Balladeer Michael Hills plays folk/country western music. His work is kindred to that of Woody Guthrie. He told me recently that such music is the poor white man’s blues.
With one solid Top Ten hit (Matchbooks and Phone Numbers) to his credit he has always found his greatest joy in music.
Composing lyrics for his six or twelve string guitar brings him great relief as well as pleasure. Throughout his life, he has always kept returning to the homey comfort of melodies that rock him gently and the socio-political message of ballads that once helped to shape this nation. It was a country whose wars he has always despised; from the homeless street urchin phase of his youth to his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War he hated wars and the havoc they wreaked upon others.
His efforts to resist the draft found him a medic on the front lines where he salvaged what body parts he could and, like the rest of his unit, was doused repeatedly in the deadly mists of Agent Orange.
His ‘Purple Heart’ body absorbed it all; the nerve-destroying chemicals, the endless landscape of broken bodies, some of which would never be healed, and the absurdity of fighting an endless war that many today realize was ‘unjust.’
Death is on its way to Michael now. The debilitating Agent Orange is staking its final claims upon him.
At 62 years old, he tells me today he’s got six months to leave (according to his doctor)…but maybe he’s got less time than that. Because he’s not going to wait until he’s blind and deaf; until he is catatonic and incapable of being alive. He distinguishes between this and ‘just living.’
Not one to wait around idle while death plays its fiddle – one of Michael’s most favorite instruments – he’s got plans; musical plans that include regular Saturday night gigs at Bill’s Pizza Shack in Prescott, Arizona and keeping his own instruments in top shape so that when Death comes, he’ll be ready to join the band.
Now, this is the Michael I know; have known for the past 28 years. This is the Michael whose gallant efforts and integrity – even in the end - I applaud.