The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 28, 2012

Requiem for the dreamer: Enid’s Michael Hedges translated heaven to sound

Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Michael Hedges said heaven is all around, translated to sound.

Fifteen years ago this Sunday, the pioneering guitarist died in a single-vehicle accident off Highway 128 on California’s north coast.

The 43-year-old Hedges was driving home to Medocino, Calif., from San Francisco International Airport following a Thanksgiving visit.

How did Hedges die? The Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner’s death investigation report listed “multiple traumatic injuries” causing “hypovolemic shock,” which occurs when severe blood and fluid loss prevent the heart from pumping sufficiently.

Hedges’ damaged vehicle, a maroon BMW with a California “TAPROOT” tag, skidded down an embankment and rested upside-down in a creek bed 30 feet from his body. Investigators thought he was thrown from the vehicle, which rolled over him, and crawled toward the highway, records show.

“He really touched a lot of people,” manager and longtime friend Hilleary Burgess told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The Enid High School graduate’s self-described “heavy mental” music was violently acoustic. Bonnie Raitt called him inimitable. Steve Vai considered his unique transcendence of genre and trend to be playfully enlightening.

“I feel I can always hear his heart when he plays,” Pete Townshend once said. “He respected my playing, too, and that simply thrills me.”

Hedges, who would jam with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, studied at Phillips University under mentor E.J. Ulrich. He earned a composition degree at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. In 1980, he arrived at Stanford University’s electronic music department.

“I went to the school of modern 20th century composition,” Hedges said, according to his website, Nomad Land. “I listened to Leo Kottke, Martin Carthy and John Martyn, but my head was headed more towards Stravinsky, Varèse, Webern.”

Hearing Hedges perform “was like watching the guitar being reinvented,” said Windham Hill co-founder and guitarist Will Ackerman.

Career highlights included 1984’s Grammy-nominated “Aerial Boundaries” and collaborating with Bobby McFerrin on 1985’s “Watching My Life Go By.”

The Grammy-nominated “Taproot,” released in 1990, featured a song set to e.e. cummings’ lyrics.

Posthumously, Hedges’ “Oracle” won the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album in 1998. Friends David Crosby and Graham Nash collaborated on the “Torched” release completed after his fatal wreck.

Crosby called him “one of the most brilliant musicians in America.” He was a perennial “best acoustic guitarist” winner in the Guitar Player magazine readers’ poll.

Enid residents should be proud that such an innovative musician hailed from our hometown.

“When his training at Phillips University in classical composition, use of alternate tunings, mastery of unorthodox techniques for coaxing and sometimes literally beating new and groundbreaking sounds from his guitar and unrelenting work ethic coalesced into what he once described as ‘Savage Myth Guitar,’ he created an entirely new genre of music,” wrote friend and blogger AJ Shorter.

“Before, nobody. After, everybody.”

R.I.P., Michael Hedges.