Getting to Know: Sir Mike
Written by Bwog Staff
Columbia may depend most on its students and faculty, but there are many members of both the Columbia and Morningside communities who make the years here a little more enjoyable. We at Bwog feel they deserve a little time in the spotlight for all their hard work. Today: Sir Michael of Carman
Sir Michael Layne puts a little soul into Carman Hall residents’ daily grind from his post at the security desk. “What’s up, baby? Haven’t seen you in a decade, man,” he offers to a flustered first-year hustling past. The mellow sound of Motown soothes the lobby; The Very Best of The Temptations rolls from track to track.
Hailing from Panama, Sir Michael came to New York in pursuit of musical dreams. After his traveling vocal group, The Flames, disbanded in Mexico, he took the opportunity to cross into the United States. The year was 1970, and the man came to America wearing his “singing suit” – complete with bow tie and ruffled shirt. “People were lookin’ at me funny,” he recalls. “I took the Greyhound, saw the country, was forced to – didn’t have enough money to go any other way.”
For nine years, Sir Michael has been with campus security. Working at Columbia allows him to continue his musical career as a self-described cover artist. Recording with fellow musicians in a friend’s basement studio, he often works all night long, building tracks from the bottom up. The 2007 release of his album Easy is the fourth installment to a growing discography, which includes Cruisin’, Got to Give It Up, and Rhythm Master of Love. He plays piano, guitar and bass, but he is most striking with his vocals: calm and cool – like every time he swipes you in.
Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan and Prince number among his many favorite artists, but his voice reveals a nostalgic strain when speaking about music. He reckons back to the times he would hang out backstage at the Apollo with the likes of James Brown, “It was cool to meet them, just normal people. They got lucky – now making big bucks and bein’ famous.” Content to be settled, however, Sir Michael doesn’t worry about where his music might have led: “Life on the road, man, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” Plus, being a security guard isn’t a bad daily routine. He speculates, “I especially like being around freshmen. It’s a lot of fun…fun for me to see them grow. Then they come back and say ‘what’s up?'”
So next time you’re strolling past Carman and you hear that soulful sound emptying from those lobby doors, don’t hesitate to stop in for a couple of tunes. As for Sir Michael’s own musical pursuit, there’s certainly no end in sight. “It’s all about the music,” he says, “I have a musical mind.”