It was sad but also somewhat strange to learn of Michael's death yesterday, in an email from the MJ newsletter today. Last night, on the way to bed, I picked up my guitar, and despite it being 2am and the end of a long day, found myself drawn into playing, particularly Michael's "Departure." Tonight, on a late night drive home from my girlfriend's house, my car music player reached the end of a summer playlist, and I found myself drawn to a spring playlist that started with "April fool." At the end of the drive was "Departure;" I listened to its conclusion sitting in my driveway. After coming inside, I checked my email to learn that Michael had... departed.
I first learned of Michael's music from a fraternity brother in college, in the early 80s. We listened endlessly to his early albums, through "Ain't dis da life," and tried to learn some of his guitar parts. When I went to grad school in Chicago through the late 80s, every time I passed one of the big old downtown record stores, I'd duck inside hoping to find my own copies of those albums, alas, without any luck. Thankfully, I'd made cassette copies of my fraternity brother's versions.
I had better luck seeing Michael *live*. He played fairly regularly at the legendary Holstein's club on on North Lincoln Ave.. Often it would be two nights, a Friday night and two Saturday night shows. I'd go to every one! At the time I was just getting into home recording, and I had a Tascam Portastudio. I'd sneak it into Holstein's in a backpack, and set up a PZM mic on the table, to record the shows. It got so Michael would recognize me and come visit between shows. I felt nervous about the mic, but if he noticed, he didn't say. He was always very gracious to this star-struck fan. One year, he played mainstage at the Chicago folk fest. I got up front, and he gave me a smile and a nod, I suppose recognizing me from Holstein's.
Michael had a profound effect on me as a musician (a serious amateur). Although I was mainly a steel string and electric player at the time, I bought a classical guitar during those Chicago years, specifically to learn Michael's style. I did a little classical self-study, and spent hours and hours trying to figure out MJ guitar parts.
After leaving Chicago, I moved to upstate NY, where Michael seldom performed. I discovered his columns in *Performing Songwriter*, and gobbled them up. There was a 20+ year gap in my seeing him live, but at last in March 2015 I got to see him at Cafe Veritas in Rochester, NY. It was so wonderful, and touching, to see him live again. I'd remained a steady fan all the years in between, picking up each new album and reissue as they became available. I got to speak again with Michael at that show; I don't think he remembered me from the Chicago years, but he was his same gracious self.
I'm sad that we won't have any more of the uniquely touching and thoughtful music Michael conjured with his welcoming baritone voice, first-rate songwriting, and brilliant guitar work. But most of all right now I'm just feeling grateful for all that he's given me and all his fans through a decades-long career of uncommon integrity, creativity, and beauty.
Rest in peace, Michael. To his family and friends—you are in my thoughts and prayers.