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Mike Conley, 1959-2008
In memory of the M.I.A. vocalist and owner of Avalon Bar
On very short notice Sunday evening, close to 200 people came through Costa Mesa's Avalon Bar to pay their respects to its late owner, Mike Conley, and to lend financial and emotional support to his family.
The former vocalist with the beloved Orange County punk group M.I.A. was found unconscious in the early-morning hours of Feb. 28 outside a hotel in Leyden Township, a neighborhood in Chicago. He was pronounced dead at 6:25 p.m. at a nearby hospital. Coroners attribute the cause of death to head trauma consistent with injuries due to falls, but an initial autopsy proved inconclusive, and police are awaiting the results of toxicology tests. Conley, 48, had been working on a construction project in downtown Chicago. He is survived by his girlfriend, Shelly "Syd" Leonard, and three daughters: Alex, 18; Zoe, 9; and Ava, 5.
Adrienne Castaneda, a 34-year-old Leyden Township woman who had been "partying" with Conley at the hotel on his final night in Illinois, allegedly stole a cell phone and two credit cards from him and has been arrested, according to Cook County Sheriff spokeswoman Penny Mateck.
Conley had a large circle of friends and was considered by many to be a charismatic champion of underground-DJ culture, especially for Costa Mesa's artistically thriving west side. Below, some of Conley's friends and beneficiaries of his entrepreneurial largesse pay tribute to the man.
Taylor Smith (co-host of 41Dub, the dubstep biweekly): "I wish I had known Mike longer. His love and passion for music was refreshing, and his ability to express that love was so warm and welcomed. When I first met Mike, what I really identified with was his drive to turn the west side of Costa Mesa into a little cultural haven. His idea to cultivate a place, or places, where people could really feel comfortable and call home were so unique in this day and age of profiteering, and I really respected him for that. He welcomed us, our new sounds and our friends into his bar with open arms.
"I will never forget some of our conversations about music and 'the scene,' shared over a Stella at the Avalon. This is a tragedy that will be felt for years to come and one that has impacted many people in many ways. He played a key role in propagating a message of love and family in the area, and it is a message and a warm feeling we will all miss dearly. I still can't believe it."
Robert Acosta (DJ Thunder Villain at the B-Sides night): "Mike was a friend to all. He really seemed to believe in people, and a lot of people were attracted to him for that reason. He cared a lot about his friends and family and really seemed to foster a family-like environment for us all at Avalon.
"I'll miss his stories about M.I.A. and the hardcore scene of the early '80s. He had some great ones and survived long enough to tell about it. Those were crazy times, and his stories made him seem almost indestructible.
"Lastly, Mike Conley was an all-around great guy. Always quick with a handshake and a 'good to see you, Rob.' I'll probably miss that the most. He was the genuine article."
Jack Flynn (owner of Kitsch Bar and J Flynn Gallery, motorcycle-riding friend): "To put it as simply as possible: Mike Conley was a stand-up guy. Rest in peace, my friend."
Carey Call (friend): "Mike was very intuitive and generous with his spirit. If you were down on your luck or needed anything, he [would help you] out all the time."
Shima Soffer (restaurateur, friend): "Mike Conley was a visionary of [Costa Mesa's] west side. He believed in the 19th Street Movement and what was going on here. As a lifelong resident of the west side, I believe in him and his vision of the west side. I will do all that I can to pick up the torch and continue to fulfill his vision—which is all of ours' vision, which was my father's vision—and to make this happen."
Bb Guns (DJ at Dirty Money): "I haven't known Mike for as many years as all the other guys doing nights at the [Avalon] and working there, but for the amount of time I did, [Mike] was good enough for me to embrace how genuine and great of a guy he really was. [I], along with everyone else who have been hanging at his bar, lost such a great friend so suddenly and tragically.
"He wasn't just a bar owner. He was a good friend to all, a stand-up, respectful guy. Always had time to listen and take everyone's views on whatever issues you felt like discussing with him.
"As our nights continue on at his bar, there is one thing that will always be in our thoughts and never be forgotten—the owner/friend of Avalon Bar, Mike Conley."