They found him in moments and images – a shadow on a fuzzy TV with letters that spelled Blancmange, or in a bridge from an XTC song floating through console speakers while couples groped in rumpus rooms.
They also found him on random occasions — like while searching for an artist they’d heard but couldn’t name — when he worked at Kelly’s Stereo Mart on 8th Ave. or at Sam the Record Man in TD Square. Appearing at their shoulder he would invariably learn about their musical tastes and coax them a step or two, an artist or two, beyond. They could surely name those artists, and several more, by the time they left those stores carrying slightly heavier shopping bags than they had intended. And often, they remembered that moment for decades, still playing and loving the music he had coaxed them towards.
Maybe they ran into him at places like Sound Swap, Sound Exchange, The Attic and The Record Store, where he went to find new music when he was not telling people about, well, where to find new music, on his seminal Cable 10 show, FM Moving Pictures, which ran from 1979 to 1984. This was well before MTV and MuchMusic were even a brain fart, let alone on the airwaves.
Yes, music lovers in Calgary and beyond found him in trickles of blissful moments, like tuning into an unbridled interview with Bob Geldof (leader of The Boomtown Rats) or Iggy Pop (leader of the uprising against business-as-usual) and Nash the Slash (leader of a revolutionary cooking lesson)
People found Canada’s – and perhaps the world’s – first video jockey (VJ) in trickles of consciousness that carved deep musical canyons into their lives for decades. But on March 24, 2020, they lost Mike Bezzeg, 66, not in a trickle or in a slow forgetting, but in one horrific moment when he succumbed to injuries from a vehicle accident the day before that occurred at the intersection of Richmond Road and Sarcee Trail.
The outpouring of love from Calgarians who had known Bezzeg as a friend, colleague, or family member was sudden and ardent. But beyond that, the messages regarding his profound impact on the lives of strangers who’d never met him except through his shows, or met him a few times when he was recommending music to them, or who were in bands that had been influenced by his show, was a tidal wave.
Bezzeg had been out of the public eye for 35 years while he worked at The Sony Store (where people still asked him about new music worth hearing), married Odette and raised two children, Aja, 21, and Christian, 18. Still, he finally bowed to relentless requests from friends and strangers alike to create a new FM Moving Pictures and returned to hosting a show last year.
InnerView with Mike Bezzeg hit the YouTube airwaves (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfo44JImhUWUQ-14T6YUvqQ) on Nov. 14, 2019, featuring Bezzeg interviewing Canadian music staple, producer and guitarist Russell Broom. The series finished its season with an episode on another Canadian music staple, guitarist Oscar Lopez, on March 16, 2020, just days before Bezzeg passed. In between, Bezzeg spoke with punk icon Art Bergmann, Calgary musical statesperson Tom Phillips, and up-and-coming songwriter Emily Triggs, among others.
Bezzeg’s close friend David Veitch, who wrote about music at The Calgary Sun for decades, put the show together in a well-executed labour of love. It seems long-time fans were assuaged; some of the 10 episodes have earned upwards of 1000 views.
But there were many faces of Bezzeg beyond the one that gazed out at the camera of his shows (Music in Review pre-dated FM; ChromaKey Kids came afterwards) and the one he wore in record stores. In the 1980s, he became manager of Calgary bands Tau Ceti and The Funeral Factory (full disclosure – this author was a founding member of TFF.). His passion for music extended into an almost obsessive relationship with their music, to these bands’ and their fans’ benefit.
As a manager, Bezzeg went beyond just a mere role, chasing his massive vision. To that end, in 1985 Tau Ceti was booked as the first local band to headline at The Centre for the Performing Arts, now Arts Commons, and their videos for Radiation and San Francisco earned regular rotation on MuchMusic.
The Funeral Factory’s inaugural gig was another Bezzeg vision, opening for Skinny Puppy to a sold-out crowd at old Mac Hall on Sept. 30, 1988. He produced their EP, Living with Ghosts (’87), which hit No. 2 on every campus chart Canada-wide (behind Jr. Gone Wild’s unsurpassed Less Art More Pop!), and No. 1 in Edmonton (with Jr. Gone Wild right behind them. A prophet is, indeed, never respected in their own village.)
At Bezzeg’s arranging, they were the first Calgary band to be filmed live by MuchMusic in ’88 at Studio a Go-Go, and the first local independent band to release a CD, Cold War/Isolation Daisies, a year later. None of this would have happened had he not constantly rounded up the somewhat challenging band members and made sure the funds were available, studio was booked, supporting musicians were ready, the music got pressed and the artwork – which he organized and created himself, right down to meticulously hand placing leaves in a pile for the cover art – was done.
Bezzeg then inserted TFF on CBC’s Video Hits where a Canada-wide contest to win a T-shirt, which guaranteed the gorgeous video he had meticulously filmed (the garter snake in one shot actually bit him right after the frame ended), edited and produced to support the CD’s single, Isolation Daisies, received constant airplay, as the band’s SOCAN cheques soon reflected.
He was as proud of these accomplishments as the bands were; sometimes perhaps more so because he had so much influence on these things happening. And rightly so; Bezzeg did way more for his bands than they ever did for him. He created trailblazers.
- LISTEN TO THE JUNE 2018 EDITION OF THE SCENE IN THE WILD PODCAST FEATURING MIKE BEZZEG https://theyyscene.com/2018/06/22/scene-in-the-wild-podcask-episode-no-16-fm-moving-pictures-host-mike-bezzeg/
Then there were other faces beyond manager, producer, art director, promoter and videographer. Letters he wrote about various current issues appeared regularly in The Calgary Herald. He lived in Manitoba in the ‘70s where he was in a band called Bishop, which he used to refer to as “the Black Sabbath of Winnipeg.” He wrote songs and poetry. He used to present friends with a poem for a special occasion or if there was something that needed saying that couldn’t be easily said. He created art, including the infamous “camera with legs” image that was the hallmark of his show. He loved fishing, both summer and winter, and going camping with his family.
As a family man, his face could not hide his joy and pride as he spoke about his wife and children, often sharing Aja’s fun and superbly crafted video snippets on his Facebook page. Christian joined the crew of InnerView, showing his prowess as a camera man, while Bezzeg beamed about the circle nearly closing.
But many don’t know about the other face Bezzeg consistently wore: That of tireless giver. When his neighbour Sam, living alone, was faltering, it was Bezzeg who brought him groceries, took him for haircuts and included him in family gatherings, following through right to the end, including making the final arrangements.
If you were fortunate enough to be a friend of the man, you could count on him showing up with handpicked albums for you that he “just happened” to find during his beloved weekly outings to music stores. And no way could you give him money for these, not even to keep in his pocket lest he found something he thought you’d like on his next shopping adventure.
Even Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi came to know Bezzeg as he became the recipient of countless handpicked ties that arrived with hand-written notes. Indeed, the mayor was wearing one of these ties in support after the accident and before Bezzeg’s passing.
- IF YOU HAVE THE MEANS, PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING TO THE GOFUNDME PAGE SET UP TO SUPPORT THE BEZZEG FAMILY https://ca.gofundme.com/f/mike-bezzeg039s-family-needs-your-help
And as a friend, well, it was unforgettable to be a teenager infatuated with music and sit on his couch with my pal and guitar player Dar (The Funeral Factory’s late Greg Kucheran), while Bezzeg DJed the time away (separation – it was always about separation of the speakers so you could enjoy the production and be saturated in every note). It was a gift when we reconnected and he’d come out to my home west of Calgary to “get my nature fix” and walk the trails while we talked music, the outdoors, family and life. Of course, he always arrived with another CD, album or 45 that he “just happened” to find.
He lived that kindness to the end. The crash that brought him home to the Great Spirit occurred after he delivered food to a shut-in friend who was self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps all of us can pick up a little piece of what Mike Bezzeg gave to us and pass it along — be it music or an act of kindness — in the spirit of altruism that he lived, to someone who wasn’t expecting it.
I think Mike would like that.
(Photos courtesy David Kotsibie.)
Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer who hung out with Mike Bezzeg, bought records from him, played in a band he managed and produced, and re-connected with him decades later. They knew each other for over 40 years.