Feature

Remembering Michael Wrycraft Oct. 15, 1956 – May 16, 2022

I

Am currently dying

In the ICU of Toronto Western

Of congestive heart failure

Seriously

Life is crazy

But it is also beautiful

I have had a good run

I’ve loved most everything about it

To my friends, I really do love you all

So wrote Michael Wrycraft on Facebook on May 5, his final farewell composed like a piece of poetry from a man already renowned for his art.

One by one, more than 850 of us responded in the comments section with love, memories, and farewell messages.

He remained lucid for several days afterwards – long enough to have had the chance to read all of them.

And then he wasn’t.

Michael Robert “A Man Called” Wrycraft, Juno-winning album designer, concert promoter, radio producer, event host and beloved personality in the Canadian folk, roots and world music scenes, died of congestive heart failure on Monday, May 16 at the age of 65.

Michael showcasing his work at a music conference. Photo by Neale Eckstein.

“The outpouring on social media over the last week has been a tribute to the hundreds of friends he has, the admiration that we all have for him as a person but also for him as an artist,” said legendary music publicist and long-time friend of Michael’s Richard Flohil over the phone on Monday night.

Michael’s passing came at 3:56 a.m. in the midst of Sunday night’s lunar eclipse.

“True performer style,” said former Borealis manager Linda Turu of his timing.

Born in Toronto on Oct. 15, 1956, Michael developed a passion for magic and performed on radio and TV as a teenager.

In 1976, he appeared on CBC’s Morningside for the 50th anniversary of Houdini’s death.

He briefly parlayed his performance skills into a career as a comedian, opening shows and later seconding for Yuk Yuks in the early ‘80s.

He also did a stint with the C Channel, one of Canada’s first Pay TV channels, teaching magic tricks to viewers in the breaks between programs.

Photo by Kevin Kelly.

In ‘83, he moved to Los Angeles planning to continue with comedy. But instead, he found a job he loved at an architectural business.

A trip to San Francisco convinced him to relocate there, and he spent several years doing marketing for the Lusty Lady, an erotic dance and peep show venue that would become famous for unionizing, and later, for becoming a worker-owned cooperative.

He returned to Toronto at the start of the ‘90s When ICE – or whatever it was called back then – caught on to his illegal alien status.

There, he studied computer-assisted graphic design and designed the cover for Don Ross’ Three Hands album at the suggestion of Kelly McGowan, with whom he’d played music in a trio as a young adult and who was now married to Don.

The rest, as they say, is history.

He figured he’d designed more than 700 albums by the time I wrote my profile of him in 2019.

He’d earned five Juno nominations and won one Juno for his design of Andy Stochansky’s album, Radiofusebox.

His cover for Bruce Cockburn’s Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu hung on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of a 2007 exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helvetica typeface.

In 2019, Folk Alliance International bestowed on him its Spirit of Folk Award, given to individuals who help preserve and promote folk music through their creative work, community building and leadership.

Michael became a celebrity in the folk/roots community in his own right, MCing stages at folk festivals, promoting tribute concerts at Hugh’s Room in Toronto, hosting podcasts and streaming radio shows and, memorably, co-hosting, along with Richard Flohil, the Folk Quiz, a live game show performed at folk festivals across the country that had audiences rolling on the ground with laughter.

He was, as I wrote for this publication in 2019, a joyful, larger than life teddy bear of a man prone to volcanic eruptions of enthusiasm and the occasional deliciously bitchy rant.

And also hilarious public outbursts.

“We were at Harbourfront, and I’d just finished a gig with Oscar [Lopez],” recalled long-time friend and Juno-winning singer-songwriter James Keelaghan.

“And we were back behind wherever the stage was, and there was this big sort of public bar, and we were sitting down and [having] drinks and appetizers … And Michael had gone over to the bar to get something, and then Oscar came from backstage. … and Michael bellowed from across the bar, ‘Oscar I love you, and I don’t care who knows!’ And like the whole place just kind of goes silent. And that was Oscar’s introduction to Michael.”

Michael and roots music publicist Richard Flohil.

Keelo also recalled an incident at his apartment in Toronto in the 90s when he, Michael, the late Oliver Schroer and several other friends tripped on mushroom tea and started wandering around the city.

When Michael returned, he had two fistfuls of sunflowers.

“He figured the apartment needed lightening up,” Keelo said.

“My enduring impression of him will just be that he was completely, wholly, 100 per cent authentic. People talk about people who have no filters. …. He was funny. He was entertaining. He was maddening – oh my god he was fucking maddening – but also really loyal, generous. He was all those things.”

Legendary Canadian music publicist and long-time friend of Michael’s Richard Flohil remembered his friend as a social creature who spent hours at the outdoor tables at the Starbucks near his former home on Manning Avenue, jotting down ideas for new projects in a sketchbook or notepad and socializing with passers by.

So ubiquitous was Michael’s presence that he was eventually captured by the Google Street View car and immortalized, at least for a time, online.

“I just thought it was great,” Flohil said.

Michael MCing at the Regina Folk Fest. Photo by Chris Graham.

When Michael moved to an assisted living facility near Trinity Bellwoods Park after losing his legs to complications from diabetes, Richard again remembered him sitting outdoors in the sun in his wheelchair reading and talking to people.

“That’s what I’m going to miss in the summer, passing that intersection as I often do,” he said. “This is a very close friend of mine, and Michael’s not there. … I feel angry, and I feel sad, and I feel horribly mortal.”

Linda Turu remembered Michael as a beloved colleague whose reputation for outstanding work so preceded him that she’d learned of his existence during her time as a graphic design student before she’d ever met him in person.

She eventually came to work with him while managing Borealis Records and overseeing the production of numerous album packages.

She quickly realized that she and Michael shared a passion for good font design and a keen eye for spotting typos.

“He would never admit it, but he was just as studious as I was,” she said. “He had a laissez faire spirit, but when it came to doing his art, he was determined to achieve perfection.”

So determined, he was also renowned for missing deadlines – which led Linda to “fake him out” with pretend ones that were well ahead of the real thing, she said.

“The beautiful thing that I always found profound [was] he never started a concept or design without the music first… His first interpretation of a visual representation of whatever the project was was based on hearing the music, being inspired by the music, being passionate about it. So that’s something that I always adored and respected…

“He put so much heart into all of his good work that we’ll keep his memory alive for a long time to come.”

Please leave your memories of Michael in the comments.

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3 comments

  1. avatar
    Lucinda Chodan 17 May, 2022 at 08:28

    I remember seeing the cover of that Don Ross album when I used to write about music for the Montreal Gazette, and being struck by its originality and by how right it felt. That gift for channeling the spirit of the music was something I think Michael will be remembered for from a design point of view — he was extraordinary and unique. Those of us lucky enough to have known him will remember his generosity, passion for life, humour, fearlessness and love. Bonne route, Michael.
    Lucinda Chodan, Montreal

  2. avatar
    Rosanne Baker Thornley 18 May, 2022 at 02:01

    I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Michael Wrycraft more deeply this past year when he dove into working on my upcoming album. From the minute I began thinking about this new album, I knew without hesitation, that it was Michael’s intuitive and creative heart I wanted in it.

    I couldn’t help but smile at Michael’s candor and his honest unfiltered opinions and recollections. And I love that he unguardedly shared his enthusiasm for the album in every single conversation we had. In fact, I felt he was easily as excited as me, if not perhaps more so, about the album coming out.

    In hindsight – I’m thankful that earlier this year he jumped the gun to enthusiastically share what he had created. His words made me as teary-eyed as he claimed my songs made him. I guess in his early sharing that his instincts knew something he didn’t …

    What I know is that Michael loved large and inexhaustibly shared that love. In the end it seems that his heart had given all that it had. Michael was, is, and will continue still to be an integral part of my journey. My world is that much brighter for having had “A Man Called Wrycraft” shine his light on it. He was truly an original. I’m gonna miss him …

    RBT ?

  3. avatar
    Linda 27 August, 2022 at 17:44

    I was Micheal’s hair stylist for the last 25 years , I am sad too hear this news and new he was due for a haircut soon ?, kept looking to see if he might be listening too some Music ? in the park or Reading a book near Bellwood’s , I new something was up when he was not there . Rip Micheal
    I will miss you ! Linda

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