Today’s Tiger Merritt’s birthday. Even if you didn’t know him before he departed in 2019, you’ve heard him. We’ve all felt his influence in much of the music we love.
Back in 2007, in Bowling Green, Ky., he co-founded Morning Teleportation alongside his childhood bud and brother-for-life Travis Goodwin. It was a wild ride after that.
Just last month their 2011 debut LP, Expanding Anyway, turned 10. It was produced by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse who Tiger and Morning Teleportation played with, slept on his couch (floor, yard, driveway…) and/or opened up for, along with the likes of their band family, Cage the Elephant, or the Flaming Lips and too many others to pen here.
All who knew him understood that he was an anomalyMorning Teleportation
Tiger was always smiling. Every inch of him – even down to his fingers, which knowingly winked at audiences as they effortlessly persuaded once-rigid metal strings to sing, hum, weep, yell, cry and even dance to the beat of whatever he dreamed up in the moment.
The audience didn’t matter – whether fellow artists, family, festival goers or the myriad of musicians who he counted as brothers and sisters – because music and art welled up in him until they overflowed. And overflow they did, touching whoever was nearby.
Unlike his always steady fingers, in moments of introspection – when the music had faded and the gear was loaded – his face would sometimes flash a sheepish, even almost shy, grin. It felt like he was carrying a secret or just holding a little something back from the rest of us.
Looks are misleading though, because Tiger couldn’t hold back if he tried.
Like his mind-altering lyrics and enviable instrumentation, his grin brought warmth. That’s because for Tiger – even with his ridiculously ridiculous sense of humor – there often was no joke: His welcoming smile radiated a true appreciation for the complexity, nuance and absurdity of life.
He always saw beyond the tangible confines of this limited reality. To him, life was overflowing with the same possibility, mystery and potential that emanated from him. Even as his mind understood the darkness that’s been wrought by humanity, his being emanated optimism, kindness and love.
Tiger’s vision far outpaced the confines shackling too many.
Tiger basked in nature’s solitude when possible and always bathed in the warmth of the ones he loved; even if that meant picking up whatever instrument he could to coax it into speaking those always elusive words for him. That often meant questioning society’s follies with lyrics more tangible, visceral and eternal than even the adventures he so loved to lose himself in.
While Tiger feels lost to us, he’s not; he’s in us – his love, vision and quirkiness endure. His spirit lives on. We’ll always have his signature tender smile, timeless art and inspirational spirit.
After all, Tiger sang it best: Where is the joy in singing alone?
“All who knew him understood that he was an anomaly,” Morning Teleportation wrote two long years ago, after Tiger prematurely departed out the back door, “we’ve never met someone like him in our lifetime. His musicianship inspired us. His smile was contagious. He was one of the kindest souls that we’ve ever come across, and it hurts to think about how he won’t be a hard-to-reach phone call away.”
“Tiger was always someone capable of such beauty in his music, and we wish he could have continued to share that with you,” the band continued at the time, “Stay close to your loved ones while they’re here. Let them know what they mean to you. You all have meant the world to him, and you mean the world to us.”
“Happy Birthday, Tiger,” his Morning Teleportation family sends along each year on this day.
Indeed. Happy birthday, brother. You’re missed. Always.
We’re just glad you’re expanding anyway, Tiger.
This is a slightly expanded version of a memorial Morning Teleportation asked our managing editor, Matt Laslo, to write in 2020. Re-published with their permission (though Tiger and the band he left behind don’t give a singular fuck about permission). The original is here.