Mike Kelley The Poetics

February 28, 2012 by staff 

Mike Kelley The Poetics, Mike Kelley, an influential artist whose career also included stints in the avant-garde noise-rock band Destroy All Monsters, was found dead in his Los Angeles-area home Tuesday (1/31).

Kelley’s death was described as a suicide by friends, who told the Los Angeles Times that he had been suffering from depression, but authorities have not yet confirmed the cause of death. He was 57.

Although Kelley made his largest mark in life as an art figure, using mixed media to create installations that drew praise far and wide, he also made an imprint on the music scene. While attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Kelley joined with fellow art students Jim Shaw, Lynn Rovner (Niagara) and filmmaker Cary Loren to form Destroy All Monsters, named after a schlocky ’60s Japanese horror film. The proto-punk band played its first show at a comic book convention, utilizing unconventional instruments that included a vacuum cleaner and a coffee can while performing a version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” that got them kicked out of the venue for their trouble.

This failure did not deter them. The band soldiered onward, modifying common musical instruments and introducing brand new ones to rock, such as broken circuit boards and talking doll heads. Although Kelley and Shaw left the band in 1976 to attend graduate school, the band continued, eventually releasing several albums and briefly including the late Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton as a member.

At CalArts in Los Angeles, Kelley joined up with fellow artist Tony Oursler to create another art-band, The Poetics. “Mike played the drums and I sang and we both played organ — we both bonded on that probably because of our Catholic upbringing. Though to say ‘played’ is an exaggeration; we made noises,” Oursler, now a video artist, told the Times.

A 1995 Destroy All Monsters reunion brought back the original members, including Kelley, for a sort of comeback tour after the band was championed by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who compiled a three-CD best-of box set, “Destroy All Monsters: 1974-1976,” in 1994 on his Ecstatic Peace label. Kelley also created the artwork for Sonic Youth’s “Goo” album.

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