With a shudder and a gasp, bitter tears were shed as news of Alan Mevissen’s sudden death spread throughout Anoka’s family of musicians.
Mevissen – or Big Al as he was so affectionately known – died of a heart attack March 4.
Although his family has a long history of heart disease and Al had an oversized heart himself, the 40-year old musician threw his whole heart into his music, writing and recording his own songs, playing with local bands and teaching guitar at Mr. Mark Music in downtown Anoka.
Big Al shared his musical talent, performing locally with The Killabrews and The Law and taking the stage at Durkin’s Pub, Courtside, River City Saloon and more.
“He was a kind man, a great musician with an incredible ear and an uncanny sensitivity about what makes music work,” said Mark Vetsch, owner of Mr. Mark Music where Big Al taught for some 20 years.
Vetsch first met Big Al when he came into the store as a teen-aged guitar player looking for some new guitar strings 23 years ago.
“You could tell music was his whole life, even then. He had such passion, such talent, such a love for playing,” said Vetsch’s partner Mary Seman.
And he played and wrote and recorded throughout his entire life.
Big Al’s mom described her youngest son’s introduction to music.
“We bought him a little plastic guitar at a garage sale in Wisconsin. He was only about five years old … Well, he handed it to his dad and said, ‘Tune it!’ and away he went,” Eileen Mevissen said.
Sure enough, after Merle Mevissen tuned that toy guitar, little Alan learned to play a song he’d heard on the radio.
“We’d wake up Sunday morning and he’d be playing that song, ‘In Heaven There Is No Beer,’” Eileen said, rolling her eyes at her little boy’s selection of music.
Though he dealt with significant visual impairment (due to his premature birth and the subsequent weeks spent in an isolette) Big Al learned music quickly and enthusiastically shared his musical talent.
His passion for music seemed contagious, and his Mr. Mark students caught it almost from the moment they sat down for lessons with him.
“He taught from the seat up. He had the kindest heart of anyone you ever met, he was so patient, so open-hearted – and he loved music so much, it just overflowed,” Seman said.
There were children, Eileen said, who almost miraculously learned to play guitar from Big Al.
“There was a handicapped child who Al taught to play guitar. After his lessons with Al, his parents said their child would try anything … Al gave him such confidence,” Eileen said.
And Vetsch saw it, too.
“There are many parents who’ve told me that Al changed their son or daughter, taught them to love music, showed them they could do anything,” Vetsch said.
“He was a good man to have around.”
After Vetsch shared the sad news of Big Al’s death on Mr. Mark’s Facebook page, David Enge shared this note.
“Al asked if he could play a few licks on my old guitar when he was a student at (Anoka High School). I said ‘sure’ and it had never sounded better, and it has not sounded better since. His spirit is ‘Still Standing.’”
Big Al was preceded in death by father, Merle; and sister, Deborah Edwards. He is survived by wife, Carmen; mother, Eileen Mevissen; brothers, John Mevissen and Tom (Shawn) Mevissen; nieces and nephews, Danna, Greg, Garrett and Paige. Memorial Mass was held March 10 at St. Stephens Catholic Church, Anoka.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]