Mike Joseph: Don’t Give Up

Dominant American culture prefers its men more Harrison Ford than Harry Styles, more Paul Newman than Paul Rudd. More John Wayne than Elton John.

Yunno, fists first, feeling later. Bravado. Machismo. Muscles. Strong and silent. 

Mine have always been the guys with their hearts on their sleeves, though. They express themselves. They talk about difficult things. Their courage is in their vulnerability.

Guys like Mike Joseph.

Now I’m sure we bumped into each other at a crowded, Rockwood Music Hall show in the early aughts. But it was his podcast, Detoxicity, that stopped me in my tracks.

Each week, Mike and guests like Toad The Wet Sprocket’s Glenn Phillips and Semisonic’s Jacob Schlichter, talk about creativity, psychology and sexuality with no reservations. Mike makes a safe place to get real about anxiety, depression, insecurity and uncertainty – warts and all.

On Detoxicity Mike & company share straight talk about the full range of the human condition. But it’s not dark or dour, just, well, real.

Like Mike.

As Director of Label Management for The Orchard, Mike manages physical album sales for major artists like BTS, Jason Isbell and Kelsea Ballerini. He’s written for Popmatters, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Boombox and his own PopBlerd. He put in time at the legendary Tower Records. 

But its in his role as an outspoken advocate for mental health that Mike makes a major difference. On his show, as a speaker at schools and industry events, Mike tells the whole truth about his own experiences with depression and anxiety. 

As a kid, Mike was shuttled between grandparents and guardians steeped in outdated models of masculinity, and uncomfortable with or incapable of expressing feelings of love or support. Like many of his guests and listeners, he coped with that inconsistency and uncertainty, through music.

“My aunts and my uncles were going out to discos and clubs, so I ultimately inherited a wealth of records,” he says.

“I would get up on Saturday morning and listen to American Top 40, and watch all the music shows: Soul Train, American Bandstand, Solid Gold.”

His musical escape, though, was actively dissuaded.

“My mom and my stepdad tried to discourage me from being as into music as I was,” he explains. “From taking away my record player, which I never got back, to forbidding me from writing about music. I think it was part of a larger plan that they had to de-feminized what they thought was the gay me.”

Fortunately, the music was too potent.

“Looking at it now, it’s like, ‘Okay, who’s got the last laugh?’ Because I’ve lived the last 30 years of my life working in music and being successful at it.”

In sharing his journey, Mike encourages and inspires others to do the same.

“It turns out [helping people] is not really much more difficult than talking about yourself, because if they see some kind of connection with themselves in your story, they’ll be moved enough to further their own quest for assistance or acceptance or whatever,” Mike says. 

Mike sure helped me; his voice was one of just a few that lent me the courage to come clean with my own anxiety, depression and dependency.

“People just need somebody to push the door open a little further. And I’m happy to be that person.”

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