The arrival of 2011 found many in San Diego’s music scene saddened. Michael H. Steinman, 37, the talented rock singer-songwriter-guitarist and former Live Wire bartender, passed away on December 30 (causes unclear at press time). Steinman was better known as “Stimy” (a misappropriated Little Rascals nickname) even before he fronted Sub Society as a 15-year-old University City High School student and through subsequent bands Inch, Congress of the Cow, and Lakeside Orchestra.
Although Steinman was a recent Colorado resident, his return to SD was reportedly imminent. As FM 94/9 DJ Tim Pyles eulogized on Sunday, January 2, during an all-Stimy tribute edition of his weekly local music show: “Stimy was a real friend of the local music community for years, back in a time when it was much different than it is right now...more of a ‘scene,’ a vibe.... We were supposed to be ‘the next Seattle’ — however you wanna look at that — [and] there were a lot of great things...[here] in the ’90s...”
A well-put perspective, instructive (if not to Steinman’s friends and band mates, present as Pyles’s guests, who’d lived through said era) — but Stimy touched people in greater ways. Still grappling with their loss, many who were asked offered effusive, detailed memories of Steinman, trying hard to convey his positive impact.
Two telling things emerged consistently throughout most recollections: a fond regard for Stimy’s song craft and his smiling yet sensitive demeanor. “He was the punk-rock kid with [the] liberty spikes [hairstyle] that had a smile that belied any menace,” remembered Matt Page about his “best friend for 25 years.” Pete Reichert, bassist in Sub Society and later Rocket From the Crypt, recalled Stimy as “the life of the party...guy you wanted to be around. He had a great smile.” Reichert and RFTC saxophonist Paul O’Beirne both picked an Inch song about Live Wire co-owner Joe Austin’s dog as a fave. “All you have to do to feel his love is listen to ‘Sugar,’” noted O’Beirne. “If he could tap into such feelings about a dog, I can’t think of how much love he had for his friends. I feel blessed.”
Stimy’s high school sweetheart, Ramona Ramirez, testified about “his completely endearing smile” — and the meaningful Inch tune “No. 84 vs SL/A,” written about workplace sexual harassment she experienced in college. After 7 years not speaking to him and 12 years of not seeing him, Steinman and Kira Zoltan had recently rekindled their romance to full blaze. On the radio, she explained that his Lakeside Orchestra track “Happened” was about their bonding years ago — and that he’d been “in a really positive place” of late.
Jeff Reese, a pal since high school and Inch cofounder, lost his home to foreclosure last week. While clearing the house — and explaining to his young son, who regarded Stimy like an uncle, “that people are so much more important than things” — waves of delayed grief hit, causing him to grab a cherished wedding picture of Steinman and leave. “I hung [it where] I’m living now. I can see Stimy’s smiling face whenever I want...hear his voice, too.... All I need is to listen to...songs he wrote...he’s here.”