Michael Yonkers retiring from live performance


Michael Yonkers in live performance as a young man.

This week, we reported that the Blind Shake and Michael Yonkers would be performing together for the release of their new album, Cold Town/ Soft Zodiak.

But, after another bout with the back condition that has limited Yonkers' performance in the last two decades, after repeated warnings from doctors that his days as a stage musician were numbered, Yonkers has stated that, barring a miracle recovery, his retirement is final and effective immediately.

Yonkers performing with the Blind Shake.

The condition is called arachnoiditis, a neuropathic ailment that affects the spinal chord and causes crippling pain, and Yonkers has been suffering from it for years-- it was likely precipitated by a spine injury he suffered in the early 70s. While the condition has severely curtailed his performance life since the 80s, Yonkers has still proven fit enough to play the occasional show either solo at events like Heliotrope or with recent collaborators like the Blind Shake.

But, lacking a miracle, Yonkers says that the final hour of his performing days has arrived. After an exacerbation of arachnoiditis left him bedridden last week, Yonkers stated in an email to Gimme Noise that he is retiring from live performance for good.

"i knew this time was coming..." Yonkers' email reads. "i never expected to last as long as i did. if i were in my 20's or 30's i would probably be pretty upset. but, being 62 years old, and having 45 years of live performing behind is not that big of a deal."

Yonkers might be able to handle his own retirement with exemplary grace. But it is a bitter pill for Gimme Noise, and his many fans, to swallow. Even though his time on-stage has decreased over the last decades, Yonkers is one of those few performers of whom one is always aware, the way one is aware of the moon and the stars, even in broad daylight. Since the 1960s, Yonkers has been an innovator, a keen craftsman of songs that sprawl across innumerable genres, a musical savant that spent much of his career working in darkness, lacking the fan support that artists today take for granted.

That obscurity changed after a reissue of his 1968 masterwork Microminiature Love the local label DeStijl came to the attention of heavyweight indie label Sub Pop, who picked it up and gave it national distribution. Better late than never-- the reissue finally shed light on Yonkers' lengthy career, expanded his fan base, and netted Yonkers long deserved press attention and accolades.

Yonkers insists that his recording life will continue, and that recordings both new and old will continue to be distributed. It's comforting, but coldly. What we lose with Yonkers' retirement is something awe-inspiring and all too rare. Those who got to see him have memories to keep them warm. Those who didn't, sadly, will never fully know what they've missed.