Though they barely knew how to play, Mickey put his guitar in an open-E tuning so he could slap some notes into the amplifier as he danced around the stage and sang. This was around the time the Rathskellar, a smoky subterranean dive bar known better as "The Rat," opened in the basement of a restaurant in downtown Boston. Appealing to the burgeoning punk movement, the iconic venue would come to be known for hosting everyone from the Talking Heads to Thin Lizzy to Tom Petty. But before them all, he says, there was Mickey Clean and the Mezz.

Asa Brebner, now a promoter and producer in Boston, was in the band with Mickey. "He would take hold of the microphone and just gyrate and totally let go of everything onstage," he remembers. "And he was doing it before anyone."

Sure enough, a Spin magazine story about the formation of punk music in Boston names Mickey as one of the first influences on the genre. Brett Milano, author of the book Sounds of Our Town, a history of rock 'n' roll in Boston, says Mickey is thought of "as one of the formative names on the Boston scene." He says that several of the musicians he spoke to for his book cited Mickey as one of the main reasons they started a band. Mickey's band is even listed on the Wikipedia page for "punk music" — and Mickey certainly doesn't know how to update Wiki pages.

Some people call Mickey Clean "the patron saint of Fort Liquordale."
Photo by Michael McElroy
Some people call Mickey Clean "the patron saint of Fort Liquordale."
For ten years, Mickey Clean has drawn colorful crayon caricatures by the beach.
Photo by Michael McElroy
For ten years, Mickey Clean has drawn colorful crayon caricatures by the beach.

In the late '70s, he moved back to New York, where the band booked a few gigs at CBGB, the punk venue made famous by the Ramones, the Misfits, and Patti Smith.

He also tells stories about the time he was on TV Party, the quirky late-'70s/early-'80s cable access show in New York. The show is adored by retro-crazed scenesters and is known for introducing the world to new-wave icons like Mick Jones (the Clash), David Byrne (Talking Heads), and Debbie Harry (Blondie). It's recently been made available on DVD. And indeed, in an episode that aired February 17, 1981, Mickey Clean was the musical guest. With a backup band — a man dressed as a monk playing the accordion and an albino man playing guitar — a young, lanky Mickey sang deeply into the microphone while writhing all over the set.

Not long after that, Mickey says, the band broke up, and he floated around New York, Toronto, Montreal, and Boston. "Heroin was getting real big back then," he says ominously. He says he hitchhiked across the country and got a ride (and a joint) from Robert Redford. (Redford's representatives did not reply to requests for comment.)

His life took a fateful turn when he met Christine McConnell, an heiress to the Avon fortune. She wanted Mickey to move to Florida with her. There, near the beach, they could get any kind of drink or drug they could imagine.

A little more than ten years ago, though, she was committed to a mental institution in New York. Not long after, she died, but she left him the house. All he has to pay are the property taxes — $6,000 to $10,000 a year. And so, to satisfy Uncle Sam and to feed the cats around the neighborhood, Mickey started drawing tourists by the beach for dollars. Once he started, he never stopped.

If only he could get a song on the radio for a few weeks, he says. If only people could see Rodney the Rodent. "It's Lenny Bruce meets fucking Mickey Mouse," he says. "Who wouldn't love that?"

He takes a drink. "I'm my own worst enemy," he laments. In the battle of man versus himself, he fears he's already lost. All the drinking. The drugs. The missed opportunities. Looking back, it seems like such a short road from artistic pioneer to here. "I'm self-sabotaging," he says. "I just hope it's not too late."

Asked about all of the thousands of people who have probably framed his drawings, he brushes the question aside.

"I can't really get big until I get my teeth fixed anyway," he says.


One subdued Fort Lauderdale evening, the wind is blowing in hard off the water, and Mickey's almost ready to call it a night. He parks his bike outside Treasure Trove and strolls into the bar, receiving nary a glance from the room full of downcast eyes. The twangy, bawdy voice of country singer David Allan Coe booms from the speakers, and the patrons are atypically gloomy. He looks around for an unattended beer, but there are none. Then he tries to drum up some business. "Caricatures?" he says to no one in particular. Nobody looks up. He tries again: "Caricatures? A buck a person?" No response.

He approaches a group of three near the end of the bar. He pulls out his marker. "You guys want a crayon caricature? A Mickey Clean original."

"No thanks," says a man in a windbreaker.

"C'mon, you guys'll love it," Mickey says, already outlining their silhouettes. "I did all of these on the walls."

They try not to look in his direction, but he's already filling the page with color. Instead of their frowns, Mickey draws them each with a bright, happy grin. Instead of the dark night behind them, Mickey draws a warm, sunny day.

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19 comments
savemetwocookies
savemetwocookies

Very interesting article. I had no idea Mickey was still alive and I'm glad he is! I was in a band in Boston (who shall remain nameless) but we were contemporaries of Mickey's band and I can't even remember the number of times we played the Rat. Mickey was not, however, anywhere near a "star," nor were the rest of us. If anyone was big at the Rat, it was the Cars, maybe Willie Alexander, DMZ and Wayne County, but Mickey was a minor player in a sea of other minor players, including my band. It's nice that he has that fantasy that he was some major influence in the music scene in the early/mid-1970's but alas, it IS just a fantasy. I was there. I know. Still and all, I'm glad he is still alive and kicking. Sounds like he's an alcoholic and it's sad that this is what has become of him but I wish him the best. Mickey had a song called "Sad But True" and I guess that about sums up his life story. Nonetheless, all the best to Mickey!  

srawapril
srawapril

We just received an honorary Mickey Clean drawing Friday night on our weekend get away to Fort Lauderdale. His presence is priceless and unforgettable. We tip him a $20.00 but would have given a $50.00 if we had not already spent it. The entertainment was worth every cent. And, I'm framing the pic!:) If you ever get this opportunity, don't judge the book by the cover- or, you'll miss an amazing experience!

April & Ajay

Susanne Duell
Susanne Duell

A few years ago when I visited my daughter in Fort Lauderdale we were approached by this Zen like character....outside the kava bar he just rode up on his biycicle with his box of colorful Crayolas and stack of wrinkled plain white paper and asked if we would like a characture drawing....he did an outstanding job of drawing us! I have never forgotten that remarkable meeting*;-)

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

Thanks for the Psychology 101 lesson asdf jkl; but you're way off the mark. Most people are cool. In fact you're probably a pretty nice person yourself. But if you were aware of the history I have with this moron you'd understand. Despite the comments on this page, most people I know feel the same way about him.

Patty
Patty

This is a beautiful story about one of South Florida's beautiful souls. If you love Mickey like the rest of us, join the Facebook group dedicated to him.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/...

Stuart
Stuart

Good reporting but overdone writing. Too many adjectives. Trying too hard. Where's the editor?

asdf jkl;
asdf jkl;

People like Geordie are what's wrong with Fort Lauderdale. Most of the people in these bars are laid back and cool with everyone else. Most people love Mickey. But then there total dicks like this POS who just like bring everyone else down. Sorry your wife left or your parents didn't love you or your boss is an ass. Sorry your life sucks dude, try not taking it out on everyone else.

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

I sure did. Why not? It was your sandbox. That wet spot you were rolling around in wasn't from the rain.

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

Sure did--why not? It was yours. That wet spot you were rolling around in wasn't from the rain.

Franklyn
Franklyn

Geordie, I bet you pissed in the sandbox a lot as a kid.

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

The door guys at the Elbo are absolutely right. This moron is an annoying crackhead. He intrudes on people's privacy, interrupting conversations to draw doodles I could have created in kindergarten. His "caricatures" look nothing like the people he's drawing. He once said "If I was a good caricature artist I'd kill myself". I offered to pay for the schooling.

Dave
Dave

I've been hanging out at these bars for the last 8 years and I've always wondered if anyone else saw the magic in this man. He is sweet and funny in a place where you expect people to be cold and mean. I've always wondered if his stories were true. Thank you so much for this great article and all the research! I will never forget this story.

Chrys
Chrys

Great article, I amhappy I could contribute somehow.Love Mickey, just told him last week that all the caricatures up my walls will make me money someday...Chrys - Pirate Bar

AC
AC

Anyone who has met Mickey knows how wonderful he is. Anytime I see him I buy him a beer and ask him to tell me a story. He doesn't have to get bigger. He's great where he is. I hope he sticks around doing exactly what he has been for 40 more years. I have introduced more people to Mickey than I can count and they all love him too.

Jon
Jon

Amazing article! I can't believe Mickey Clean is still alive and doing crayon drawings in South Florida! This is literally the first time my Google Alert on Mickey Clean has gone off for a year!

James Ibber
James Ibber

Beautiful story. He's a very interesting man, maybe the saddest happy guy I've ever met.

Mig
Mig

Mickey was supposed to play a Sailboat Bend block party 2 years ago, and apparently forgot (after multiple reminders). If he wants to make make it big again, I suggest trying to remember dates of gigs. We still love him anyway.

Great article. A lot of stuff I didn't know about him.

 
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