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Mike mastered OC punk

Charismatic singer and band MIA fought their repression by nailing the hardcore sound of ’80s, says friend Jello Biafra.

February 29, 2008|By Brianna Bailey and Josh Aden

As the frontman for the Orange County hardcore punk band MIA, Michael Conley raged against war, racism and the isolation of modern life on stage alongside other legendary acts in the 1980s like the Dead Kennedys and Social Distortion.

“Life’s a mess, you gotta face it, if you’re not a millionaire it’s hard to make it, I’m a mess, that’s for sure,” Conley sang in one song.

More recently, Conley became a champion for revitalizing the economy in Westside Costa Mesa as the owner of The Avalon Bar, 820 19th St., a popular venue for Orange County DJs.

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“We used to kid he was the mayor of Costa Mesa because everyone knew him,” said Jeff “Meatball” Tulinius, a longtime friend of Conley’s. “He was a popular guy — everyone knew Mike Conley.”

Conley, a father of three, died in suburban Chicago Thursday after he was found suffering a major head wound in a motel parking lot near O’Hare International Airport. Cook County Sheriff’s deputies are investigating. Investigators are waiting for the results of toxicology tests after an autopsy was done. He was 48 years old.

A longtime local resident, Conley was known for his efforts to bring music and art to Westside Costa Mesa.

“He was a pioneer,” said Brett Walker, owner of eVocal, a boutique and art space near The Avalon Bar.

Conley was Walker’s landlord, and helped him get eVocal off the ground, he said.

“He was one of the few people on the Westside to bring in businesses and help make change in this area,” Walker said. “He was an artist himself who understood the importance of arts and culture.”

As a bar owner, Conley strove to make The Avalon Bar a hip enclave for people in the know. With no sign to attract customers, the establishment relied on word-of-mouth advertising. Conley was skilled at working with wood and restored all the wood cabinetry in the bar himself, Tulinius said.

“It was like something you would find in New York — very dark-low-lighting-cozy atmosphere,” Walker said. “Once people made the Avalon their home, that’s where they would go. He really wanted it to be a special place for people who understood what he was doing.”

Former MIA guitar player Nick Adams said Conley had a knack for drawing people to him.

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