Posted on 23 February 2010 by Will O' in Music
Michael Garrison: 28 November 1956 - 24 March 2004
from the back cover of In the Regions of Sunreturn, 1979
I first heard Michael Garrison’s music in January of 1984. And the very first piece of his music I heard was “Daydreams” from Point of Impact. It has always been my favourite.
I had recently arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, after a few years of itinerant wandering in Europe and the Middle East. I was dead broke, but managed to score welfare. I rented a furnished room in a dilapidated boarding house on Richmond Street, with the intention of beginning a book. Welfare supplied enough money to pay the rent, eat sparingly and to drink a half bottle of cheap red wine every night while I banged away on the AZERTY keyboard portable typewriter I’d bought for a song in France. I supplemented my food income by shoplifting rump steaks and butter and the like. I borrowed a bicycle from a friend and drove twice a week to McGavin’s bakery, where I loaded up on day old bread. It was a frugal existence, and one of the happiest of my life.
Missing was some way of listening to music. I inveigled a friend into loaning me the money to buy a Sharp Double Cassette recorder with FM, AM and a couple of Short Wave bands. Paying her back from various gardening jobs I’d taken on to keep fit and supplement welfare would take more than a year. Almost immediately I came across CFUV FM, the station run out of the University of Victoria. One of the programs was called Ear Meals, hosted by Brian Lunger. This knowledgeable young dude played electronic and experimental music and sounds, the kind of music I’d come to love while living in Europe. But until now the only artists I’d heard were Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. He extended my listening range exponentially, and I owe most of my musical experience in these genres to him.
After listening to his weekly program for the first time, I extended my shoplifting items to include quality blank cassettes. The following week I was ready with a pristine BASF ninety-minute tape. I hit record and on came Garrison’s “Daydreams.” I still have this cassette. Indeed, over the next few years I recorded over one hundred tapes of what I came to call Bananas Music (early Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley) — in that their repetitive minimalism tended to drive unsuspecting partygoers bananas, and what French friends referred to as Musique Planante, or “mind-blowing music” (Garrison, Schulze, et al). Lunger’s Ear Meals introduced me to the work of Ian Boddy, Ron Slabe, Steve Roach, Manuel Göttsching, Don Robertson, Ron Berry, Rainer Bloss, Danna & Clement, Ebondazzar, Michael Stearns and Robert Schroeder, to name a few. And then there were the alternative groups such as Algebra Suicide, The Legendary Pink Dots, Ptose, Merzbow, Xray Pop, and Courage of Lassie, again to name a very few. There were hundreds.
In Europe the signature music for me was Schulze’s “Floating” (from the album Moondawn), a masterpiece of Sturm und Drang, and Reich’s tabula rasa music, such as “Music for 18 Musicians” and “Six Pianos.” But after first hearing Michael Garrison, it was his music, with its uncomplicated life affirming, often child-like joys and mysteries, that became the music I turned to whenever I needed to boot myself out of misery.
I managed to find three of his albums while in Victoria: In the Regions of Sunreturn, Prisms, and Eclipse. But Point of Impact was nowhere to be found.
And then I moved to Australia in 1989 with my new wife, an Aussie. I wrote Mike, putting in an order for a cassette of An Earth-Star Trilogy, and asked if he had any copies of Point of Impact, as it was unavailable in Australia as well. To my astonishment he too was sold out. What he did was to send me, free of charge, a cassette of three songs, which he called The Basement Tape. It included “Daydreams,” but the next piece was not from Point of Impact. It was only recently that I found that it was “Daydreams” and subsequent songs from the CD reissue of Eclipse.
Later, we corresponded again, when I ordered The Rhythm of Life on CD.
Then, with a new daughter to look after, and life being what it is: a series of nows that often do not connect, Michael Garrison and the great synth masterpieces of the Germans slipped out of my musical consciousness.
Many years elapsed before I wrote again, to find out how things were going and what new releases he’d come up with. But I never heard from him. I thought, maybe he’s hit the big time, or moved. So I let it go.
Just last week, while I was looking through a 1976 journal I’d written while in the south of France, I came across the mention of the “recent” Tangerine Dream recording of “Ricochet.” I went to look for the CD in my collection and found, several slots above it, Garrison’s Rhythm of Life. I’d forgotten I had it!
This led me to look through the old vinyls stored away in the closet. I pulled out the three albums mentioned above and decided to digitize them. While doing this I Googled “Michael Garrison” to find out what he’d been up to. I was absolutely stunned, physically paralysed for a moment, to find that he had died in 2004 … six years ago! How could this be? The website Perfect Sound Forever: Michael Garrison is in part an interview by Mark S. Tucker with Mike shortly before he died, and a eulogy. It turns out that he suffered depression from childhood and became an alcoholic. He died of massive liver failure. The very last thing I would have expected. Drugs, perhaps, but alcohol? He just didn’t seem the type. But then, who really is? As Tucker so eloquently says, “If any sum-up might be drawn, perhaps it would be that he was living proof that, even amidst the most unbearable of circumstances, spirit always prevails. As with so many creative minds, Mike found profound solace and intellectual engagement in beauty and wonder, documenting his visions for the rest of us. That is the essence of all art.”
It was as if I had just learned that a dear old friend, not seen for years, had died and I had been too busy with my life to notice. I can tell you that a day or so later, I shed tears listening to this gentle soul’s music.
Another web site, Music Blog of Saltyka and his friends, provides a Garrison discography with comment and downloadable links. It seems most of Mike’s work is out of print. Through this site, I was finally able to get a recording of Point of Impact. It has taken me 26 years!
By now I’ve downloaded all of Mike’s work, except Aurora Dawn, the link being broken. For the past two weeks I’ve been playing Michael Garrison in my car, often driving out of my way to keep listening. I’ve found many new favourites, but “Daydreams” remains number one. Tucker describes it as “an almost tabernacularly moody number, a gem in the Garrison repertoire and unusually pensive.” And I agree with him when he says it’s much too short.
I was a heavy dope smoker in my younger years. Growing older, my lungs started rebelling, and so these days I only occasionally have a few tokes. I do so to rouse myself out of whatever mental status quo I’ve sunk into. These occasional tokes are like spiritual medicine. And so is Michael Garrison’s music.
Michael Garrison, from the cover of Images, 1986
Addendum: Tucker says, “Mike had none of the pretensions too often normal to many artists. He was unhurried and natural. Even in his e-mail’s, there was always an unselfconscious smile.” How true. He was, in a word, a nice guy. I’ve included the following scans of his letters to me simply to verify this. And also, to quote Tucker once more: “… for the selling [of] a half million units from a 13-title catalogue, his was, and still is, not a well-known name.” These letters will add a little to the dearth of what is known about Michael Garrison.