Like everyone else who has ever listened to Low, right now I am mourning the loss of Mimi Parker. It hurts, and it hurts a lot. There is no getting around that, and no one should even try. I share that with each and every one of you. If you know, you know. And there are so, so many that do.
I cant believe she’s gone.
But there are some things about Mimi I’d like to share, in this moment, from the only perspective I can hope to share that makes any sense, for me. It takes about as long to read as it does to listen to Lullabye; actually, pairing the 2 might be an excellent idea. Go fire it up. I’ll wait.
I was the bass player in Low from 1994 to 2005. But before that, during it, and after, Mim was my friend. And there’s some things I’d like you all to know about my friend Mimi.
I’m bad with years and dates. But I think I was 15 (maybe 16, who cares) when I went to the local record store in downtown Duluth with my little handmade “do you like these bands? If so, call me and let’s play together” flyer, only to find that, somehow, there was another flyer with 3 of the 5 bands I’d listed pinned up already.
I called the number for some guy named Alan, and we played together in his basement. Despite my obvious ineptitude there was an instant connection, and when we finished, he said come on up and meet Mimi.
We’d argue about it later, but I said Hi and she was sitting with a friend with a mouthful of cake, and instead of saying Hi back, she inexplicably just burst out laughing.
I kept playing with Alan. We started a little band called 12:38 mostly because we really liked each other. After practice and then we’d go upstairs and hang with Mim (who stopped laughing at me). And we became friends. Alan said Mim was the best singer on the planet, but she really had no interest in other people hearing that this was, indeed, the case.
Not long after that, Alan called out of the blue and said “Hey, Mim and I are going to get married, we need a witness. Are you in?”
Heck yeah. Al, Mim, a justice of the peace, 2 LDS missionaries, and me. They tied the knot, and I felt (not for the last time) honored they asked me. I took a picture of all our feet. I still have it somewhere. I should go find it. As soon as I finish writing this.
Then I eventually went off and left Duluth, traipsed all over the place doing dumb shit for a couple years and landed in the belly of the East Bay punk scene, where just as my deeply chaotic life fell dangerously apart, I got a call out of the blue from my old friend Alan.
“Want to go on tour?”
With you two? Heck yeah. Let’s go.
In retrospect, it very well might have saved my life. I don’t know.
But it certainly changed it, immeasurably for the better.
Here’s where my perspective is different: its pretty impossible to express what touring (a lot) in a band is like to someone who hasn’t experienced it. It’s howlingly intense to begin with, and I’ve come to understand that Low was a couple notches up from normal. Like it or not, you get to know those people in a way normal life does not provide. Inside and out, their best and their worst, sometimes 30 minutes apart, for weeks (months, years) on end.
And here’s the truth: in those early days, when we were playing shitholes to virtually no one— Mim didn’t like it.
If you think that’s a knock on her, think again— its grueling and brutal and stressful, and we had to do it a lot. You cannot do it in half measures; it requires everything you possess, and was easily the most intense “job” I’ve ever had, by a huge margin.
All of the things that inhabit (and sometimes define) damn near every artist you’ve known and loved: some desire to be recognized, to be paid attention to and lauded— she didn’t have it. In fact, I’m sure she didn’t want it when it happened to come her way.
What she did, and what you heard and saw— it poured out of her so naturally that she didn’t identify it as “talent” or a “unique ability”, and found it strange when others viewed it as such.
If you are largely inured to the minor ego strokes that keep most artists going (like Mim was), who’d be just as happy singing at home with Alan to nobody, the struggle of touring is difficult to come to terms with.
But here’s another thing I want all of you to know: in her way, she did.
I remember setting out on a tour— maybe late 90’s or so, when things had gotten slightly easier (we had decent crowds, a van that could fit more than 4 people in it, etc), noticing a real shift in Mim, and asking her about it— (I’m paraphrasing, here, Mim, sorry) that she’d really done a lot of thinking, and wrapped her head around the fact that this meant something to people in a way she had to come to grips with.That however much she blew off the beautiful things that came out of her mouth and her soul, other people got very real things from it. Hope, and solace. And she felt that responsibility, in a different way than she had before.
I’m not here to canonize Mim. She would hate that.
She was no angel from on high (even though she sounded like it); she was a real human being who was funny, wry, and had a razor wit that could dice you up in a heartbeat, in addition to one of the most finely-honed bullshitometers I’ve ever encountered.
There was no artifice, no smoke and mirrors. No drama, no nonsense. I mean zero.
But always, there was a steady grace, pragmatism and warmth that was immediate and palpable.
The clarity, the generosity and depth of spirit, the humanity and love that you heard in every note she sang; you don’t need me to confirm it was real.
What I am confirming is that that isn’t what she did, it’s who she was, all day every day.
I want you all to know what you know already: it was all real, what you heard there. Everything you felt in those words, and that voice, onstage or recorded. I spent damn near every day with her for 12 years and that was how she lived her life.
Mim was special because she truly did not think she was special: you can just be kind, and thoughtful and compassionate and solid as a rock. Despite what is being transmitted to us 24 hours a day, every day, you can actually be strong and kind at the same time; those qualities are not mutually exclusive. You can look for beauty and love and put that out in the world. It’s hard, but really— come on: it’s not that hard at all.
It’s normal. It’s totally normal. It shouldn’t even be a question, really.
As I’m writing this, I’m realizing maybe what it always was with Mim: why is it so exceptional to just be good?
And further: the other option? NOT being kind? Why would you want to do that?
That’s just plain stupid.
Despite my claims of differing perspective, we share this too: in my darkest, most hopeless moments, I’ve put on Low. Some songs that I played on, some songs I didn’t. That sound of reaching for something, something past the pain and hurt and confusion, somehow finding the spark that exists out there somewhere, past all these trials and difficulties. Something that transcends and endures, and it leaves you on the floor, gut heaving and crying, but not from sadness. From a place beyond sadness, inexpressible and unfathomable but real nonetheless.
Something bigger than yourself. Something that helps you through that moment, and gets you through it.
No one did that like Low.
That was what I didn’t know when I joined the band: that there was an unspoken part of the job I hadn’t realized— If you’re not serving something bigger than yourself, that something (however you define it) then you are doing it wrong. Something bigger than Alan, or Mimi, or the songs, or the band. They knew it, and through being in a band with them, I learned it. I’m so thankful for that.
I hope this piece is serving Mimi, and what her life was made of. If it isn’t, I did it wrong.
Low was singular in that way. I knew it the first time I saw them, I damn sure knew it when I was in the band, and I knew when I watched them play (what would be, sadly) their final show in Duluth at the Water Is Life festival.
Mim wasn’t well, but she did that set. She did it with strength and class and if you weren’t aware she was ill, you probably wouldn’t have known it at all. I’m sure many didn’t.
Watching from the crowd, I was so proud of her. Of them.
Near the end, Alan said something he’d said a million times to me, over the decades. That Mim was what made Low. Mim was what made the clock tick.
It wasn’t self deprecating, or a put on. It never was.
He’s right and he’s wrong, and I told him so. It’s the two of you. How hard you fight for your love, for each other.
For your amazing kids Hollis and Cyrus, who Mim loved with all her heart.
And for that “something bigger”, as well. Mim didn’t know how special what she did was (she always claimed her sister Wanda’s voice was way better than her own). Anyone who spent 5 minutes with her knows this.
Alan knew. He always did. He always will.
By the end, Low wasn’t my job, it was my life. You couldn’t do it any other way. Alan and Mim weren’t my band mates, they were family.
Here’s what else I want you to know (because hopefully, its not about me): my leaving Low was very, very difficult. For all of us, for all the reasons I’ve described here (and many others I can’t). Because we were friends and we loved each other, but everything hurt. It’s complicated, but that’s how things go sometimes. And there were (sadly) too many years where I thought— maybe that’s it. Maybe that was our time together, and the wounds wouldn’t heal.
They can, and they do, if you let them. All of you who found hope and solace and beauty and comfort in Low, and Mim’s voice, and the sound of those 2 singing together, working it out.
The sound you are hearing is: love can be hard.
Sometimes it’s easy and you should cherish that, but often it’s hard (and you should cherish that too) but whatever it takes to get there, whatever fight or pain or to find that— it’s worth it.
It’s the only thing worth it.
I got to sit with my friend Mimi and I got to sit with Alan, and tell them I love them.
If I can, you can too.
It took us years, but maybe you can do it sooner. Like tomorrow.
The last time I saw Mimi, she was, frankly, in very rough shape. I kissed her and gave her hand a squeeze and told her I loved her. The last words she said to me were “see you next time.” I thought there would be a next time (and I think she did too), but there wasn’t.
I’m not a religious man in the technical sense, but I choose to believe there is something in the universe that binds us together, somehow, if we can get our own shit out of the way and just shut up and listen to it. And if it so happens we all dissolve into that somehow and my atoms can give that amazing and wonderful lady a hug again, I would welcome seeing her next time.
I’m going to miss her. But somehow the universe arranged that we’ll always have her. Her effortless grace, and kindness, and piercing humanity.
Right now, in this moment: a time where compassion and love and tolerance and basic decency seem to be taking a daily beating, compounding in a way that feels horrific and inescapably terminal. Where hatred and brutality and our worst impulses as a species are running amok, in a way that is truly terrifying. I’m sorry, but cynicism and selfishness and hardening your heart will not protect you, or get you out of this.
You can’t wait for the next Low record, or take the beauty she put into the world for the past 30 years for granted. You have to wrestle with it NOW. In this moment.
And that, my friends, is a gift. And it is a gift too sacred and precious to ignore.
Mimi Parker is gone, but I’m seeing one of my oldest, dearest friends in a new way. Maybe it’s the way the rest of the world always saw her, and I’m finally getting the full picture. Better late than never.
And more than anything, it makes me want to fight back the darkness and look for the light. Dig into that, as hard as you can.
If you ever listened to Low, and heard her voice, do her that honor.
Do it today. Do it right now.
I love you Mimi.
Nov 12, 2022