Perfect Sound Forever

Michael Karoli

Miki in New York, 1997- photo by Eric Kauz

A tribute by Jason Gross
(January 2002)

What can you say about someone who was a great guitarist who showed skill by showing restraint and an avid sushi fan and photography buff, finding exile in France but always in good spirits?

If you're not familiar with the work of Can already, shame on you. You need some schooling about one of the most innovative, influential bands of the last century but here isn't the place to do it- our own Can tribute is a good start as well as their official site.

Thomas Ziegler, who managed Can and Can members off and on for years, remembers Michael well. Karoli had hired to out to France to avoid the cold German winters (though I had also heard that some locals didn't appreciate his marriage to a Kenyan woman). He had bought computer equipment recently and had been feeling better after battling cancer for a number of years. He had been working with Can singer Malcolm Mooney and James Chance (!), coming up with a half-hour version of "She Brings the Rain" (the best one that Ziegler reckons he's heard). Always immersing himself in his work, he didn't find much time to correspond otherwise. A truly restless soul, he always worked on something, became disappointed with it and then moved on another thing- he always recorded his work but would find himself putting a lot of aside as he found a new idea or project. One of these was a collaboration with Mark Spyby (who was also involved in his contribution to the Can 'reunion' shows in Germany a few years ago). They became fast friends and joined Michael as he toured with the other Can's other voice, Damo Suzuki. Though other Can members weren't interested in a reunion per se, Michael had no problem with collaborating with his old mates as he did many times with Irmin, Jaki and Holger- like his old comrades though, he had enough courage of his convictions to refuse the idea of an 'oldies' tour nevertheless.

On a personal level, Ziegler had fond memories of Michael. "He was one of the most dear, funny, easy-going people I've ever met. Not the kind of person you have problems with- very funny, intelligent. An important part of his life, the passion and lust that drove him, was a natural need to be creative. It was a pure lust to find things. He always spoke of his music like you speak about a woman you fell in love with. You never knew when he was taking about old projects or if he was talking about something recent- time and space never did anything to Michael. He was somehow above it."

A story quintessential Michael story that Zielger recalls is surely a classic tale. "When played in LA with Damo, the first set they did, I was just totally gone- totally immersed, enjoying the music, because it was so beautiful. I don't know how long piece was- then it ended, I'm sure it was long and Michael just stood there and looked at the crowd: "we always make these pieces too short." The crowd just got into it. It was like a natural trance thing. That hasn't happened to me since and didn't before unless I was on drugs- it was an amazing experience.

Though I myself met him only twice, I knew Michael to be a sweet person. I had always admired his playing in Can- he was always economical with his work yet very deep and penetrating with his playing nevertheless. When I saw him do a show with Damo here in New York a few years ago, he showed that same kind of contradictory character- he was very alive and animated yet extremely deferential to the other members of the band. Near the end of the set, he came into the crowd, dancing around. He recognized me, slapped me on the back, smiled and gave me a thumbs up.

We had met up before the show with the rest of the band and went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. I never really cared for that type of cuisine (threw up at one a while back) but I wanted to sociable. Everyone else ordered sushi but me.

"You don't like it?" he asked.

"Well, it's just the idea of eating uncooked fish that makes me queasy," I explained. "I've heard stories that people get these horrible tapeworms from it sometimes."

"Well, that's probably true," he admitted. "But if you have it prepared correctly from a good chef who knows which part of the fish to use, it's a great delicacy. You really need to try it!"

Reluctantly, I followed his advice and did so. To my amazement, he was exactly right. It was an incredible culinary experience. I was so blown away that I had to tell him immediately how right he was. He just smiled as if to say "Aha, told you so!" Having consumed an ocean of fish since then, I can honestly say that he opened my eyes and my G.I. tract to Japanese food ever since then. It made perfect sense- Can had warped my mind and soul so why shouldn't one of its members help to reshape the rest of my body?

Miki- thank you so much for all the great work that you've done and your wonderful spirit. You will be remembered and we'll be smiling when we think of you.

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