Sunday, July 29, 2012


My apologies for the long silence. I've been busy over at my own blog rather than Michael's, mostly blogging about baseball.

But as I finished up, I thought of Michael. He made it to one of Alex's games last year, but wasn't well enough this year to come. I told him about the games, and he read my updates.

I don't think he got baseball in the same way that I do - he liked it, certainly, and he and Jen enjoyed going to Twins games. But to the best of my knowledge, he never scored a game.

I thought of one of the last text messages I got from him. I'd seen him at the hospital earlier in the day, and then left to get Alex to the game. I was on the field coaching, so Christina had my phone and was sending him updates. She got kind of excited about the game - it was our 4th game of the year, against the only other undefeated team, our long-time rivals the Maplewood Express (seriously, I'm not making this up, you can read about it on my blog if you have the time) and missed his reply to one of her updates.

His message was "Are the Ironpigs still ahead?"

They were; we won that game and all but one of the rest, on the way to finishing in first place.

I told him about the game the next day in the hospital, but he was drifting in and out from the painkillers.

This was a painful, painful summer. I lost a brother who was my friend, and I had to watch him die and know there was nothing I could do about it.

Baseball helped me through that; coaching Alex and his teammates in a magical season was good for my soul.

Baseball season is over. We made it to the championship game and fought it down to the wire, but lost. We went down fighting, though - we had the tying run at the plate when the final out was made.

The Ironpigs are still ahead, bro. They're still ahead.

I miss you.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A mighty fine wake

We spent the weekend remembering Michael's music.

He's been in many bands over the years, but two really stand out.

The first is Gallowglass Irish Trio, the band that made him a musician. Gallowglass shows are half concert, half comedy routine. As Ken Larson says, "We're Gallowglass Irish Trio, and if you came in late, we are musicians." This was the band that started it all, and watching him play with Ken and Lojo Russo was always a delight.

The second is The Long Straight Forever, the band he founded with Raymond Yates and Matt Ogden. This is the band that featured Michael in full command of his abilities as a musician, writing songs, singing and playing his heart out. This is the band that featured Michael at the peak of his career.

I love both of these bands, and I am so glad I got to hear Michael play in them.

This past weekend, both bands were scheduled to play at CONvergence, a science fiction convention here in the Twin Cities. With Michael's passing, both were faced with the impossible task of playing without him.

It would have been easy, in some ways, for Ray and Matt and Ken and Lojo to say "we can't do this without Michael." They could have cancelled the shows, and I think everyone would have understood. These are people that were my brother's friends, people who called him "brother" and meant it. Playing a show without him, playing his music without him there, was painful. But it was beautiful.

Ray and Matt played on Friday night, with Ken and Lojo and Scott Keever and Gabriel Hilmar sitting in for Michael. They played his songs, and they played for him and to remember him. It was sad and beautiful and I am forever grateful to them for that show. At the end of the show, Lojo said, with tears streaming down her face "No ballads on Sunday!"

Ken and Lojo played on Sunday afternoon, with Ray standing in for Michael, along with Adam Stemple and Scott Keever. As Lojo said, "it takes three guitarists to fill Michael's shoes." They did a fine job of it, especially Ray, who was goofing around as Michael would have, cracking up Ken and Lojo. He said he could feel Michael's spirit in him, and I could see it.

Lojo proved herself a liar, singing a ballad she wrote for Michael, a beautiful song called simply "Brother" that put the feelings of everyone there into words. It was a show that combined grief and joy in equal measure, and a fitting last show for Gallowglass.

Sunday night, we had a wake for Michael. He didn't want a funeral, he wanted a proper Irish wake. Minus the Catholic priest. He wanted a wake at Kieran's, with drinking and laughter and tears. He got that. Many of his (and my) old friends were there, raising our glasses to "absent friends." And many of the same musicians that had played over the weekend were there, along with others that had played with him over the years.

Lojo played her song again, breaking my heart a second time. Ken played "Could I Face Tomorrow" which is the first love song Michael wrote. I cried the first time I heard it, listening to him play it alone on the end of a dock, playing to the setting sun and singing about love slipping away. I have cried every time I heard it, and last night was no exception. John Sjogren, an old friend and a fellow cancer warrior, led the singing of Finnegan's Wake, as much for me as for Michael. And there were many more songs, laughter and tears, and many toasts. 

Jen remarked to me, as the evening was winding down, that this was what we - she and I and Mom - had needed. Not the memorial - that was about giving the rest of the world a place to show their respects, and it was good - but this wake, this gathering of friends and singing of songs. This was what Michael wanted, and he was right.

It was a mighty fine wake.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

On the durability of digital media

Mom, Jen and I have spent a lot of time going through Michael's things, sifting through a lifetime of memories. It's part of the process of grieving, and of finding the things that help us remember the man we have lost.

I've been looking through the files on his computer, trying to make sense of everything. In the last couple of months, he and I made sure that I had access to all of his digital life - he gave me his password for his computer, and we set up a master password locker for all of his various accounts, so I could take care of his bills for him while he was in the hospital.

But we didn't talk about his backups, and I wish we had. Like me, he was a computer guy - for most of his career, he worked on computers, and he always had a computer at home. Over the course of a lifetime, you accumulate a bunch of backups of various sorts - when you leave a job, you often take files with you, and when you switch computers, you may not take all of your files forward.

But as it happens, digital media is less durable than one might imagine. In going through Michael's stuff, I've found a bunch of CD-Rs that are unusable - fortunately, I think they are just work files from his Gambro days - and a hard drive that won't read. I think it was a backup drive, and his computer's hard drive is fine (and backed up to a new drive AND a cloud backup), so I don't think we lost anything.

But I wonder where his backups are. Back in (I think) 1996 or so, he created an album cover for the 5th Gallowglass album. He called it Wake in the Morning, and the only known version of it is this t-shirt that Lojo still has.

I'd love to find the original file.

Today's lesson: talk about your backups with your backup.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Instrument stories - the Bambu electric

Michael was many things in his life - teacher, art director, writer, pilot, biker, and more - but ever since he first picked up a guitar at the age of sixteen or seventeen, he was a musician.

The first guitar he ever loved was an electric. This probably surprises some of you, who know him as a folk musician with a fondness for acoustic instruments. We grew up listening to The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at Dad's house, along with Dad playing guitar and singing (Finnegan's Wake in particular is the song I most strongly associate with memories of Dad playing the guitar). At Mom's house, we listened to the Beatles and the occasional Fleetwood Mac album. In the late 1970s, we discovered punk and new wave music, and especially Devo.

I think that's what inspired Michael, and he decided he wanted to play guitar as well, and bought an electric guitar from the Podium in Dinkytown. It was a Bambu, an odd but well-made and beautiful instrument with a bamboo neck.

I found a link to a similar guitar: I found that link on this page - - where the poster talks about playing such an instrument at the Podium in about 1979/80/. Chances are fairly good that the guitar in question is the one Michael bought.

Since he couldn't read music, but wanted to learn a song, after first couple of lessons, he left a tape with the instructor so that the instructor could figure out the song and teach it to him. The tape was Devo's Are We Not Men, and the song he wanted to learn was Mongoloid. The instructor put the tape in on the wrong side, though, and learned Come Back Jonee instead.

He never used the Bambu much, but he kept it over the years, and he never bought another electric guitar. He went on to become known for his acoustic prowess, and the instrument most people think of as the iconic Michael Matheny instrument is probably his Hoffman guitar, or his mandola. But for me, it's the Bambu, the guitar he used to play Devo.

His wish was that it go to his bandmate Matt Ogden. A few things worth knowing about Matt. Michael more than once described Matt as "so good he doesn't know how good he is," and told me that he lived in fear of the day that Matt figured out how talented he was and moved on to something better than The Long Straight Forever. One of Michael's favorite things to do in a TLSF concert was to just point at Matt and let him riff. When Michael and Matt first talked about playing together, Matt said that he knew nothing about Irish music or folk, and Michael said "that's perfect." He wanted a bandmate with no preconceived notions about what playing Irish music or folk-rock meant, and in Matt he found a soulmate and a brother-of-the-heart.

I want to hear Matt play the Devo that Michael loved so well on the guitar he carried for those many years, the first guitar he ever loved.

- Kevin