I’m writing to let you know why we are doing a benefit for my friend Mike Olk.
If you know Mike, you know that after working with WCCO-TV as a freelancer in the late 1990s, he sort of disappeared off the face of the earth. He had been a really talented and successful videographer and producer in the local news business. But things went bad for him.
I have spoken with him about communicating with you and I have his blessings. He is not afraid to share his story, especially now because are working on a benefit event for him to help him through his cancer treatment, and to help him meet his expenses now that he cannot work any more at his (part-time, uninsured) job.
When Mike disappeared about a decade ago, it was because he had “gone back out” as people in recovery say. In this case, way out: Mike had become a homeless drunk. There were long periods when he would simply be out of our lives, and then periods when he would reappear, only to demonstrate to those of us who love him that he had gone even farther off the rails than we knew.Mike was in my band back in the day, and when he disappeared we carried on, sort of, without him. I think in our minds we were keeping it going to keep his seat warm, in effect, for whenever he came back off the street. While he was out there, he frequently encountered his son Elliot, who was even worse off than Mike. Mike was a straight up drunk. Elliot was a junkie. And Elliot died a junkie’s death in a gas station bathroom.
I’ll admit, I thought that would be the end of Mike, but instead he came back. It took time. He reached out to me several times when I thought he was bullshitting and I probably stiff-armed him. Fact was, he really was coming back. Another guy in the TV business, former WCCO reporter Dave Wildermuth was pivotal in that, as were my two bandmates Scott Maida and Barron Whittet. Much more than me.
But then, of course, it was always up to Mike. He came back to the land of the living because he wanted to come back.
So Mike was back. Got sober, got clean, got a job, got back to being our Mike. For the last three years we’ve had him. It hasn’t been easy for him financially but he has never given up. He worked steadily at Macy’s in the women’s shoes department, paid his rent, lived in a good house in a good neighborhood in St. Paul, in a supportive environment.
Then about a month ago he got weak, sick. Finally went to an emergency room. Turns out the reason he felt so shitty was because he was bleeding inside from esophageal cancer.
So now there is that.I’m telling you about this hoping you’ll care about his story. It’s a sad story, yes, but Mike is not a sad man. He has good and bad days, but that’s down to the chemo. His attitude is great. He is even determined to take his spot in the Oarsmen, our old band, to play at his own benefit.
That’s the event I’m talking about.
It goes from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 (Pearl Harbor day—a day we hope will live in happy infamy). The event is at Lee’s Liquor Lounge.
We’ve got some of Mike’s best friends playing, like the members of the Vees who still perform together, like Don Shelby from WCCO, who will sing with the WCCO Blues Band. Like Adam Levy of the Honeydogs, who took a shine to Mike when Mike helped me put together a video interview documentary on Adam earlier this year.
Mike’s surviving son, Harrison, will be there, too, playing with his accomplished Duluth modern bluegrass group Tin Can Gin. Jay Holgate’s incredible Eagles covers band Motel California will be there. As, of course, will Mike’s own band the Oarsmen, reunited just for this event.
Maybe you could attend. Maybe you can just spread the word. Details on the Olk Aid Event are online on our public Facebook page.
Signing off now. Thanks for listening.
If you can’t be there but still want to help, Dave Wildermuth has put up an electronic donations site. It’s an easy process to give using the interface. Please give if you can.