July 29, 1967 – October 30, 2015
Rest In Peace
By Dan Rock
Mike Clift was not only the cover artist for the first three Psychotic Waltz albums; he was my best friend.
He was also responsible for creating very original, sometimes twisted, flyers, T-shirts and stage props for our early shows around San Diego in the late 80’s and our European tours in the early 90’s.
Some of this “lost artwork” was recently used in the re-packaged double-vinyl release of the 1990 debut album “A Social Grace”.
It seems even more of a fitting tribute now that he’s gone.
Mike created the Psychotic Waltz logo we still use to this day, affectionately dubbed “The Alka-Seltzer Logo”. And before that, he created our “Aslan” logo. For our original CD release gig in San Diego he created the Social Grace backdrop, which was also recently re-used for our 2011–2012 reunion tours in Europe.
But even before all that, Mike was there hanging out with me and Brian McAlpin when we’d get together after school or on the weekends to jam. Brian and I would create heavy-spacey-guitar-metal, and Mike would draw his heavy-spacey-artwork. We often referred to ourselves as “The Three Muskmen”, and enjoyed many days in each others company.
After high school, when Mike was stationed in Germany during his brief tour of the army, I would send him cassette tapes of our music. He would send back letters with photos and drawings it inspired…
… and very entertaining envelopes!
A few random shots of us hangin' out in the late 80's …
On one of our 1993 “Into the Everflow” tours, Mike accompanied the band to Europe and performed a multi-media show during our set with slides & film projectors, fog, lights, filters … and a bicycle wheel!
This picture is of us on a ferry headed to Copenhagen. While everybody else was sleeping, Mike and I decided it would be fun to go up top and see the view! It was the crack of dawn and we were freezing, but what an awesome experience it was. Mike would often tell me it was the best trip of his life. We all have some very fond memories of this tour.
In 1994 he did the Mosquito CD cover, his final one for us. He also did a couple T-shirt designs for the tours. By then he was married, and I was honored to be his Best Man. He was raising a beautiful daughter and his interests took him in different directions. It was also a turbulent time for him personally, with many tragic and emotional setbacks.
But for me, our friendship stretches well before and after our collaboration with the band … It was 1976 when I met Mike in 3rd grade, we had a class together but we didn't become friends right away. Then one day, I was playing in a canyon with another friend, and I saw Mike there playing with his awesome Spiderman web slinger toy! That did it! This kid was cool! We established a lifelong friendship from that moment on.
The canyons were our favorite thing when we were very young. We’d go there all the time after school and build forts out of bamboo & make tree swings, light fire-crackers, shoot BB-guns, break stuff … basic kid mischief. Then when we were in high school we’d alternate spending the weekend at each-others house.
We’d spend the days still hiking in canyons, but also riding bikes, camping, swimming, listening to music, “hanging out” at the malls, talking about girls, dabbling with “non-over-the-counter-tobacco-products” (cough cough). We really discovered a lot about life together.
Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures of those times …
no cell phones to take pics with back then.
After the band broke up in 1997, we’d still hang out. We’d go snorkeling, bar-hopping, or ride our motorcycles along the coast and up the mountains, and once even down into the desert with some friends visiting from Germany!
Though at this point we’d sometimes go a year or more without seeing each other, we usually stayed in contact by phone or email. But when we did see each other, we'd pick up right where we left off…
… it would seem like only days had passed.
In 2005 Mike reciprocated to me the honor by being my Best Man. Actually I’m very fortunate to have had TWO best men at my wedding, the other one being fellow PW guitarist Brian McAlpin!
Mike continued to do artwork for a local promotion company and other local bands, and had a string of jobs at various tattoo parlors around San Diego. He had become quite a well-known tattoo artist in the community. But life in San Diego became increasingly more difficult for Mike. From jobs, to relationships, to residency, to phone numbers …
… he professed to being a square peg in a world of round holes.
This hardship eventually led Mike up to the San Francisco area, where he had heard there were more opportunities to help him find a new direction. He hooked up with the local “Occupy” movement and found a solid footing in something he truly believed in.
The last time I saw Mike was in 2013. He made his way from San Francisco to San Diego and we had lunch at our old stomping ground in Ocean Beach. Was great to catch up with him.
Shortly after, he began his “March Across America” with the Veterans For Peace organization in an effort to end veterans’ homelessness.
He also re-established a relationship with his estranged daughter, Jordan, whom he had basically been cut off from since her toddler years.
He was truly happy.
In 2015 Ward was in San Francisco and hooked up with Mike. They had some drinks and got to catch up on life.
This is the last pic we have of him with us.
Then, in the late summer of 2015 Mike began his solo bike ride across America. He wanted to bring awareness to the rights of U.S. military veterans, as well as their alarming suicide rate … 22 per day!
He first stopped by San Diego again and visited some old friends, including Ward, and even visited with Norm’s mom for a couple hours. But the rest of us missed him as he began peddling his way into the desert after leaving Ward’s house.
This is the bike Mike was riding on October 29, 2015 when he was struck from behind by a Kia Mini-Van on interstate 40 outside Amarillo, Texas.
He was transported to a hospital but never regained consciousness, and died the following night.
Mike called me about 2 weeks before he died. He was staying at a supporter’s house, and we spoke for over an hour and caught up on our lives. I'm very grateful for this call. We also got back in the swing with our emails.
He was very much looking forward to finishing this trip and returning back to San Diego to visit us again, and also to spend time with his daughter.
While we may not all agree with his occupy philosophy, we can at least take some comfort that he was truly enjoying his last adventure doing something he loved.
We just lost a very gifted and kind man.
I just lost a best friend.
We all miss you Mike, may you rest in peace.