Michael Hedges

MICHAEL HEDGES (1953-1997)

TUESDAY, July 30, 2013

The longest single job I’ve held was as a typesetter at Radio & Records, from 1985 to 1995; every couple years the tedium of production work on a weekly newspaper would be reinvigorated by the brief appearance of a famous performer or songwriter. A few of the “stars” who dropped by included Tina Turner, Julian Lennon and Michael Jackson. Jackson was perhaps the biggest surprise in terms of his personal presence. As he made his way around the large production room with its paste-up tables and camera equipment, he seemed to acknowledge each of us without any sense of distraction or yearning to be elsewhere with someone else. In making eye contact as he shook my hand, he held as tight to the brevity of our greeting as anyone in his position could possibly manage. He seemed guileless in doing so. He had nothing to gain from extending himself even that much and he earned my respect for that as much as for his slithering choreography and the soothing turbulence of his music.

One week we all received an invitation to attend a performance by Michael Hedges at A&M studios.  I’m not sure what the occasion was, although it was obviously an event intended to be an industry gathering. No tickets were for sale nor was it advertised. Hedges performed his compositions with a passion and verve that I have rarely encountered in any artist in any medium. I would not trade this memory of hearing Hedges perform for being at any performance by any contemporary musician. At the time, I was working on the title portion of my long poem, “Barely Holding Distant Things Apart.” While Hedges was playing, the only words I could come up with to describe the effect of his music were “Tibetan / marching / band.” Afterwards, Cathay Gleeson (my first wife) and I went to a back room to talk with him. We were complete strangers, but he listened to our comments on his music as if we were friends from his days as a student at the Peabody Conservatory. My recollection is that Cathay spontaneously gave him a small crystal assemblage she was wearing.

He was in his mid-40s when he died as a result of an automobile accident in 1997. In the decade and a half since, I’ve thought continually not only of his music, but of the integrity he brought to its expression. I’ve always been dismayed at how few poets seem to know his work. Anyone who is reading this blog should immediately start using their computers to become familiar with the musical visions of Michael Hedges.