to do it, I did it at my sickest, it was actually where I first came face to face with Scott my kidney donor since he had agreed to be my donor and 4 days before the operation.
Until this year, today there is no Orphans thanksgiving, a move to a new place which is a sea of boxes, and home to a stove that seems to know only one temperature and a dishwasher that refuses to drain So what has lasted through the best and worst of times has been temporarily waylaid by appliances. It will return next year- bigger badder, rougher and tougher, Much like Bond in skyfall a brief absence, quickly forgotten upon its return.
Nonetheless I am thankful, so unbelievably thankful. I am thankful for friends that understood we needed a year off, thankful for friends that wanted to share their holiday with us., Thankful for friends that are a part of my life now and friends who aren’t anymore for whatever the reason, it’s the stuff that makes us who we are, and who we will become. I am thankful for my country, which has gotten a little punched up as of late but keeps getting up off the mat, and fighting all the harder. I am thankful for my state and the fact that we voted down the Gay marriage amendment. I am thankful for my family both my extended and my actual albeit they are more Charles Addams than Norman Rockwell but none the less I am thankful. I am thankful for the good and the bad, we are alive , and it might be chaotic but like at all times in human history we stand at a crossroads; there will be good and there will be bad, and I am thankful for both and all the glorious bits in between.
I want to tell you about a friend of mine, his name is Thisaphone Sothiphakhak; I more often than not he is called Teace. He went to school kindergarten through high school right here in Minneapolis, till he dropped out in favor of getting his GED. He has been the DJ for almost every project I’ve needed a DJ on since ‘97, and as of right now he’s a man without a country.
Teace’s family moved here when he was two. I can’t say for sure what I was doing when I was two, but I am pretty sure it didn’t involve gunfire. Not so for him; his previous residence was a refugee camp in Thailand. The family moved there after Teace’s father had fought against the Khmer Rouge. Thailand itself was in a near constant cycle of revolution and dictatorship. Had they stayed, this family of four surely would have perished. So in true MN fashion some kindly Lutherans brought the Sothiphakhaks to Minnesota, thusly beginning the strange cultural journey from refugee camps and starvation to church basements and lutefisk.
Now that sounds simple enough, but think about this: one week you’re in a camp, there are guys with guns, you’re worried you might get shot, there is not enough food, people around you are disappearing. Then the next week you’re in a church basement in little Norway. You don’t speak the language, and there isn’t a guidebook, or some sort of Yoda for immigrants. Whatever country you’re in, you have to realize what an enormous leap it is to move countries, especially knowing you can never go back, that is unless you plan on getting killed. Not trying to be melodramatic, just trying to paint a picture that might otherwise get lost.
The family bought a house, the parents worked hard, leaving Teace to raise his siblings, a different task in this country than in their previous home. Still they proceeded to kindergarten and grade school. Thundercats, He-Man and Voltron were watched. His father died when Teace was 11; when I was 11 I got a bike.
Teace gets into punk, gets angry, argues with his family, becomes a typical American teenager. Argues with authority, gets frustrated with school, drops out, but gets a GED. Plays records, does dumb jobs and tries to figure out what the f*ck he’s supposed to do with his life. He starts to become a DJ, and a damn good one. But just like in any movie worth the admission, here comes the plot twist. He helps out an acquaintance–wrong time wrong place–and he is busted for a 5th degree marijuana aiding and abetting. It costs him a month in a county lock up, and serves to scare him straight.
So he goes on with life, he DJs, falls deep in love with Death Metal. (I credit him for my fascination with black metal). He works, gets jobs, eventually settles into the corporate world of Wells Fargo. He gets promoted at the bank—and this is when he discovers that he isn’t actually a citizen. He has a Social Security number, a driver’s license, a voter registration card. But somewhere along the line, his father hadn’t completed the paperwork.
It is here where everything goes sideways. He goes from being a fast rising employee to a possible threat to Homeland Security, subject to ICE lockdowns and threats to deport, to a country that also doesn’t have any records of his existence. As it stands now, he has to call in every week to a number to see if he has to come in to be held in a cell for an undetermined length of time. He can’t legally work, and is even limited to what sort of volunteer opportunities he can apply for (like teaching DJing to troubled youth).
Yesterday he told me, “I am daily reduced to something less than a person, an able bodied man who can’t work, who literally can’t afford to eat and is in near constant danger of losing my place to live, and by live I simply mean exist.” If that doesn’t give you pause you are in serious need of an empathy transfusion. His father risked not only his life but also his family’s for a better life, for all the potential that freedom can offer. Yet 31 years later TS is in the same place as he was when he was two. Not because of dictators or a coup d’état; rather, because of paperwork and a case that doesn’t fit neatly in a slot. Teace is a guy who has paid taxes with no representation.
So while we sit around and complain about the heat, the sucky economy and the state of our relationships. Teace tries to figure out how to eat, how to pay the rent, and keep his cellphone on. You know, all that stuff that most of us take for granted as we wallow in the day-to-dayness of our lives.
His world is turned upside down, having only survived by selling off his extensive and, may I add, extremely awesome record collection. Which is ironically the only way left that he has to earn money: as a DJ. So it’s a self-Gift of the Magi that can’t end any way that’s good.
He is forever waiting on paperwork that seems to be in perpetual review, mostly due to a stupid act that a stupid kid did over 14 years ago. An act that he paid for, and one that has passed its statute of limitations twice over. Yeah, he made a mistake, but he has also paid in full for it. Now he lives by unintentional bureaucratic torture: death by 1000 papercuts, all for the sins of being a being a stupid kid, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trapped in a system that doesn’t know what to do with him, shuffling him through until he bleeds out.
Thisaphone Sothiphakhak is as American as nachos, chow mein or Metallica. He wasn’t born here, but he was certainly raised here and in turn he became something else–an American. He deserves to stay, and work here, not because he has no other home, but because that’s what this country was based on: immigrants building a new life against oppression.
This is a piece i did in my quise as Paris1919 from the record Book of Job. It uses a 1903 film by Cecil Hepworth of Alice in Wonderland. The original print was pretty well destroyed and this video takes that a few steps further. its an older track but its a big favorite.
A man of many lives-some know Strouth as the filmmaker who behind the documentary "Unconvention: a Mix Tape from St. Paul" about the 2008 RNC, and M-80, some as a writer, or as a producer and musician and then of course their is the whole getting a kidney transplant over Facebook and Twitter thing. more...