Michael Bucher tried everything. The 62-year-old, who was in the prime of his career when he lost three fingers in a tablesaw accident last year, spent hundreds on guitar picks. Every type. Every brand. Nothing worked. He couldn’t hold on with his thumb and middle finger alone.
After losing his fingers, Bucher said when he reflected on such things as the elation of hearing his fans take over one of his songs during a Wisconsin show and establishing himself as a figure in Native American movements … he reflected on a possible life without music.
He admits he began compiling a “never again” list.
Emotionally drained, the Cherokee artist who started his career as a performing guitarist and singer at age 52 stopped looking at custom picks and started thinking outside of the box. “What could help me hold a pick?” he thought.
Bucher discovered a sticky substance called “Pick Honey,” and began practicing his old songs. It was rough at first, but a few months in, he began thinking, “This is going to happen. I’m going to do it again.”
On Jan. 6 he finally climbed his personal Everest, playing the most technically difficult song he has written, “Dark Horse.” He felt so excited he wrote a testimonial for Pick Honey from his Eau Claire, Wisconsin residence. “I never lost the pick or felt it even want to spin!” he wrote. “From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank you enough.”
Just before he lost his fingers, he had released “Not Your Mascot,” a song aimed at helping fight American Indian imagery in professional sports, mainly the Washington NFL franchise. It was to be a staple of his third album, which he now feels can be completed. “I’m throwing myself back out there,” Bucher said. “I can now pick just as accurately as if I had five fingers.”
He expects his already emotional approach to attacking his strings to be enhanced as he aims to take the stage this year. “Hopefully, I don’t shock too many people with my hand,” he worries. “I’ll be a nervous wreck the first couple of concerts until I regain that comfortable zone I know I can reach and attain.”
In addition to his new music, Bucher received a call from Pick Honey. “A guy called me after my testimonial, and was like, ‘Dude, we want to sponsor you.’” He is also continuing work with You Are Not Alone Network, a crisis hotline and resource for Native youth.
His traumatic experience of losing fingers has pushed the activist in him to find a way to give back to others in similar situations. Bucher credits his friends and family for helping him through the dark time, and recognizes the need for a support organization. “I’d like to give back to people who have been where I was as an amputee,” he said. “I can’t tell you the terrible things that go through your head.”
Overall, he’s just excited to have the ability to continue as an activist through his music. “I can’t wait to dive back into Indian country,” he said. “There’s so many thing in Indian country that we need to address. We need to continue.”
Photo: Vincent Schilling
Michael Bucher’s music requires intense picking action. Three fingers down, he is finally ready to return to the stage after a year hiatus while recovering and relearning to play.
As of April, he’s back in the studio again, where his nerves kicked in. “Doubt and fear have a way of creeping in,” he says. “But after the first 10 minutes, I actually felt very comfortable.” Bucher said he felt an immense gratitude for still being able to play music and write songs.
“I guess I took it for granted before the accident. I was happy to play before but never thought it would end. … I don’t think I’ll ever pick up my guitar again without the thought of gratitude.”
Follow ICTMN’s Cary Rosenbaum on Twitter: @caryrosenbaum