I haven’t blogged for a while due to a number of very good reasons (scheduling my next show, editing music videos, etc.), but have decided to blog today as the last week has been an emotional roller coaster due to the unexpected death of my fraternity brother Mike Lydon. I found out a week ago today that Mike had fallen to his death in a climbing accident when his sister, Trish, called me to about the news. That was when the odyssey began.
Mike was one of my college room-mates and partner in crime on many a mischievous endeavor. He had an adventurous spirit and left Seattle after college to pursue a number of passions involving travel, becoming an officer in the air-force and continuing to pursue his dream of being involved in the space program. In addition to that, outdoor activities were always an important part of his life. Along the way he met his wife, Jill and they have two lovely children, Kaylie and Sean. They lived all over the country and all over the world (in Asia and Europe) and seemed to make friends wherever they went. I had the good fortune of meeting up with Mike and Sean a few years ago when I was traveling to Munich and the three of us tore up the Alt-Stadt. This was also the moment in time when “planking” was in vogue, so we planked in various spots around Munich. This captured Mike’s character and energy. He was spontaneous, fun and always a bit sarcastic. Sean and I reflected on this at the memorial on Friday.
I had the honor of being able to provide the music for Mike’s ceremony which was held on Friday in Park City, where Mike lived. By coincidence, John Richards, DJ extraordinaire from KEXP, had broadcast his “Mom Show” earlier in the week. In this show he commemorated his mom who passed away ten years ago. He said many things that helped me put things into perspective. He talked about how, during his Mom’s passing, he curated music for her service. I believe that the music I played on the piano, which included several songs from the FM Collective album, set an alternative tone to the event that Mike would have appreciated (no churchy music). I had my standard sad/death song, “I will follow you into the dark” in my repertoire but felt I wanted to do something more tailored to Mike as the featured song. When John played “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, I knew that this was the perfect song. This all occurred last week, when I was traveling to NYC for a media conference and wall to wall meetings, so I faced some logistical challenges.
It had taken me until Thursday to identify the song. The next challenge was to actually learn how to play the song. In typical fashion, I tracked down the chords and lyrics on ultimate guitar tab and had the song on repeat on my phone in order to pound it into my brain. Now I just needed to find a piano. My pal Mat Hostetler (aka Dark Master) who is an actor suggested I use the one in the lounge area of a theater where he is rehearsing for a play. I managed to get through the song once before I was advised that this was only for “scheduled” performances. Later that evening I left NYC and flew to Salt Lake City. I knew I’d have to find a piano in Salt Lake City before I headed to Park City to learn the song. I thought perhaps a piano store would let me use one of their pianos if I pleaded my sob story. I identiied one in downtown SLC on Friday morning. After an epic "fail” locating the piano store with my GPS, I walked into a hotel to ask them to help me find it. And there it was a beautiful grand piano.
I pleaded my case to Alberto who was manning the front desk and he said no problem.
Frankly, I was in disbelief that he enthusiastically accepted me using the piano. I spent the next hour hacking through the song and making something presentable for the memorial. I also ran through some of the other songs. I was pleasantly surprised that the hotel guests really liked all of the music, so I felt I was adequately prepared. Now that I had learned the music I left SLC and began the thirty minute drive to Park City. When I arrived it started snowing. Then I met Tracy the pastor, and made sure everything was set for the memorial in terms of cues, etc. Apparently Tracy had done an entire service on “Hurt” so she was very happy with my choice.
I began playing as people arrived about fifteen minutes before the service started, playing some of my indie covers: "I will Follow You into the Dark,” “Waltz #2” and “Karma Police” and my original “The One That Matters." I was slightly short on time, and had to fill about two minutes, so I did a vamp on the ending of Karma Police which was kind of cool and set a somber tone. Then the military squad came out and did the folding of the flag and played taps. It was an amazingly powerful and sad moment. I was on next with “Hurt” I did some opening remarks (see below). However, I went off script by commenting on the taps performance, “when that song is played and it’s for someone you knew, it’s the saddest song in the world.” That’s exactly how I felt.
I played “Hurt.” I played it at lot like I felt. Started slow and legato and then during the chorus took it up many notches, ultimately to a fever pitch that represented both the anger and chaos for why we were all here in the first place. After the song, a friend of Jill’s., Cass, stood up, hugged me and asked me to sit by her or the rest of the service.
The service was moving. Trish spoke on behalf of her sisters and provided a synopsis of Mike’s life which had us laughing and crying. Mike’s first climbing partner, Ted, gave us a sense of what a talented and special gift Mike had, both for climbing and what a great leader and teacher of climbers Mike had become. The most moving and powerful moment was when Francis, Mike’s father gave his speech. It came from deep inside his very saddened heart. He directed it at the kids, Kaylie and Sean but it was relevant to everyone in the room. The message was that Mike had special qualities, values and passion that touched everyone he was close to. This was particularly the case with Jill and the kids who were such a priority for him and for whom it was the most deeply embedded. This would be how Mike’s spirit continues to live within us. I thought this was a powerful message and, as an atheist, I believe this is how people live after they die.
After the service, the group of mourners moved on to the Grub Steak House where the Lydon family had organized an amazing feast and celebration of Mike’s life. There were at ton of people there and more toasts and moments. These came from from the many chapters of Mike’s life: Highschool, College, Airforce, Climbers, neighbors, friends from all of the places that Mike and Jill had lived and of course, more family. There were a few particularly notable moments. Kaylie put together a video of Mike’s life and Sean played piano to that video. He did an amazing job and the video was jarring, as there were recent videos of Mike when he was still with us. One of Mike’s Air Force buddies made a very important point about Mike. The point was that he sought out to do things that were important and also fun for him. He encouraged everyone to pursue their passions and don’t settle for living a life that doesn’t satisfy you.
Tom Schaeffer gave a poignant toast about the friendships we had built in college as fraternity brothers. In addition, we acknowledged his sarcasm and his own self absorption about his amazing “blue eyes.” Finally, one of my most palpable and emotionally wrenching conversations was with those in the climbing community. I spoke with Chris Wood, the climber who was with Mike when he had the accident. He was still noticeably shaken up and haunted by the accident. He told me that the move Mike had made was a common move that everyone in the climbing community had done hundreds of times. For some reason, something happened during that moment and Mike fell. He was with Mike when he died. He said he thought he was done with climbing.
Before dawn on the next morning, I drove through a blizzard on a desolate road to return to the airport and fly out of SLC airport. After this weeklong odyssey, I reflected on a few things. First of all, do the things you love, when you can do them because as Johnny Cash says, “Everyone I know goes away in the end.” It’s just a question of when. Secondly, as you do things during your life, remember that your actions will affect your legacy and whether you believe in a god or not, that will be the only true artifact of yourself that will remain after you die. And lastly, take these moments to savor the things you have.
Mike touched a massive amount of people in many walks of life. May the things he did when he was with us remain with us as we move on with our lives. And our thoughts continue to be with his family and friends.
We will be playing some music to commemorate Mike at the Barboza Show, so if you’re in Seattle and knew Mike please come to the show and help celebrate all of the good things he left us with.
Also, i wanted to share my opening remarks before i played "Hurt." You can go to the link and read my notes. Also, here's a link to the Johnny Cash version of the song which might be one of the best videos ever.