Memories of Mike: Friends reflect on the life of Calgary music icon Mike Bezzeg (Part II)

In response to some callouts to write about Mike, I reached out to some of his old friends and colleagues. Their responses were so rich, so heartfelt, and frankly, so beautiful, I could not bear to cut them up into quote chunks for the story. These responses help all of us understand, remember and appreciate the many faces of Mike Bezzeg.

Herb Toeppner, long-time friend

I moved to Calgary from Ontario in May 1976 after my 19th birthday to seek my fame and fortune. A couple of friends of mine had made their way to Cowtown the year before and told me to ‘Go West young man’ via a snail mail letter, so I did

Another friend of ours, Bill Renette was living in Calgary as well, at 17 Ave. and 4 St. One day in 1977 Bill applied for a paid gig at Calgary Cable North. Somehow he talked his way into the position. After a while Bill says, “Hey you should meet this guy from work. He does a TV show called Music in Review and is kinda cool.” I don’t remember where we met, probably Bill’s place … or it might have been the producer of the show … Sam Vye, I think.

The common theme, at any rate, was to smoke some weed, get high and listen to music. After that I did some volunteer work helping to produce other community programs at Cable North. One was a dry cleaner show … how to get out stains … also they had a remote studio so we covered local hockey games. I did sound, lights and even got to work the switcher board. Total fun!

Soon Mike and I became friends. He had just moved into #1 – 521 21st Ave. S.W. with a new roommate, Martin Borrow. Another soon to be life-long friend. We hung out, got high and on Saturday night would go over to Guy and Carol’s to watch Saturday Night Live. It became a ritual every week for years.

The things that stood out for me about Mike were his vast record collection, his wicked sense of humour and his drive to produce music of local Calgary bands, like Tau Ceti and The Funeral Factory. He had a natural ability to see talent in musicians and the creative mind to assemble a cast of characters who could record, produce artwork and manufacture vinyl records, cassettes and later Compact Discs for these artists. All on a meagre budget. Amazing!

That and his love for music (shone) in his TV shows, first Music in Review and later FM Moving Pictures produced at Calgary Cable South. Truly a concept ahead of its time. MTV and MuchMusic came along years later. Mike was, without knowing it, creating a future genre of television. His contacts with the record companies gave him access to a new medium: The music video. I remember taking Mike to record companies and picking up these music videos on huge cassette tapes. It was so cool seeing these artists’ early videos. The ones that I remember are Peter Gabriel Shock The Monkey and The Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star.

In 1979 I met, fell in love with a Calgary girl, Marilyn. She quickly took to Mike and Martin as brothers. Marilyn helped Mike produce some shows for FM Moving Pictures, before we moved to Red Deer in the early 1980s. Even though we divorced and 30 some years later reconnected, we often talked about Mike and our younger days spent at Small Horse Big Apple Records.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 43 years since I first met Mike. Saw him meet Odette, fall in love and have two fantastic children, Aja and Christian. He was so proud of his kids and every time he spoke of them his love and delight for their accomplishments shone through his voice.

Mike is one unique individual and the hole that is left in this world after his passing can never be filled. Rock on, Buddy!

Wendy Moenig, artist, music lover, and first wife of legendary Calgary Herald music critic and FM Moving Pictures regular James Muretich

I met Mike through James, before a taping of FM Moving Pictures, because James was a frequent guest on the show. That was shortly after we were married, so the summer or fall of 1981, I believe. I remember thinking two people couldn’t be much more different than the two of them. Mike exuded yin and James supplied the yang. Cool and hot. And I think that’s what I liked about seeing them together. They both had so much commitment to music, to the point of producing shows for free. I wouldn’t know how to describe Mike to anyone who didn’t know him. He wasn’t just unique. He was always outside the box.

Marino Di Napoli, cameraman and director for FM Moving Pictures and long-time friend

February, 1980. A month before my 18th birthday, I started at Cable 10. There was a music show that taped on Thursday nights, hosted by a guy who worked at a record store. I started doing camera work for the show, shooting the album covers. After I graduated from SAIT, the director left, and I started to direct FM Moving Pictures. Mike and I became friends. 

Mike would have great ideas, and we would figure out how to do them. Like shooting the show at Stanley Park, where James Muretich threw an LP on a barbecue grill, and we watched it melt. He didn’t like it. The record company liked it even less. Mike wanted to be in the water for an intro, so we put his Ikea chair out in the Elbow River, sitting on a garbage can filled with water, with Mike hanging his feet in the river.

Mike wanted to do a shoot at his house, so I showed up with the gear, and we shot Cooking With Nash the Slash. At the start of that video, my friend Dan and I are talking, purposefully going to the wrong house, before walking into Mike’s apartment. 

Mike tried to get Iggy Pop and Nash for interviews, but there was no time in their schedules, so he had them interview each other. Iggy took off his shoes and socks, and smelled his feet. He also jabbed his pen through the armrest of that infamous Ikea chair, and left holes in a globe we had found for set decoration. We just put them on the FM set for about 20 min, and hit record. 

In the early ’80s, the music scene here was basically a few clubs, and the MacEwan Hall Ballroom at the U of C. We took the Cable 10 mobile up to Mac Hall so often, it was as familiar as the Cable 10 studio. Mike asked for another show on Cable 10, called FM Focus, where we could show 30 minutes of a local band, in a local venue. It only lasted a couple of seasons, partly because airtime was limited, and my manager sat me down and said we have to limit how much music programming Cable 10 was doing.

It was around the time that FM Moving Pictures ended, and ChromaKey Kids started. Where FM was Mike and James introing music videos and reviewing music, ChromaKey Kids was meant to be more of a panel. Mike, James, and music producer Frank Lockwood did the show late ’84 to mid ’85.

When CDs came out, there were only two plants pressing them, in Japan and Germany. The record labels were very stringent on what they would allow to be pressed, and they really didn’t do a great job of mastering them at first. They simply sent the recording master to the lab, which were EQ’d for vinyl, not for digital. 

Mike took pleasure in the vinyl world, and didn’t seem too enthusiastic about CDs at first. I remember one discussion with Mike and a record rep, in Sam’s, about what was available on CD. At the time, the guy running the U of C record shop was importing great stuff, apparently through unofficial channels. So I got things like Pink Floyd Dark Side, The Wall, some Steely Dan, that wasn’t “officially” available in Canada. So the record rep said this isn’t out yet, and I said I had a CD copy, and Mike just grinned, and said he believed me. Record rep dude was pissed. Conversation ended. 

The source of the music videos FM played was, of course, the record reps who would visit Sam The Record Man with their weekly bag of goodies. While the pickings were initially pretty slim, it got better and better, as more bands & record companies realized the power of these performance pieces. Mike never played any of the country, or classical stuff he got. But, wow, fans of Kate Bush, and Jack Green in Alberta were staggering in number compared to the rest of Canada.  

Working with Mike on FM started me on the path of getting it done, and making it happen. Mike spoke freely about what he would like to try, or imagine stuff out loud, and we would figure out how to do them. Like Cooking with Nash, the concerts at Mac Hall, shooting on location, or giving audience a glimpse into local bands making music. 

Setting up in bars at that time was dirty, smoky, smelly work, pretty late into the evening. I knew my boss didn’t like the show, and we almost never had engineering support on those shoots. But people loved ’em. We were creating local TV, for people who wouldn’t otherwise see or be seen. When MuchMusic began, Mike took great pleasure in catching which videos they ripped directly from FM. We would place the logo on the video in more creative ways, to make sure people knew where it came from. 

After Mike retired from Sony, we got together for coffee, and he wanted to know how to do more of what he did with FM. He kept talking about getting a show broadcast. I had to educate him about how the world worked now, and that he didn’t need any broadcaster’s help (or approval). Shoot what you want, and post it on your own YouTube channel. And, he did. There were people reminiscing about FM, and Mike still had a huge collection of VHS recordings of the show, so we set up a way for him to digitize the material, and post it. 

FM probably ended because it became a parody of itself. For years, Mike wouldn’t want to talk about it, it was a phase he went through in his youth, he’s over it. Nice way to hide. Music was his love. He knew everything about it. He knew the connections of the people making it, whose engineer’s niece became a bassist, or who made something for a friend while still doing their day job. It was about people making music, and their life. Music, making it, listening to it, sharing it, taking joy in it.

Screen capture of Mike Bezzeg from the days of FM Moving Pictures

Pamela Dukes, long-time friend and huge music fan

We met when I won a copy of some classical record he gave away on Cable 10. He invited me to pick it up at his house and I guess after that I was just always hanging out there. He gave me so many records, CDs and tapes that he knew I would like.

He was so generous and giving that way. He enjoyed making people happy with music.

Last time I saw him was at Morrissey and he looked so happy. It was an amazing show and I jokingly called him Cary Grant after he’d posted that comment by Cheech Marin.

I never really pictured him as a family man, but it really seemed to suit him. 

After Sandra’s (Armitage, co-owner of The Record Store) memorial he made a bunch of people get into his car to listen to a remix of Passion Scars (a project with Mike and Funeral Factory co-founder Greg Kucheran). It really was brilliant and he was an amazing producer. Again, he gave me a copy which I’ll treasure. Dar sounds fantastic. I can just see DJ Don and his wife in the backseat and none of us were allowed to leave until we heard that CD!

Janine Bracewell, musician, songwriter, and singer with a goddess voice, Same Difference, Blueprint and current project Mofaux

(Mike) asked me to sing a song on of the Funeral Factory album. The record was amazing. It was “produced” and sounded enormous and pulled musicians not just from the indie band pool. Jimmy Carver had been the Carillon player at the Calgary Tower, sitar player Seema Ganatra, jazz saxophonist Gib Monks, electronic composer Ohama, Ted Wilson who sang opera on 8th Ave. every day. The cover had nudity on it. Mike was influenced by the 4AD label and I think he was trying to build a label with that sensibility (art, music, coolness, etc.).

The record release party was at the Westward Club and the show felt kinda like a festival more than a cohesive show … but I could be wrong about that. (Note: Janine’s memories are correct.) It seemed like people would rotate on and off the stage but this is just my memory.

Mike had rented a room at the hotel for people to party and mingle during and after the show. I do remember there were people in wigs and leather and Ted Wilson, dressed up as a sad clown, was warming up his opera voice. It was like a Fellini movie. 

The next thing I know about Mike is his indefatigable generosity. He was helping his neighbour, Sam, recover from a stroke and in the course of helping him take a bath, Mike noticed a large lump under Sam’s arm. It turned out to be cancer. Mike and his family helped Sam for the last one and a half years of Sam’s life, visiting and supporting him through chemo. Being amazing. 

Mike left many stacks of CDs at my door. He’d pick them up if he thought that I’d like them. Never asked for anything from me. When I told my (husband) Jeff about that, he said Mike would drop off shirts or jackets that he’d picked up when shopping where he was like “Jeff would like that!” When Mike interviewed English psychedelic pioneer Twink, he gave him a Calgary toque and a bunch of fancy ties from his cupboard. You might feel uncomfortable about his generosity but he never did. He just wanted people know just how much he appreciated them. 

Mike and James’ show was a lifeline for kids in that time. You captured it perfectly in the article you wrote before ( Calgary was so conservative and redneck, and that show didn’t care what you looked like, if you had acne or braces. They just wanted to turn everyone on to the music that you wouldn’t hear on the radio. There was a world beyond your high school and Calgary and Canada.

I really wish that I’d told Mike how much I appreciated him. I’ve had a few friends say this too. He was never afraid to put his heart out there, tell you something kind that you might need to hear. He could think big and always had dreams of what he could do to make things better. He had a very big heart. 

Jeff Kushner, musician, The Beagle Ranch, The Funeral Factory, Unsightly

As with many, my first recollections of Mike was from FM Moving Pictures. Here was a guy who exposed us to so much cool music that wasn’t being played on commercial radio. So much innovative stuff that still makes up a huge part of my listening diet.

In addition to enriching our lives with new music videos (I don’t think “alternative” music had been coined quite yet), Mike also kept us in the loop with what was going on with some of our favourite bands and often shared some very well-informed thoughts. 

Mike joked that these type of letters were usually written in crayon and went on a bit of a tirade that seemed equivalent to one standing up to the high school bully. One of my takeaways was when Mike stated how so much of the classic rock ideology makes men seem so strong and women seem so weak. That idea has always stuck with me and how that idea needs to be continually challenged. Thankfully Mike exposed us to a lot of great female artists including Kate Bush, Toyah Wilcox, Lene Lovich, Anne Clark, Jane Siberry, and a host of others. Mike also shared hosting duties with Judy Cook Young (I hope I got that name right), and I was appreciative of the female representation and input. 

One of my favourite moments was his response to a letter from a person that didn’t seem to think much of what Mike was playing. I believe the person was more of a classic rock/heavy-metal fan which is totally cool in its own right. However, the letter seem to have little tolerance for anything new, different or a little strange. The conclusion of the letter was: “You and the New Music suck!” 

Later on I met Mike in person at a release party for the Funeral Factory’s EP Living with Ghosts. It was an evening of meeting a lot of brilliant creative people. I think I shared a few words with Mike along with my brother Greg Kushner, who was also a CJSW DJ at the time. I remember Mike was beaming with pride and enthusiasm for the project. Later on my brother was given an advance tape of the Funeral Factory’s Isolation Daisies/Cold War album and I was amazed at the song writing and vision. Nothing like that ever came out of Calgary before. It was super dark, heavy, current and yet hearkened back to a lot of the ’60s music that I loved the same time.

More by luck than anything else I found myself playing guitar with the Funeral Factory, and my first show with them was their CD release party for Isolation Daisies /Cold War. I had a visit with Mike I believe the next day and there were some things that he really liked about the evening but some other things that didn’t appeal to him. This is the point where I figured, “OK, I’m likely to be first on the chopping block. I’m the least experienced guitar player and my gear is pretty crappy.” 

However, Mike proceeded to tell me that he wanted me to stay with the band and gave me wisdom that I will never forget. Many musicians like to show off what they do and showboat and prance around. Mike told me that my skill was in knowing when not to play and allowing space to come through for the other parts to be heard. I was maybe starting to realize this subconsciously but it had never been verbally expressed and made so clear. Mike was the guy who really listened and really understood how to create something with real weight and vision.

He was always eager to share his expansive knowledge of artists you just had to know. Probably anyone that talked music with Mike was likely armed with some play copies of new upcoming releases. Mike didn’t seem to know any bounds when it came to generosity. He will be greatly missed by so many. I will always remember him for his passion for music, giving nature and DIY ethic. Thank you, Mike Bezzeg.

Tom Bagley, artist and musician, Forbidden Dimension, Colour Me Psycho, Von Zippers (Note: Bagley was to be the first artist featured in InnerView with Mike Bezzeg, Season 2, in a two-part story)

I was one of those suburban teens that would tune in every week to FM Moving Pictures, always curious as to what interesting clips Mike and James would play, but also tuning in just to listen to the two of them rant and rave about whatever the topic might be. I remember going into the Sam’s downtown one time and recognizing an article from Heavy Metal magazine about the Residents, cut out and mounted near a small display of their records. I thought that was pretty cool and then recognized Mike from FM Moving Pictures at work. I figured he was the cool guy who was behind it. 

Illustration of The Handsome Family which Tom Bagley did for the episode of InnerView

My friends and I would tune in multiple times a week with our video decks at the ready to tape any interesting clips that were going to air (the only other source for music vids around that time was The New Music out of Toronto, which we were fans of as well, but was a little more mainstream). I would occasionally ask Mike a question about an LP in the store when I would visit, but I was pretty shy at the time and didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself, so I didn’t really make friends with him until decades later! 

A couple of years ago, Mike reached out and friended me on Facebook and shortly thereafter, we met up at Sandra’s (The Record Store) funeral. A short while later, Mike engaged me to do an illustration for Ronnie Hawkins, who was going to be the subject of a new version of FMMP that he was planning on starting up. This of course became InnerView.

Mike was always really great to have come visit and I would always look forward to seeing him. He would get right down to business, but he loved seeing my dogs and always had wicked stories about the old days in the music scene and the formative years of cable TV production.

Don McSwiney, former station manager of U of C campus station CJSW, musician, Dino Martinis

I remember, back in the day, Alan Baekeland (Calgary music god in Rembetika Hipsters, The Men of Constant Sorrow, etc. and former station manager of CJSW) was giving a talk to a group of CJSW student volunteers, where he said that being an amateur broadcaster – as opposed to professional – was really a compliment. Amateur comes from the Latin amatore meaning “lover.” Being an amateur, he pointed out, doesn’t mean being unskilled, it just means you are motivated by the love of the thing itself, not by money. These words came back to me in reflecting on Mike’s life over the last few days. He was the definition of amateur – and that’s high praise – but nobody loved music more than Mike. 

(For) a Bishop Grandin high school student, Mike Bezzeg made channel 10 must-see TV. My friends and I would never miss FM Moving Pictures, barely noticing the geeky and endearingly awkward host who moved mountains to show us the latest Jam or Clash video. We were just thrilled to see it. Bezzeg we took for granted. 

The cost of being a quasi-public figure – who often had to provide bus fare for his camera operators – was something most of us never considered. At (The Record Store co-owner) Sandy Armitage’s memorial Mike reflected on those days, recounting the story of how a gang of Van Halen fans once tracked him to the Sam’s downtown location and proceeded to beat him up in the parkade because of a flippant derogatory remark that Muretich made on the show. “I was willing to talk to them,” Mike said, “I wanted to have a dialogue.” 

Of course he did. Mike was all about conversation. He always wanted dialogue often with people who didn’t deserve it. 

Last fall he and I had a long lunch at Spolumbo’s — as usual he gave me gifts (an Armani blazer, Style Council 12” singles) for no apparent reason. And we talked about so many things – reflecting on our long relationship. When he was a record producer and I was a DJ/station manager. The many long conversations we’d have in the Sony Store, or random record stores around the city. We talked about his thrift-store fashionista hobby. He spoke of joy and regret.

Finally, I had to ask him the question I’ve always wondered. From an outsider’s perspective, Mike’s life seemed to have been filled with an overwhelming amount of tragedy. Yet he seemed impervious to it. I wanted to know how he overcame the profound grief of having so many people close to him end their lives. How he managed to remain so buoyant, with his infectious brand of positivity. He surprised me by describing a deep spirituality that was as unconventional as the man himself. One day, I’ll transcribe that interview where he describes that tangible presence of God in his life, it was unexpected. 

Over the course of his Cobb salad he reflected on the span of his life to that point, which felt weirdly like a Calgary version of Forrest Gump. He knew and interviewed so many famous people. He influenced so many people, and ultimately, he touched so many people through his programs and through his relentless caring. He was the first person to like your post on Facebook, and the person most likely to call you at 7:30 a.m. He was the guy who brought friends birthday cakes, visited friends in hospitals and doted on seemingly everyone he knew.

Oscar Lopez was featured in the final episode of InnerView

Of course, at the time he was (literally) vibrating with excitement over his new internet project – InnerView, a rebirth and re-imagining of his FM Moving Pictures legacy. In fact, just days before his death, he phoned me (again at 10:30 at night) to see if (my wife) Alison and I could make a 10:30 a.m. filming at the Ironwood for his piece on Oscar Lopez. I was flattered, but sadly we both had to work. Wish I could have a re-do on that one. 

That late-night call, like so many others, made me once again wonder at how much he seemed to care about something he literally had to pay to do. How he had kept his enthusiasm for so many years. But I knew the answer – we all knew the answer – he was the consummate amateur, and he’ll be deeply missed. 

“Legs” Smith, owner of the now defunct The Attic music store

I first met Mike when he was a clerk at Kelly’s downtown. Ian Curtis (Joy Division) had just died and Mike was building a display monument for the release of Still. He was very sombre at the time, and I had been watching his TV show FMMP and had my own little radio show on a pirate station.

He was distant, then. Mike’s taste and mine were often different, but I always respected his passion and his desire to share. Mike was an innovator, a risk taker, an incredible source of knowledge and energy. Later when I opened my store, The Attic, we conferred more often. I was a rebel in the music business. Mike had to toe the line more; working in a chain store and wanting to be a record company rep.

But his love for music always shone through. He would love it when he found a quality “live” recording or rarity. I often went over to Sam’s to get a feel for the corporate intent in music, those days. He produced bands, kept his ego in check, and was the consummate gentleman. His enthusiasm was contagious and I know he influenced many to try different things; be more open minded, and accepting of others. He was always genuine and truthful.

I had lost track of him until about three years ago, when a mutual Facebook friend, suggested we should be friends. From that point our friendship really grew and we would spend hours back and forth chatting about music, our families and more recently his dream of reviving the old series via YouTube. I was so happy for him.

He shared many things with me and had a very difficult emotional life, dealing with many suicides and death. He was so proud of his children. He loved that they were so unique. I’m just now beginning to hear of some of his acts of kindness and his giving spirit. He always thanked me for my opinion and was genuinely interested in my life too.

I will miss him so much. Many of my greatest friendships, have been through music.

He was just getting started on his “Golden Years.” Those that knew him have many great memories to keep his spirit alive.

I will borrow a phrase from the ’90s: “Be Like Mike.” It will make your life better. 

(Photos courtesy David Kotsibie.)

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer who is really missing Mike Bezzeg’s impact on the world and his likes on her Facebook page.