For those who have never met him, believe us when we say Michael Wrycraft is larger than life. He's talented, loud, opinionated, and he recently lost both his legs and still manages to have a sense of humour...about himself, and about life. Read his story. It will make you gasp, tear and, yes, even laugh.
I love my job! Or, perhaps I should say, I love my career! How many people do you know that can honestly say that? I do understand how unique this is and how lucky this makes me. What do I do for a living? Simply put… I make music look the way it does.
Musicians, producers, and engineers go into a recording studio and make music sound the way it does. It is then handed over to me, and I make it look the way it does. I am an album designer. That translates to an art director, graphic designer and sometime photographer who specializes in music.
Album packages, posters, marketing items, promotional materials and related ephemera. Under the name, A Man Called Wrycraft, I have designed near 700 albums for the most famous musicians to the unknown indies over the last 28 years while collecting numerous awards, including one Juno and five nominations.
I repeat I love my job!
This career has also led to many other unique jobs and opportunities. Because I have what some would call a “radio voice,” a brain stuffed full of musical knowledge and trivia, and a background as a stand-up comic, I emceed the main stages of summer folk festivals, from Canso, Nova Scotia, to Courtenay, BC, for almost 18 years. I have also curated, promoted and emceed 73 multi-artist concerts at Hugh’s Room Live employing over 1000 musicians along the way. I also have two hour-long web radio shows that play every Sunday evening at 7 and 8 pm on bluesandrootsradio.com.
Combine these with sitting on panels, giving lectures and seminars at dozens of music conferences and awards weekends; I guess you could say I have had one hell of a social career.
Recently though, a lot of this has come to a crashing halt! I am diabetic. I was diagnosed in 1998 and behaved appropriately for many years, but in the past four years, with no signs of bad things happening, I started to make some pretty stupid choices, Diabetically speaking! I did not take the disease as seriously as I should have and began to eat whatever the hell I wanted, the fattier, the gooier, the sweeter, the better—all the time thinking I was indestructible. I loved my career and my life so much, and things were going so well, I had the world by the balls, and I just ignored all the signs of impending disaster.
This by the way is the sad part of the story. Spoiler alert! For you overly emotional folk or especially any people with diabetes reading this, you might want to turn away and stop reading. This part of the story is not pretty. I am typing this while lying on my back in Providence Healthcare, a rehab/physio hospital in Scarborough, the third and final destination in my five-month tour of hospitals, including St. Joseph’s and Mt. Sinai. I spent the entire summer, my favourite season, of 2017 lying in hospital beds. The trouble started, as it so often does, with my feet and legs which gradually started to get numb and due to some ulcers that appeared on the soles of my feet, started to impede my walking, until I ended up in a wheelchair.
Soon after that, I was informed that I had osteomyelitis, a bone infection, in both of my legs. That, combined with an extreme loss of blood flow to my feet and lower legs, brought me to Mt. Sinai where the horrific diagnosis was delivered! I was to have both of my legs amputated… above the knees.
There is obviously a bit more to the story before I learned my legs were to be chopped off, but for the sake of brevity, something I am NOT known for, I have left out some parts of the story.
Summing it all up… I was a stupid diabetic! So the legs were amputated, above the knees, one week apart. First the right leg, leaving me looking like a tubby pirate. Seven days later the left leg, leaving me looking like a tubby midget; sorry, little person. I was 6’ 2 1/2” tall. I was the guy who could look down on people’s bald spots and occasionally, surreptitiously, at beautifully displayed cleavage. Now I’m inspecting the undersides of people’s chins.
This is where I should mention that I have always been a glass-half-full kind of person who finds humour and beauty in absolutely everything. I am NOT shaking my fist in the air, angry at this unfair world for taking my legs.
This is my fault entirely and the result of my own bad decisions. I own this! I have dealt with the entire “chopping off” affair with humour and optimism; frankly, the only way I know how. I am now looking forward to this next chapter of my life, tooling around Toronto in my spanky new power wheelchair.
There are obviously some changes to be made to my “hell of a social career” and lifestyle. I won’t be traveling across Canada during the summers, emceeing at folk festivals as my fabulous new power wheelchair is 300 lbs and does not fold up for air travel. Same goes for giving lectures and seminars at dozens of music conferences and awards weekends across the country.
But there is a positive side to all this. Even though in a hospital bed for five months I have not slowed down one bit on designing album packages and posters etc. With a laptop, the proper graphics software, working hands, and a creative brain I have pumped out four and a half album designs for three Canadian Indie artists. Included in these commmissions, Bruce Cockburn’s latest, Bone On Bone (my 8th album design for Bruce) and one American hip-hop artist from Washington DC named Vertical Zar (who, incidentally, does not use drum machines or synths, but real musicians playing real instruments on the whole affair).
I have also sent numerous posters, trade ads and promo materials out into the world. All while lying on my back, practically legless! Even with only demi-legs, leglets, thighs or stumps, you choose, I have started producing and recording my weekly web radio shows—From Cover To Cover and Radio Wrycraft: Hospital Editions, once again. Stevie and Anne Connor, the ever-patient proprietors of bluesandrootsradio.com have been playing repeat shows all summer long. So, two weeks ago I had a friend bring my recording gear to the hospital, and Stevie and Anne are happy puppies indeed.
There is one sad, ironic twist to my new legless life though. Since my confinement to a hospital bed, I have continued to curate and promote, but not emcee my concerts at Hugh’s Room Live. Coming up on Saturday, November 25th, is my 12th annual “Heart Of Saturday Night” Tom Waits' Tribute —my 74th show there and, like the other shows I’ve curated this year while confined to bed, I will not only NOT be emceeing the event, but I won’t even be attending!
The folks at Hugh’s Room Live are my second family, the club itself (the best listening room in the city) is my second home. I have stood on that stage as ringmaster for my concerts for 14 years. No more.
Even though I love Hugh’s Room, the club is completely inaccessible. I will be out of the hospital and home before this Tom Waits night, but Hugh’s Room Live is nothing, if not a festival of staircases. A staircase to get in, two more to get to the good seats and the stage, and a nasty one leading downstairs to the washroom. The club is laid out in such a way that it would cost them thousands of dollars that they just don’t have, to become accessible to wheelchairs. So I will continue my joyous task of curating and promoting five concerts per year. I just won’t get to see them.
On a final note, when I found out my budding step dancing career was coming to an abrupt end and I wouldn’t have to buy shoes, socks and would no longer have toenails to trim, I realized I was going to have some significant expenses to lead a semi-normal life. So I consulted with an occupational therapist, came up with an amount and started an online GoFundMe page.
The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming! So much so, I can barely talk about it without tearing up. I like to think of it as documented proof that I haven’t been too much of a dick my whole life! Thank goodness that it has been so successful because the expenses ARE piling up at an alarming rate.
But, despite the ever-growing list of equipment I’ll need, my new life as a tubby little person (is that an oxymoron?), my curating interesting concerts I’ll never see and the possibility of having “Stumpy” as a nickname (thanks, Irish Mythen!), I remain the glass-half-full person who finds humour and beauty in absolutely everything.
You can’t keep a good man down! Or myself, apparently.
— Editor's note: Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org