From the Aspen Times

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From the Aspen Times

This article appeared in the Aspen Times, concerning Micheal Iceberg. It has been reprinted without the permission of the original author or the newspaper. It is used here merely for educational purposes.

Vol 116 Num 47 Nov 18 & 19, 1995

Bringing it all back home

Oh, little do the visitors to Orlando's Disneyworld know what was going on inside the Amazing Iceberg Machine, one of the most popular attractions in the theme park from the mid-'70s to the early '80s.

The Disney fantasy park may be one of middle America's strongest tourist magnets, but the scene in the Amazing Iceberg Machine, hard at the intersection of Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, at the Coca-Cola Pavilion, next to the teacup ride, was anything but a slice of middle American life.

"I was doing six shows a day, six days a week, and getting stoned at every show," said Old Snowmass resident Michael Iceberg, the creator and controller of the colorful, pyramid-enclosed musical contraption. "I began with a three-week contract on July 4, 1976" - the 200th anniversary of the United States of America - "and they looked at me and at my hair and they said, ‘What's this mess?'

"My hair was down to here" - he indicates a spot roughly a foot below his shoulders. "They took me to wardrobe, they wanted to make me into a character. But I was playing Moody Blues, Rolling Stones, maybe a ‘Fiddler on the Roof' tune, and getting as stoned as I could."

Disney's creative types needn't have worried about turning Iceberg into a character; he had been a character at least since 1969, when he came to Aspen from the Chicago suburbs with every intention of dropping out to be a freak. And though Michael Iceberg and his Amazing Iceberg Machine became a top attraction in Orlando, in looking back Iceberg doesn't feel he was really playing to the proper crowd.

"The audience wasn't getting the joke," said the now 50-something Iceberg from his log cabin, which now makes an oddly contrasting home for the ultra-high-tech Iceberg Machine. "Middle America doesn't want to get stoned. So I was doing crazy stuff to get their attention."

Iceberg was a hit with at least some of Disney's factions, however. In the official Dis- neyworld guide book, a reporter had written, "If you go to Disneyworld, you must see two things: Space Mountain and Michael Iceberg."

He was also making scads of money, enough that he was able to buy the house above Snowmass Creek. And though he has called the Roaring Fork Valley home these past 26 years, he has not worked regularly in the area since the mid-'70s, what with his regular gigs at Disneyworld and later as a corporate entertainer for IBM.

Iceberg is at a point in his life where he'd like to change that.

Two years ago he married Kathleen Fitzgerald, and five months ago the couple was presented with a little Iceberg - Russell. Now Michael wants to stay at home, play the part of doting father and perform around the valley anything from background piano music to a synthesizer show to the full Amazing Iceberg Machine extravaganza.

"I want to be home with the baby and play around town," said Iceberg, who traces his given name, Iseberg, to an Ellis Island goof. "I can't bring this whole thing into most places, but I figure I can play piano. I've never done that before, but I know I can play piano."

Iceberg's latest trips through the valley will certainly be a different experience than the last time he made his living playing here, as a longhair who chucked the straight life for an existence as a mountain hippie.


"I didn't think the Disney company would hire someone like me. Whatever you think of as the Disney company, you're correct," said Iceberg, who now, irony of ironies, finds himself a neighbor of Disney CEO Michael Eisner above Snowmass Creek. "The Disney company is the most miserable bunch of people you can imagine. It was like working for the government. Really scary place. I always figured they had cameras in my dressing room."

One thing he can at least partly credit the Disney characters with is helping him develop the idea for transforming his instrument into The Machine.
"At Disney, they built this set around me, this big, ugly thing," said Iceberg. "When people starting hiring me to play for them, I figured they would want to have this thing with me. My friend Frank Murray held up (Pink Floyd's) ‘Dark Side of the Moon' album; there are pyramids all over it. And he said, ‘Hey, that's it.' So I built a pyramid over it."
The first pyramid was made of wood; the next of formica. The latest version, a 10-foot-high, rainbow-colored spectacle, which explodes in concert, is fashioned of laser-defraction material. There's simply no other contraption like it, and certainly no one like Michael, who sings, cracks jokes and plays keyboards inside of it. The uniqueness, and the polish of the act, have allowed Michael to ride his machine as far as the Johnny Carson Show.
"The machine is always growing, changing," said Iceberg. "It started as an organ, then a synthesizer. It's got 20 disc and card drives. This isn't the result of any scientific achievement or anything scholastic. This is the result of compulsive buying. But there's no music on tape, nothing prerecorded."

Which means Iceberg has to be a pretty good musician, which he proves by giving an in-home demonstration. He coos Disney songs, with multiple voices and full orchestration, at Russell, who appears baffled by his first encounter with the machine. He plays honkytonk piano, music he feels would be perfect dinner music at the Woody Creek Tavern. And he performs his "Ode to Joy" suite, an inspiration from his IBM days combining the scores of Bach, Beethoven and the Door's Ray Manzarek.

Copyright © 1995 Aspen Interactive Media, Inc. and The Aspen Times