MICHAEL HOUSER | JAN 6, 1962 – AUG 10, 2002

By Aaron Stein Aug 10, 2002 6:30 am PDT

In this very sad time, we encourage you to gather with your Panic families in your hometown and celebrate Michael Houser’s life on Monday, August 12th. As a living memorial to Michael and his love of music, the family requests that contributions be made to The Michael Houser Music Fund. Mike, his wife Barbette, and his son Waker have all been deeply involved with Athens Academy and through this fund the school will be able to provide children with the opportunities to discover the richness and wonder of music that so enriched Michael’s own life. Memorials may be sent to: The Michael Houser Music Fund; Athens Academy; PO Box 6548; Athens, GA 30604. Our hearts are with you as we know that your thoughts and prayers are with us.

Michael Houser, 1962 – 2002

“In my mind I was a child… and it felt good!”

There was an old saying about the Grateful Dead: “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones who do it.” This sums up Michael Houser – the man and his music. No one played it like he did, and I feel confident saying no one ever will again.

His nickname in the day was “Panic” which made the band name, “Widespread Panic,” a double (or maybe even a triple) entendre. The music was undoubtedly punctuated by the omnipresent, widespread wail from Michael Houser. I don’t know what his best friends called him, but those who understood the haunting intricacies enough to believe themselves anointed called him “Mikey.”

Today I learned that Mikey has left us. As I sit here and listen to one of the hundreds of live Panic shows lining my walls, my soul swims in myriad feelings. I’ve prepared for this moment for months now – the rumors of his illness precluded his official announcement by months all I could do is sit here, listen, pray and wait.

Certainly many will mark this passing by culling meaning from lyrics – Michael and his bandmates left us many to speak the words we cannot think of ourselves. Of course, this is music’s higher purpose: to elucidate those feelings that are sometimes impossible for us to arrive at independently. The truly great musicians can transcend such impasses by seemingly siphoning their souls into their words and their instruments. Michael Houser could do this. A man of few spoken words, he instead chose an infinite number of notes on his guitar to express joy; sadness; a raunchy heat sucking sweat from your brow; cooling winds rippling tree branches; haunting, evil nightmares; the chill one gets from the touch of the woman he loves; the smile on his face when he looks upon his children.

Widespread Panic was a rock and roll band that defied every single rock and roll band cliché and this was epitomized most by Mikey. In the alternate universe where flash and style mean as much, or more than, talent, you had the unassuming-yet-impishly-grinning visage of Michael Houser hiding beneath his tight curls. In a universe where lead guitarists are as flashy as laser beams and pyrotechnics at an arena concert, Michael Houser chose to play his guitar with neither pomp nor circumstance; sitting in a chair at the corner of the stage… because it was more comfortable. He was a guy who was beloved by thousands and yet carried himself with a quiet dignity, writing songs about his true loves and passion for his own children. Yet, at the same time he fucking ROCKED: his licks split eardrums like karate-chopped two-by-fours. This was what Widespread Panic WAS… and this was Mikey.

He leaves behind family:

Wife Barbette, son Waker and, as of a year and a half ago, Eva Houser, his young baby girl. His love for them was obvious, my tears are for them.

His five bandmates, soulmates each – the beauty of Panic was not in its individual members, but in the way each of those men found a way to bind tightly to each other member, musically and otherwise. Many people refer to Widespread as a “six-headed monster” but really it was just one head, one heart, one soul, one spine, a quartet of limbs, and a dark, warm blood running through it all. Houser was the central nervous system, synapses firing pulses of electricity with every thought, every movement, every sound… the six-headed monster would still be the same monster without one of its heads, but this monster is a different beast without Mikey.

Of course, there is one more family, the fans, those of us who “got it,” who knew the code and swore by its gospel. Whether we knew Michael Houser or not, we certainly felt like we did: we made room for him in our lives and in our hearts and now that space is a little bit emptier. The highest compliment I feel I can give to a person is “I’m better to have known you.” Michael Houser: I am better to have known you.

Aaron Stein
10 August, 2002

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