Saturday, May 20, 2006

Today was a good day.

I guess awakenings can occur in many ways. I was startled awake this afternoon while working on a soundtrack for a project - I was looking for a style to use as a reference for some background music, and pulled out some CDs to listen to.

Michael Hedges: Today Was A Good Day: Walking In The Light blogI did not know Michael Hedges. But his music. My, oh my. I first saw Michael perform at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, sometime around the end of the 80's or very early in the 90's. I did not know what to expect. Had never heard of him before but, at that time, I had recently started listening to some other Windham Hill artists, so off I went to the Winery.

It was a daytime performance and the day was hot. Horribly hot, and there were so few umbrellas set up that my seat was not covered at all. The stage was empty except for a monitor speaker and mic stand. My reaction was "uh-oh" and, combined with the heat, I was ready to go before it started.

I sat with perspiration pooling at my feet, or at least so it seemed, for a long time - waiting. waiting. waiting. Then this sound started from somewhere. Ethereal does not do it justice. Harmonics - almost gasping - from ... where? ... this very strange, yet pleasant sound .. coming from ... ??? A moment later Michael walked out from a curtained area on the right side of the stage, and casually sauntered down center to the microphone. Not missing a note along the way. This sound!! Both repulsive and exciting in the same tone (looking back at this concert, I think the first song may have been "Spare Change" or "Rickover's Dream" from Aerial Boundaries (info). At the end of the first song I was confused about what I was hearing. By the end of the second I was enthralled. By the third I was on my feet. I left the show that day and drove to Tower Records, where I bought anything with his name on it (I think there were just two CDs).

Michael played at the Mountain Winery or Villa Montalvo almost every year for the next few years. And I was there each time. But then he did some other things, and was not around for a year or two. I continued to listen to the CDs, and felt somehow connected to what he wrote. I tried to equate what he did with the guitar to the way I play keyboards - although looking back on this many years later, and understanding his music a bit better now, I see there is absolutely no similarity other than the use of rhythm.

But I was excited in 1997 to learn he would be appearing in my area again! I could not wait to get tickets. His performance was, as I recall, scheduled for the spring of 1998, so tickets were not on sale yet. Months passed and in late January of 1998 I was reading a magazine article listing information on entertainers who had died during the year. Michael was listed. He had died in a one car accident, on or about December 1, 1997, when his car left the road. I was stunned.

In sadness, I put his CDs away. I could not listen to them. They sat prominently in my CD rack, but they were seldom, if ever, pulled out. The exception was Torched, which I listened to when it was first released (the CD was started by Michael and finished by others). I just could not listen to this music.

So that brings me to my background music search. I grabbed a couple of Michael's CDs and, while none of those songs worked in terms of this project, I did reconnect with his music. And, in a startled moment, I realized that his death had happened nearly nine years ago. Yet here was "Bensusan", just as fresh today as it had been when I last listened to it nearly a decade ago. And "Communicate". And "India". And that opening glissando on "Road to Return"! And "Nomad Land" and "The Rootwitch". I may never fully understand what it took for him to create these sounds, but I found them every bit as relevant, interesting and entertaining in 2006 as they were in 1996.

So I was startled awake by the passage of time. Whoosh! Nearly a decade gone. I still feel sorrow when I listen to his work, but it was refreshing to reconnect. It was a good feeling. He is quoted as having said, “I play the guitar because it let’s me dream out loud.” And through his music we can dream with him. Michael died alone nearly nine years ago, but his music will live on. I suspect people will be discovering and rediscovering his work for decades.
"Go left—right—down through the middle

Go any way you want to go

From the blue Black Sea to the Ivory Coast

Or get tough—hard—dive into battle

waging new warfare

under heavy metal armor just running scared

Make a white flag

Bring the code book

Get the peace-pipe smokin’ good
Every worldwide color of meaning

can shade what we’re meaning to say

Before darkness falls—

it’s time we try and communicate"
I'd like to mention the CHILDREN OF MICHAEL HEDGES fund. There are a lot of people asking for your money now, but if you can spare a buck or two or three, go here: info.

Copyright©2006 jdwarrick (w).
Photo of Michael Hedges from an uncredited source, found on the internet.
Lyric from COMMUNICATE by Michael Hedges, Copyright©1994 Windham Hill Records [w]

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