Prior to staring a career spreading the word about other bands, Mike Farley – now a publicist in Madison, Wisconsin – was in a couple bands himself. Thirty years ago, he and buddy Dave Kenna played together as Second Wind, which they recently reformed to record an EP, and Mike fronted the Mike Farley Band in the Cleveland, Ohio, area for a number of years, garnering a reasonable measure of success while opening for such acts as Dave Matthews Band, Edwin McCain, and The Pretenders.
Over the last couple years, I have done a lot of work with Mike, as he regularly funnels me an eclectic mix of great bands to feature on Trail Mix. It was only recently, however, that I became aware of a special facet of his personal life; he and his wife, Jennifer, are raising a child with autism. This was particularly interesting to me, because, as a public school teacher, I see autism more and more each year in my classroom. I recently caught up with Mike to talk about Second Wind, his son, and the song that autism inspired.
BRO – Tell me about Second Wind the first time around.
MF – I grew up on Long Island. Dave Kenna, my partner in Second Wind, and I were in different bands. I was in a metal band and he was playing in a classic rock cover band. We met through a friend of mine about the time that I was growing out of my metal phase. One night Dave and I were out with some friends at this bar called Top Of The Stretch, which later became our hangout for the summer of 1982, and there was this dude up there playing. He was sort of a one man band guy. We were a bit drunk and decided to let the owners know that we were interested in playing a gig; we figured we could do what this guy was doing, but this was well before we had even come up with anything. The next day we realized that we would actually have to put something together. So we did. We got together and jammed and worked up some acoustic stuff, both covers and our own material.
BRO – Three decades later, you decided to revisit Second Wind.
MF – Dave and I go see an NFL game together each year. Before the trip last year, he sent me an email reminding me that it had been thirty years since we had gotten Second Wind together. Keep in mind that we had gone our separate ways since then. Though we started another band together, Second Wind had been shelved. So he told me that he thought we should get together again and record. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. We hadn’t played together in so long. But my wife convinced me to do it. I really had no reason not to. Each of us was to bring two new songs in and we would go from there. The goal was new material. I hadn’t written a lot in the last few years, so it was a struggle for me. I ended up having to write one song and used the theme of autism. We met up in Kansas City and rehearsed for a couple days. It felt so good and was like we hadn’t stopped playing together. We got to this studio in Eudora, Kansas, and recorded for the day. There was a great vibe. We put everything down and it came out so well. Our engineer wanted to know if we would release it as an EP and we decided to do just that.
BRO – You mentioned autism. Tell me about Jonathan.
MF – Jonathan, our son, was born in 2007. When he turned two, he was still hardly talking. We got some speech therapy for him and, right before we moved to Madison, one of the therapists working with my wife gave her a brochure about autism and encouraged her to look into it. This upset us, as we were sure he was just speech delayed. When we got to Madison in 2010 we put him into a preschool. Because he wasn’t really talking, he was a bit of a problem at school. He was pinching, biting, and pushing other kids. He couldn’t communicate any other way. Every other day we were getting an incident report about something. We had to work with them to get this behavior fixed. We ended up getting Jonathan tested and got two or three different opinions that supported him being on the autism spectrum. He now gets services through the Wisconsin Early Autism Project every day. Two therapists come to the house and Jonathan gets between four and five hours of intense therapy each afternoon. Within a few months, we saw serious improvements. In the past year, he has been taking a social skills class – we call it Friends Club – and has learned how to have friends and interact with his peers. Now he has friends at school. They know he is a little different, but this has helped so much. He has his struggles, but Jonathan has improved a lot.
BRO – What is the story behind “Foxhole,” from the EP?
MF – All of this is a serious strain on a marriage. My wife and I have a good marriage. We are very strong and we lean on each other a lot. I don’t remember how this came up, maybe through a movie or on a TV show, but I heard someone say, “There’s nowhere I would rather be than in a foxhole with you.” I thought that was appropriate. It was exactly what this feels like.
BRO – If you could sum up in one word what a typical day with Jonathan is like, what would it be?
MF – Eventful. There is always something going on. You never know what could happen from one minute to the next. His moods change a lot and you have to be prepared for when a tantrum is going to hit or something sets him off. You never know when you head out to an event, or even to the grocery store, if it is going to be good. Or if his routine changes we have to do a social story, which is basically a book that explains what we will be doing. If we go on vacation or visit family we do one. Most of the days have been really great, but there is usually part of the day that isn’t. There are some days that aren’t. But definitely eventful, because every day is full of them.
BRO – Your wife, Jennifer, does a wonderful blog about your experiences parenting. What do the two of you want other parents to know about what it’s like having a child on the spectrum?
MF – As hard as it is, it is still a gift to have this child. To a degree, we feel like we were chosen to have Jonathan so we can help other people facing the same situation. We try to do that. We are also always trying to show to other people that have “normal” kids what it is like. As hard as it can be, Jonathan is still our kid and we love him no matter what and will do anything we can for him. Jonathan might be a little but different than other kids, but he really isn’t that different at all.
You can check out “It’s Gonna Be Alright” from Eudora, Second Wind’s EP, on this month’s Trail Mix. More information on Second Wind and getting a copy of the EP can be found at www.michaeljmedia.com/secondwind.html.
I would also suggest you take a minute to check out Jennifer’s blog on parenting an autistic child at http://www.justanotherautismblog.blogspot.com. Her writing is equally entertaining, engaging, and agonizing. It is likely that you know someone with an autistic child; Jennifer’s blog offers a window into a world that many of us never see.