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It's a weird thing to walk past Out of Vogue's closed storefront in the middle of the day. With a hand pressed up against your forehead like a visor, you stare into a roomful of lively, Art Deco objects subdued by darkness. A light veil of midweek dust collects on candy-colored furniture, stylish mannequins and a row of vintage guitars that line the wall behind the checkout counter. For a second, you almost look right past the flier on the front door featuring Mike Atta's face. The hastily taken family photo shows the bald, middle-aged shop owner; his wife, Pam; and their 10-year-old son, Van. The message printed on it is simple: "If you love Out of Vogue, Help Mike Battle Cancer." Even if the lights were on in this place, it would be missing the fire that makes it run.
For decades, Atta has served OC's divine slice of counterculture as both guitarist of Santa Ana/Fullerton hardcore pioneers the Middle Class and as the co-owner of Out of Vogue and Otto in downtown Fullerton. You may even recognize him from our music blog Heard Mentality's list of the "Top 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time." What you may not know is that Atta recently resumed a major battle with cancer and is in desperate need of some help. He was first diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in January 2010. After having the kidney and an adrenal gland removed, he and his family were hopeful he'd never have to deal with it again. But earlier this month, the Weekly learned the disease has returned and spread to his lungs. As they try to fight this illness with an aggressive treatment plan called Interleukin-2 (he's the only person in medical history to receive 14 doses of it), Atta and his wife are facing skyrocketing medical bills.
Atta's sister Joanne Jimenez has established an online fund-raising campaign that also provides details of his struggle. "It was pretty devastating," says Atta's brother—and Middle Class lead singer—Jeff Atta. "You always hope it's been taken care of, but it's always in the back of your mind that it could come back." Since resurrecting the Middle Class in 2009, the brothers would practice and gig whenever they could with brother/drummer Bruce Atta and bassist Mike Patton, clearing out a space to practice in a cluttered warehouse used for Out of Vogue storage.
The diagnosis was even more disheartening considering how well Atta's health had been lately. "If you know Mike, he is a happy, positive, resilient person before and after his initial diagnosis/surgery," his sister writes in her campaign statement, "and you'd never know he'd had cancer and major surgery if you saw him during the past three years."
As a small-business owner, a father, and a member of an active old-school punk band that pre-dates D.C. hardcore legends such as Black Flag and Bad Brains, Atta hardly has a moment to slow down. But time away from his shop and family over the holiday season is obviously taking a major toll on him. Luckily, an outpouring of support from friends and family, as well as OC's punk community, has already started. In addition to donations via Fund Razr (Jimenez has raised more than $10,000 of her $50,000 goal), local punk legends are throwing a benefit concert on Jan. 25 at the Echoplex, featuring the Adolescents, Mike Watt and the Missing Men, 45 Grave, and more. The rush to support the axe man behind such frenzied battle cries as "Out of Vogue" (which the store is named after) and "Situations" is astounding to Atta.
Despite being hooked up to countless machines and racked with the effects of a cancer treatment, he remains upbeat and optimistic, according to Jeff. At the very mention of playing a show again, he says, his brother perks up instantly.
"We were offered to play a show in March. Mike found out and said, 'Yeah, let's put it on,'" Jeff says. "We're hoping he comes through this so we actually can. He's done it before."
This article appeared in print as "Mike Atta's Battle: The guitarist for legendary OC hardcore band the Middle Class fights cancer with help from his friends."