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.


Aimee said...

It was a beautiful day, filled with laughter, love, tears, and amazing music that melted decades away. Thank you for including me, Kevin And Jen and Marilyn.

prettymuchpeggy said...

Amen. It was good to sing and share and cry and most of all laugh.

John Slade said...

The three shows/events were a fitting tribute to Michael as well as filling the hole that the lack of 'service' left. I totally understand Michael not wanting a funeral, but the social needs to grieve and share community were a little under-served, I think, by the memorial.
The songs that got to me were - at The Long Straight Forever, the Red Molly song (while it's not a Matheny or Yeats original, it was very much Michael's), and Swing Low at the wake. (Which also had to do with my grieving my distance from the Ren Fest crowd that were at all three of those shows.) I remember sharing a tent with Michael as he worked on the Executioner's Jig (which I thought he worked up at Minnesota). In any case, a most excellent remembering and representing for our fallen friend, family member, musician.

Amy Burge said...

A mighty fine wake, indeed.
I never thought of Could I Face Tomorrow as love slipping away, but more of love evolving, which it tends to do. It's just that oftentimes it's evolution is so colored with anger and hatred that we can't remember the love. I never stopped loving him. I have always referred to Michael in terms of "sometimes love just isn't enough to make it work." I believe that still. I was a little girl from a small town and I had barely figured out who I was yet, let alone being able to be what he needed me to be. We talked about it recently, and we both agreed that we were young and not ready for what we had found in each other. I'm just so grateful that we were able to maintain a friendship throughout these years. He is an amazing man who I am honored to have known and loved so deeply.
Although it was my smile that inspired the song, it is his smile I will forever miss. That, and so much more.

Kelly McCullough said...

The Gallowglass concert was heart wrenching and wonderful and exactly what I needed. I'm sorry I couldn't come on to the wake afterward, but I was there in spirit, and spirits—with more than a little Jameson to toast him away last night.

R said...

A mighty fine wake. A mighty weekend dedicated to a fine man that passed away, and the little parts of us that died along with him. But, already, new seedlings have sprung up, new and beautiful experiences, friendships, and attitudes; all rooted in the love, kindness, and gentle heart of our dearly beloved friend and brother.

I miss you, Michael. I love you so much. The day you were first diagnosed with that vicious brutal fucking disease, I hugged you and promised, "No matter where this road leads, I will be with you. Brothers to the end."

To the end.


Eclector2 said...

Truly "A Bloody Good" Wake. It made me sad and it made me laugh and it made me very, very happy. A million thanks to everyone for the honor that they showed to him.

Eclector2 said...

To Raymond, thank you, you were there, during chemo, during his good times, during surgery at Mayo Clinic, during his last weeks in the hospital, prepared to take him, oxygen tanks, tubes and all, on a trip to the cabin to make music together one last time. One of my favorite photos is of you and Gabriel sheperding Michael gently out of Mayo Clinic after his surgery. I will post it on Facebook later today. Both of you are treating him with such loving care. It captures the value and love you placed on him. I thank will thank you again and again and again for all that you have done for him.

prettymuchpeggy said...

During the wake I came to realize several things:
1) I was part of Michael extended family. I may not have been a brother or sister like Lojo, Ken, Gabriel, Ray and many other were, but I was definitely a close cousin.

2) It spoke to how wonderful the times that I had with Michael et al that I remember them through the haze that was my not medicated chronic major depression throughout the 80's and 90's. What I loved most about him was that when he included me, I knew that I was in for a happy time which for anyone else would have been an awesome joyous experience.

3) I have some pretty awesome friends (quite a few that I met through Michael).

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