The Ballad of Michael McDermott

Photo of Michael McDermott at the Metro by Niva Bringas.

One of the most challenging things about being a journalist is the fact that, oftentimes, the story never ends.  You have to be constantly digging – interviewing more people, combing through more documents and following-up with your sources.

Rest doesn’t always come easy.

But through it all, we are rewarded with meeting and conversing with people who have the potential to impact our opinions on life even through only a one-hour interview.

I often think about those in the past I have interviewed – from a boy with cancer to a mother trying to get her life on track after suffering from drug addiction.

Although we have only met on a handful of occasions, Michael McDermott is one of those interviewees who impacted my life.

I first met McDermott, a singer-songwriter, in a Chicago graveyard six years ago.  For a college magazine writing class, I wanted to profile two musicians and/or bands – one more established but still trying to “make it” and the other just beginning.  I hoped to compare and contrast their experiences.

After a few weeks of searching, I found my subjects in McDermott, who was often hailed by critics as the “next big thing” in the early 1990s, and the Mannequin Men, a Chicago punk band I had interviewed for an article in The Daily Northwestern.

Both McDermott and the members of the Mannequin Men were talkative and outgoing, but I was struck most by McDermott’s willingness to be a friend to anyone.  I spent time with him in bars, backstage and in his car as he drove me and my friend Tom around Chicago.  In that time, he was constantly surrounded by people who cared about him and he for them.  He told me that he often struggled with the darker side of life – including drug addiction in the past – but his friends always made him want to become a stronger person.

After writing my story, I decided to separate McDermott’s story from the Mannequin Men’s at the suggestion of an editor.  I waited and waited for the right moment to pitch it to a publication, but it never felt complete.

Writing backstage at a Michael McDermott concert (Photo by Thomas Lee)

When I was ready to give up on journalism completely, I unexpectedly ran into McDermott at Uncommon Ground, a small venue and restaurant in Wrigleyville.  We chatted a bit and I talked to him about some of my frustrations. “Sheila, I’d hate to see you give up on your dream because of a temporary situation,” he said.

Those words stuck with me, and although I am no longer a full-time journalist, I know I will always continue to write in some capacity.

I am happy to say that since our last encounter, McDermott seems to be doing well.  He is now married to Heather Horton, also a musician, and they have a beautiful daughter Rain (named after one of McDermott’s songs).

McDermott recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his first album 620 W. Surf, which brought him some fame and mainstream media attention.  He performed the album and its follow-up, Gethsemane, in their entirety recently at Lincoln Hall.  He also performs on July 10th at Uncommon Ground to celebrate the venue’s 20th anniversary.

His story seems to have come full circle, so I finally decided to share my original McDermott article.  It is this week’s feature story at Gapers Block.  Read it here if you like.

Author: Sheila Burt


2 thoughts on “The Ballad of Michael McDermott”

  1. Sheila.
    Never give up on your dream. I will always remember your interview with Carol Marin when you were only a high school student.

    Mom XO

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