RIP Mike Golden

We regret to announce that Mike Golden, the founder and guiding light of Smoke Signals, passed from this earth on Sunday June 9th.

Smoke Signals will continue under editorial guidance to be announced.

In the meantime, we will post remembrances from those who have known Mike.

This is from Rudy Wurlitzer:

I was a friend of Mike’s for many years and was grateful for his passionate 
contributions involving the up and down complexities of the literary world, which, along with off-the-grid fiction, included a wide variety of offerings published in Smoke Signals. Mike’s stubborn integrity involved a worldly creative range that was never compromised by corporate or class culture. He will be missed on many levels, inside and out.
Rudy Wurlitzer

This is from Joe Amdahl:

Sermon for Thelma-

I met Mike Golden in 2000 when I stumbled into Rudy’s on 9th Avenue. It was probably a work night, probably a Thursday. Late. I was drinking by myself. I had moved to New York earlier that year because… what else do you do with an art degree at age 22? I lived in Hell’s Kitchen and Rudy’s was the cheapest, dirtiest, and served free hotdogs, and as a dude who grew up poor and on a steady diet of hot dogs, this was a good deal. The torn red booths. The diabolical fiberglass pig statue out front. The darkness. The mix of people. Rudy’s wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.

I don’t remember what started the first conversation. I’m pretty sure I started it. Mike looked cool. That’s what I remember. Maybe the first thing that cut through was that Mike had amazing eyebrows. AMAZING eyebrows. They seemed to jet up his forehead toward his shock of hair, electric hair… hair that looked like it had been styled by sticking his finger in the socket before heading out.

Mike sat next to me at the bar. I wanted to talk to him. He had strange gravity—if you’re tuned, or bent a certain way, his gravity just pulled you toward him. Maybe because I was only 22, totally lost, total depressed, and in total admiration of his energy and vibe… hell, I couldn’t believe that everyone in the bar wasn’t sitting cross-legged around this guy like he was the fucking Buddha explaining the codes to the Matrix. But they weren’t. He was alone. Drinking beer at a shitty dive bar on a Thursday night just like me.

That first conversation moved quickly and focused on writing. I had moved to New York to pursue the art thing, but… I was working in a financial library, as a temp, at Fitch Financial, where I spent almost seven hours a day writing emails to my friends (there was nothing else to do there). And I loved to read. I bought Mike pitcher after pitcher of beer because I wanted to hear what he had to say. I knew very quickly, despite knowing some very savvy/magical people in my young life, that I had never been in the presence of someone like Mike Golden. Someone who could see through so much of the bullshit.

I met with Mike at Rudy’s, about twice a month, for my four-year tenure in NY. I always bought our pitchers of beer. I always filled his glass when it was empty. This was the least I could do for someone on his level. Someone who had so much magic to give. And yet, because it was fucking loud in Rudy’s, I probably only heard about… 70% of what he said to me. I would nod. He would drop names, he always dropped names, often people I hadn’t heard of. I rarely spoke. He gave me book recommendations. Turned me on to Martin Eden, Something Happened, Been Down So Long Looks Like Up to Me, Hollywood, Post Office, What Makes Sammy Run, and countless others.

So many nights at Rudy’s, when the beer buzz was sinking in, and I would be standing at the jukebox—I would play Jimmy Smith’s song “The Sermon.” It fit. It’s a long-ass song! It’s a beautiful song.  I wanted those nights at Rudy’s to move slow, to go on forever. And I’ve been playing this song on repeat since Mike exited this world.

I always left Rudy’s, after a night of listening to Mike riff, feeling better. I always left smiling and feeling less heavy—not so alone in the world. Someone gets you. And you get them.

At the end of the night, we would stand outside Rudy’s for a bit, the beer froth on his mustache melting away, me smoking… We would hug. And he’d stroll down 9th toward his apartment.  Quick aside: let me just include this, but holy shit—Mike had amazing style! From his flip flops, to his stained shorts, and black tee-shirt… I thought of it as “work from home” fashion or “homeless chic.” Mike was cool. He was cooler than me… & I’m a cool mother fucker!

After four years in NY, I fell in love with my current partner, Becca. Mike used to say: “you don’t move to New York to create; you move here to sell.” So, I moved to the Pacific Northwest where rent was cheaper. Where I could create. I called Mike twice a month for the next 15 years. We’d talk for hours. No conversation was less than three hours. And just like at Rudy’s, talking to him made me feel less alone. Made me feel more like me. I can only hope that I did that for him too.

There are so many stories I want to share.

At some point in our friendship, he started calling me Louise. He considered us Thelma & Louise—we were both cursed in some way, both screwed in a system and careening off the mountaintop together.

The week before he passed, he sent me five of his novels. I wrote him and said that I had saved every email he had ever written to me and that I would add the novels to the Mike Golden archive.

Okay, here’s a story… After moving to Portland, Oregon, I was drunk as shit. I was walking home from the bars. It was late. I called way too many people on my phone’s contacts list. And for each call, I left the same message (of course, no one answered at 2:30 in the morning). I left the message “It’s ALL bullshit! It’s all fucking bullshit!”

The next morning, hungover, I checked my messages. The only person who had called me back was Mike… in his sage and calm voice… on the message he said in almost a gleeful whisper: “yeah… and even the bullshit is poisoned. Call me back.”


I fucking miss him. On Smoke Signals he wrote about his pal Jim Dickinson—he said, “dead but not gone.”

That’s how I feel. Mike is dead but not gone.

Okay, this is turning into a bit of a downer.

We were sitting at the bar in Rudy’s one night and James (the drooling bouncer in the leather jacket) poked Mike on the back… Mike spun around on his barstool, sleepy eyed. James said with a giggle, “Hey Mike, pull your shorts up. I can see your asshole!”

Without missing a beat, Mike shot back in his Memphis squeal: “Well then stop looking at it, James!” Mike looked at me and we both just busted up laughing.

Love you, Mike-


by Joe Amdahl

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