He’s a sorcerer, a gangster, a magician, a gatherer of spirits, and sometimes he’s known as a world-traveled musician and published author. He holds his audiences in rapt attention, seemingly without even trying. And the surname to which he was born could not have been an accident. Meet Michael Musika:
I have Jessie Woletz to thank for putting Michael Musika on my radar.
I initially met Jessie, San Francisco’s modern day equivalent of Chet Helms, at one of her monthly Seaweed Sway showcase events at the Make-Out Room in March of 2010. What drew me there that particular night was a bill consisting of Foxtails Brigade, Ash Reiter and Steve Taylor – all of whom I had last seen playing together at Steve’s birthday party the previous November, the very party that followed the filming of Episode 24 of Parlour to Parlour.
Jessie was bright-eyed, gracious and enthusiastic that night, an instant charmer and very quick to hand me a flyer for her next event. The event in question was a grand undertaking, pulling together a who’s who of local San Francisco folk rock talent for a tribute to renowned Native American folk singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. The stand-out performance that night, the one I remember best, was Michael Musika’s rendition of “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot.”
While this performance contains all the hallmarks of a typical Michael Musika show – his jittery yet laid back vocals, a tendency to load up his phrases with many syllables a la mid-’60s Bob Dylan, and a sound straight out of said era aided by musicians such as Eric Kuhn, Matt Adams and Indianna Hale among others – what it doesn’t indicate is the wildly vivid, expressive, fantastical vision of his own writing.
In actual fact, songs alone cannot contain Michael’s vision, at least with regard to his most recent work. Spells, the album was released concurrently with “Spells,” the book – a work of fiction drawing from elements of fantasy, childhood observations, and the tradition of parables in advancing spirituality and morality. More specifically, both the book and album uphold themes of nature and love with a populist bent, following the adventures of a character known simply as “the Child” as he upsets the balance of his homeland’s closely controlled culture. It’s a story that could apply to many different places in the world, one in which the book is loaded with seemingly endless little bundles of wisdom, and in which the album is loaded with charmingly idiosyncratic songs that take American folk music to new and exciting vistas.
Another hallmark of Michael’s performances not completely evident in that first experience for me was his deadpan humor and sarcasm. It came through in our interview though for sure, along with his awkward charm. Even after watching and re-watching the way Michael wrapped up his answer to the first of my questions as we edited the footage, Garrett and I could not stop ourselves from laughing each time.
About the performance:
Though Michael introduced the song three different ways between the two takes we filmed, he in fact expressed to me off camera that the title of the song he performed is, as one would expect, “There is No Need to Name the Moon.” He performs in a variety of configurations, from the massive band he assembled for the release of Spells, to the duo format with Eric Kuhn on percussion and guitar, and here, solo with just a guitar. Michael’s songs are so dense with words that in most cases, the solo format is plenty effective at getting his story across, and this performance is no exception.
Michael Musika, “There is No Need to Name the Moon”