Our Moment is Fleeting
“Our moment is fleeting, under the pale white moonlight. “
(April 5, 1978 – October 27, 2014)
In 2011 I was shooting The Shakedown at the Tavern of the Damned. I was in my usual battle mode fighting with available light. Mike was wandering in and out of the only beam of white on stage. With an early rig and kit lens, I grabbed a frame I still look at and think about to this day. It was a true “eye meets lens” moment. That photo was the closest I ever came to knowing Mike Braman. Mike, like others I’ve shot on multiple occasions is among those I never officially met or got the chance to know.
The photo with the Sparrow Big Daddy he slung so low on stage, spurred my curiosity about the man so I talked with Mike’s wife Trish recently about dropping a few words about his legacy. I’ve known Trish a few years and after some inquiries, figured out quickly that to tell Mike’s story completely would be a book-sized endeavor. During his brief life he simply touched too many souls. For this piece Trish and I would share a few candid conversations about Mike. I also sought out Dane Loucks (friend, Purrverts, Shakedown, Switchblade Valentines) and curator of Mike’s Sparrow guitar. I talked with Billy Bones (Vicious Cycles Motorcycle Club, Sparrow Guitars, Clampdown Record Pressing), Skinny Tim (VCMC and Sparrow Guitars) and Al Murray (friend, Switchblade Valentines, Shakedown, Zap Straps).
I’m not a musician but wanted to know more about Mike’s guitar. When Dane acquired it, he had some repairs done to it. Mike was known for being hard on his guitar. He played it a few times live and has encouraged those who knew Mike to drop in and play it a while. I believe an instrument can possess the spirit of the individual who played it most. Skinny Tim was working at Sparrow when he put together Mikes Big Daddy. He comments “Truthfully there was nothing so “unique “about the guitar Mike got from us. It was what he did with it that made it unique. Mike took a classic guitar and infused it with so much heart, sweat and bad ass rock and roll style that the guitar became as legendary as the man himself. “Talking more with Tim and Billy, I learned a bit about the fading Big Daddy model. His flat black version was based on the Gretsch 6120, with classic jazz styling “perfect for rockabilly.” Mike’s guitar bore the Valentines logo, done by Vancouver painter Myk Roc. Both Billy and Tim with the Cycles played with the Valentines a few times and share a deep respect and love for Mike.
A common recollection of those I spoke with about Mike was the signature sound he brought to all his musical projects. (Switchblade Valentines, The Shakedown, Zap Straps, Cheat the Hangman, Blood Moon) I asked Dane to articulate what that sound was. “Mike was into big open chords and really melodic lead lines. I’ve been playing for years now and could still never write a lead line as melodic. When I first joined the Valentines, he played this solid state, red knob Fender amp that was offensively loud and treble heavy. When I joined The Shakedown him and Nick both played Fender tube combo amplifiers. It was a cleaner, reverbed out sound that relied more on the natural gain of the amps. He had a quick pause in a lot of his songs, like skipping a beat or something. I’m not sure how to explain it.” Dane played with Mike in the Valentines for a short while, including an infamous gig in Vancouver opening for the Gutter Demons, where he took over lead vocals. He would go on to join Mike again with The Shakedown for a longer run.
On stage Mike is remembered as larger than life with a confident style and “strong powerful presence “Al Murray remarked. “he couldn’t help but be cool. “Dane remembers early Valentines shows and thought Mike had the look of “the coolest guy ever. “Aidan Engel (Vic City Rejects) recalled the Valentines were the first show he ever saw as a kid and shares that sentiment. He looked up to Mike and the band. He had the chance years later to play Mike’s guitar but never met him again as an adult.
For whatever presence and big sound Mike possessed on stage, it loomed larger than the man himself. “He was a different person on stage. “Dane recalls. Trish summed it up by expressing that “on stage is who he wanted to be. “But in person, Al Murray described him as a soft spoken and private, not prone to gossip or small talk and a true man of few words. “If Mike said something, you knew it had to be important. He was an old soul who just wanted a simple life.” Dane remembers his relationship with Mike as one of “comfortable silence. “It was really OK to just sit and not say anything. “
Mike hitchhiked to BC from New Brunswick in 2002 with few possessions. Described as not a material person, he placed more value in the people and experiences he was part of. Not much was ever mentioned as far as assets beyond his jacket, boots, bike, few clothes and his guitar. A self-taught musician, it was a skill he would pass along to others. It was remembered he “couldn’t write music as much as he could just play it. “When I asked what Mike liked to listen to, Al recalls he had an appreciation for Teenage Head, The Cramps, Demented Are Go and looked up to Stompin Tom Connors. He could breathe and play straight up bar rock and rockabilly with a weave of country combed through.
In a follow up discussion with Trish, I could tell Mike still lives inside awfully close to the surface. As the anniversary of their wedding and his birthday come each year in early April, she remarks it tends to put her in a “weird headspace. “With a broad smile she shares a joke Mike told her once. “What do you call a guitarist with no girlfriend? Homeless.” In trying to encapsulate his life, she went on to explain he was a landscaper, owning a business at one time. “He liked to work with his hands. He played his guitar day and night. Rode his bike with The Bombers, a motorcycle club he was one of the original members of. The club has done a few rides honoring Mike on the anniversary of his departure. And he lived to be on stage. He really was everyone’s. Not just mine. The friends he made he kept for life. His roots were not in the ground, but in the experiences and memories. I am grateful for him teaching me about living in the now and being present because the smallest memories can feel so huge. They feel like yesterday. He is very missed. “
I look again at the photo that still stirs me. You can’t escape his gaze in this frame. Al told me “if Mike were an animal, he would be a wolf. He had those penetrating blue eyes. “Mike’s story is one larger than these few words can capture. Trish remarked that “every life deserves a book. “I agree with the sentiment. I’d have to spend a lot more time tracking down and talking with Mikes many friends, family, bandmates and recording endless road stories, to capture all the layers needed. The Valentines crossed Canada twice on tour and I imagine those tours alone would generate a book. So as an outsider, I’m really just scratching the surface, hopefully encouraging those who knew him to bring back a few smiles and stories in his honor.
In December of 2007, the Valentines were interviewed by Absolute Underground. A question came up about the longevity of the current lineup at the time. Mike chose to reply to this one and remarked “Till death do us part. “On October 27, 2014 Mike departed for wherever wanderers gather once they leave us. I’ve always hoped there’s a rock and roll heaven myself’ for genuine souls like this one.
Trish pauses a moment and with hand over heart and a smile says,” He’s not really gone. He lives as long as people remember.”
His ashes have been scattered with a few waiting to rest with family land on Mudge Island where Mikes Grandpa lives. “Trapped in an urn is not him, Trish remarks. He needs to be free. “