If you've ever had the pleasure of dealing with a tour manager, the word crotchety may be familiar. In a way, they're bodyguards with PDAs, functioning not only to keep their artists on time but also on track, away from the exuberant fans or inquisitive journalists that want a word. But try interviewing a tour manage, on the opening day of a tour, when they're anxious with preparations and tired from rehearsals.
Today, though, Michael Pilmer (known in the community of heavy metal man Thor as ThunderGeek!) is beaming. He left his main man John Mikl Thor--a Vancouver kid who went from Mr. Canada and Mr. USA titles in the '70s to a career as a blonde-locked, muscle-cut rock frontman--back in the hotel room, minutes before check-out and hours before the launch of a two-month stateside tour.
"I first discovered Thor in the early '90s when I bought Keep The Dogs Away for 65 cents in a thrift store. I mean, here was this muscle-bound guy in leather spikes with a bunch of Doberman pinchers, holding them back," says Pilmer, who assumed Thor had gone into retirement until he saw an advertisement for his new album in 1996 in the Charlotte zine Indie File.
Pilmer drove to Charlotte to meet Thor after a label meeting, offering his services as a graphic designer. In 1998, he joined Thor on tour, taking a break from his job. He was working for his favorite childhood band, DEVO, too, after a random phone call to a Mothersbaugh listing in his home state of Ohio eventually got him on the phone with DEVO guitarist Bob Casale.
After the technology bubble burst, DEVO's Mark Mothersbaugh hired Pilmer to travel the country and curate his art shows. Pilmer learned how to build Web sites shortly thereafter, and he's been pulling double digital duty for DEVO and Thor ever since.
The partnership of Thor and Pilmer is the realization of at least two dreams, but probably a lot more. As a Canadian kid, Thor would go to school with a superhero uniform under his clothes, a Clark Kent figure in the making.
"He really is this Thor character," says Pilmer, who's lived in Raleigh since coming to N.C. State in the early '80s. "That's what he is as a human, that's who he knows he is--a superhero."
After three decades, Thor's still realizing his role nightly from a stage, cracking cinderblocks on his chest and blowing up hot water bottles with his mouth amid a glorious metal racket.
This is Pilmer's dream, too. Mothersbaugh's art is his primary income now, but--in the next two months--he'll tour with Thor, Devo and, again in September, Thor.
"Trying to do all of these things this summer is kind of mind boggling ... and part of me wants to complain and say I need to be paid more," Pilmer says, already anticipating the beginning of the next sentence. "And the other part of me says I would definitely do it for nothing."
Try telling that to the next tour manager you see.
Thor takes the throne at Kings at 424 E. McDowell St. In Raleigh on Thursday, July 29 with Widow.