He died on Monday, at age 63, after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was the longtime executive director (1986-2013) of the Washington/Takoma Park-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, whose singular issue is the fight against nuclear power—and for which he received a lifetime achievement award from fourteen environmental and anti-nuclear organizations. But that’s not why I am paying tribute to him. Michael was one of my closest friends in college—Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio—and since my freshman year in 1975. We spent a lot of time hanging out together during those years, not only on campus but also as housemates on internships (co-op jobs, they were called at Antioch), in Washington and Berkeley. He was always good-natured and always had a smile on his face when he saw me, as if he was always happy to see me. One doesn’t forget things like that. And he was a loyal friend in addition to being a good one. After graduation he moved to Washington (his hometown), where I saw him regularly through the 1980s and into the ’90s. His home was always open to me, with him and his first wife, Lynn—also a longtime activist in environmental issues—accommodating me no problem when I was passing through town or needed a place to stay while looking for my own.
Politically, Michael was naturally on the left but had no use for the Marxism—and its Leninist variants—that was in vogue among leftists during our college days—and to which I adhered for a brief period. He was allergic to ideologically driven activism, to anything that reeked of dogmatism, and to hair-splitting polemics over fine points of doctrine. Michael was the eternal soixante-huitard, whose gauchisme was festive and libertaire—and always pragmatic when it came to working within the “system”: electoral politics, supporting Democratic Party candidates, lobbying legislators, working the media, and the like. In his political world-view—and also sunny personality—he bore a striking resemblance to Daniel Cohn-Bendit. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they indeed met, on one of Michael’s anti-nuke organizing campaigns in Europe (mainly in former communist countries; he’s the one person I know who managed to visit Chernobyl).
Michael’s big passion apart from his anti-nuclear activism was music, specifically 1960s-70s (hard) rock. On this, our tastes overlapped though did not always coincide. In the late ’70s he and friends of his founded a punk rock/new wave band, Tru Fax & the Insaniacs, which did weekend gigs, mainly in and around DC (Michael having to give it up after he fell ill). I saw them once, in their very early years. They were a hoot. Michael proudly told me at the time that a local paper had proclaimed Tru Fax to be “the worst band in the Washington metropolitan area” (which Michael thought was hilarious, and with the band using the line in its promotional material). Michael was indeed known to famous musicians for his anti-nuke work, e.g. see this tribute to him from Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Graham Nash. He would have been more than thrilled had he also received one from Patti Smith—whom he turned me on to back in ’76—and the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, who was one of his favorites (and we did see her in concert that same year, at the Capital Centre in Landover MD). With that, I will leave Michael with this cool Arabic rendition of ‘White Rabbit’, by the Lebanese singer Mayssa Karaa.
For anyone in the DC area who knew Michael, there will be a party to celebrate his life tomorrow, May 19th, at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville MD, from 4 to 8 PM.