Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Michael Piper

"Death is to me today
like the smell of myrrh,
like sitting under a sail on a windy day.

Death is to me today
like the smell of flowers,
like sitting on the shore of drunkeness."

- The dialogue of a man with his soul, c. 1850 BC

When the small business I'd started with two partners in 1994 finally closed in 2002 I had one completed album still unreleased. It had been designed as a "psychedelic super session" of sorts and had guest performances from musicians well known to fans of obscure psychedelia the world over. Its center piece was a twenty-two minute cover version of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's ground-breaking 1966 composition "East West" which ran the length of side one.

The second side opened with an ethereal folk song called "The Silver Witch" written and performed by Alisha Sufit, the British artist who had fronted the band Magic Carpet in the early 1970s.

It closed with a long musical segment driven by a backwards lead electric guitar and multiple electric basses over which former Dead Kennedys lead singer, Jello Biafra, performed a spoken word piece about psychedelic record collecting called "I Am Not a Collector Potato."

It was a lovely record and it was finally released in 2005 by my friend Michael Piper who released it on CD on his Wild Places label and on a lovely limited gold vinyl edition on his Gates of Dawn label.

I'd known Michael since the early 1990s when we both published mail order rare record catalogs in the dark and mysterious times before the dawn on the internet. I'd met Michael a few times when he passed through Indiana and would stay with us. Through Michael I also met many people including Alisha Sufit who took me into her home in London on my first trip to England because Michael said I was OK.

I had not spoken to Michael since the release of the Many Bright Friends album. I imagined he'd show up some afternoon and we would reconnect they way we had in the past. That's not going to happen now as I learned just the other day that Michael died a few days ago in New York after a short illness. The news of Michael's passing spread through a number of internet music discussion forums where all the messages from his many friends and the many people whose lives he touched over the years can be distilled down to a post in a psychedelic music chat room that Michael's friend, Mike Ascherman left: He was one of the good guys.


Carrie McGee said...

Thank you, Stan, for your lovely post about my brother Michael. Roaming the internet has been an important aspect of my effort to absorb Michael's death in the aftermath. The wonderful stories, portraits, and feelings shared by Michael's friends have nourished me and somehow expand and continue my relationship with him. In gratitude, and with all best wishes, Carrie

Stan Denski said...

Thanks Carrie. You probably know that Michael's record collection has a large number of very rare and valuable LPs. If you need help in figuring out what to do with all that stuff I recommend Michael's friend, Mike Ascherman who lives in Queens in NY. If you need his contact info please email me at

feedyourhead said...

I just now came across this site and was very pleased to see it. I'm still baffled because Michael never told me he was ill. I should have guessed when I received several boxes of personal items from Michael that he said he no longer had time to use. The contents were very dear to me because I knew how much they had meant to Michael & that some items had been around the world with him to Stonehenge & other various "magical" places. Michael & I shared the same beliefs & the items were part of those beliefs. I know these things were very special to Michael & now they mean the world to me. They're not valuable moneywise but are beyond valuable in other senses. I should have known something was up. I've known Michael for maybe 15 years now. I don't recall how we met but it had to do with me buying music from his catalog. I probably caught his ad in Goldmine Magazine. We'd speak on occasion over the phone. We'd email much more & I've saved several of his emails from over the years. His emails were always short & cryptic which made me laugh. It was like pulling teeth to get things out of him sometimes. I'd accuse him of being cryptic & all I would get was "who me"? Michael couldn't give enough either. always on the run with no time for himself. I finally had met Michael about 5 years ago when he was in Chicago with Porcupine Tree. Of course Michael had free tickets waiting for me & my girl & gave us a hat & some Porcupine Tree records. We couldn't talk much because he was so busy. It was 2005 if I recall when I finally had some restfukl time with him. He came to Indiana for a festival I had told him about so we met there. It was a 3 day fest so we all camped there. Michael took charge of the main fire & spent hours bringing wood to the fire & making sure it never went out. He also ran around with c.d.'s from his label, passing them out like mad. He was a real giver & not a taker. He did seem troubled as I think back so I think he was aware that he was ill. He kept it secret though as to not burden anyone when he should have let people know so that we could have supported him & given back to him. Michael brought new meaning to the word altruistic. He showed me through example how to be a better person. For all of these things I am grateful to him. His emails had tapered off but that was just Michael being Michael so I thought all was well. Then I read an email from one of the guys on a record cat group I was on & found that Michael had passed. I was stunned. It didn't register & I couldn't comprehend it. It's set in now. I'll miss him & his three word emails I would tease him about. Man of a few words but he walked with a big stick. Michael showed by example. He may not have known how he affected others but he left his mark on so many of us. Michael will be missed so much by so many. He's part of all that is good in this world now. The gentle breezes in the spring, the flapping of birds wings, laughter from children as they play, the full moon, the delicate snowflakes of the first snow of winter. I'm going to try to stop & smell the roses & to notice all of these things I take for granted. And when I do, I want to think of Michael. His beliefes were similar to mine. I can see him now as he crossed the rainbow bridge into the Summerland. He went across with a smile on his face & a wave of his hand. Bill T.

Stan Denski said...

Hi Bill, glad you found it. Michael may have come to visit us after that festival you mention, not sure.

Geoffrey Bergeron said...

I hadn't heard from Michael since January of '08 and knew nothing of his passing. But to find a blogpost containing such an outpouring of love for this gem of a man -- that makes the news just a little easier to bear. Now please excuse me while I make some difficult phone calls...

Lorraine Michelson said...

Thank you for this post about Michael Piper I have been looking for the last 2 years. I have known Michael since the 80's in Santa Cruz. The last time I saw Michael was in 2002 in Santa Cruz. Could you please tell me what he died from and where he is buried. Thank you - Lorraine Michelson

Stan Denski said...

Michael died from lung cancer. I do not have any details about his burial, etc., sorry. There is a thread about him on the Porcupine Tree fan website where his sisters left posts; you may want to look there.

Anonymous said...

We're old friends of Michael's when he lived in Santa Cruz, CA. We met when my husband and he worked at Odyssey Records where the crew enjoyed beer and cigarette breaks, sometimes some smoke and coke, on their coffee breaks. We spent many happy times together over beers at the Poet and Patriot, a great Irish pub, the community center for returning Vietnam Vets. Wild Michael was handsome with abundant black Irish curly hair, skinny frame on which he looked in velvet, denim and satin shirts. Women loved him for his looks, his sardonic wit and unmatched air guitar...he could play anything. I'm glad we found out what happened to him as after moved to NYT, his emails were fewer and fewer. Though he quit booze and cigarettes years before he died, seems like the nicotine had the final say, May his spirit keep on playing great air guitar. Robt and Kathy Cheer