Just shy of 70 years ago, John was brought into this world as the first child of Samuella (Brownie) Rose Etnier (1929-2003) and Stephen Morgan Etnier (1903-1984). For his dad, John was the first son, after four daughters from three previous marriages. This was a big deal, we gather. Of his four half-sisters (Suzanne, Penelope, Stephanie and Vicky), dear Vicky, of Pennsylvania, is the only one still going strong. As is John’s sole brother, David.
His parents chose to raise both sons in their recently constructed home, perched precariously cliffside along the western shore of Basin Point in Harpswell, bordering the cove historically known as Old Cove.
John was very bright and creative from his onset. And likewise, prone to mischief and assorted hijinks and a healthy suspicion of authority. Traits that would endure throughout his life. He could be a tad prickly too. But with age — and especially with the unfortunate ailments that came to plague him later in his life — he became very gracious and kind. Even sweet. Though he’d not want to hear it said. Through it all he was a most generous man.
John loved growing up in Harpswell, and shared countless days along the shores and in the woods and fields at Old Cove with his brother and his friends of that time.
Some “highlights” of his early years included the early creation of his own religion, likewise a newspaper of sorts run off on mimeographed sheets and distributed to family and friends, the takeover of the Brunswick High newspaper — the Orbla Review — and the subsequent insertion of detachable passes for students to “get out of school for a day” and/or park where one wasn’t supposed to.
His lifelong strong interest in politics and current affairs was fermented at the time the Vietnam War raged in earnest and within a family that tuned into “NBC Nightly News” every evening before dinner. His initial furor at the war manifested itself in the organization of walkouts from Brunswick High in protest. One of many things that did not sit well with those in charge.
Around that time (1970) he discovered his true passion: music. Listening, playing, composing, recording and engineering. Dancing — not so much. In his youth his prescient parents kindly gave him a Steinway Baby Grand piano that had lived in a bar in Brunswick. He spent many hours a day experimenting in the “playroom” of their Harpswell home.
He became an active musician in high school, joining bands whose names tended toward the outré; Uncle Nub, Kill the Children and Balls, among others. From 1972-1973 he was a member of the Granite Farm commune in Brunswick and a founding member of its Granite Farm Band, which was heavily influenced by free jazz, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Frank Zappa. John left Maine in 1974 to study audio engineering in New York City, later returning to Topsham. Shortly afterward, he and a partner started construction of the Planet of the Tapes recording studio in Brunswick.
John’s most protracted and significant work with other musicians came with The Same Band (1977-1980), a Brunswick-based punk-jazz group whose roots lay in the earlier Granite Farm Band. The band rehearsed and recorded at Planet of the Tapes recording studio.
John, using the stage name of Dual Space Orphans, played keyboards and guitars and handled the band’s publicity.
He moved to Portland in 1980 and started working as a recording engineer, eventually opening his own studio, Studio Dual, in 1983. With partners he opened the larger Megaphone studio in 1986. In the period 1979-1998 he was a prolific composer of scores for modern dance, performance art and multimedia, and released four albums on his Disques Dual record label. Live performances came sporadically at most. 1998 marked the end of his career as a musician, although he continued to engineer at Studio Dual until closing it in 2007.
Turning back to the late ’70s and 1980s: The one concrete and clearly positive thing to come from the copious hours spent habituating the Bowdoin Steak House in Brunswick was John’s introduction to his future wife, Nancy Caragol. To quote dear Nancy — whose interest in John at the time perplexed a few: “What I saw in John was the wild musician type that I always liked!” Her clairvoyance became obvious with the years and children and grandchildren that followed.
In addition to his love and talent for the creation of music was his love and talent for the creation of graphic arts. Largely done gratis for friends and often for album/CD covers — but equally freely for his family and important sporting events. Most notable were those manufactured for the hallowed weekly Sunday volleyball games at his other family’s home: John and Jean Coles on Simpson’s Point in Brunswick. “Lest we forget.”
Beyond music and the arts — the love of John’s life was his wife of 43 years, Nancy Caragol, and their two beloved daughters, Nina and Caroline. His joy at his own marriage and at both his daughters was palpable and so very sincere. Likewise, his deeply felt joy upon the arrivals in the last couple years of his three grandchildren, Otto, Mae and Everett.
Nancy’s care and devotion to John during these past few difficult years has been a model of love and kindness and we thank her in a way that words would fail.
Likewise, the divine hospice workers and nurses and doctors of all persuasions. Thank you.
There will be a celebration of all things John Etnier in Harpswell at the Union Church on Route 123 on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m., followed by a gathering at the adjacent Grange hall. You are most welcome to attend.
A gift in his honor to Maine Coast Heritage Trust will help steward islands up and down the coast — including Great Whaleboat Island in Casco Bay, which was beloved by him and which he and his family and many other good people helped conserve.
In lieu of flowers or the like, the family respectfully requests any donations in John’s memory be made in his name to: Maine Coast Heritage Trust, 1 Bowdoin Mill Island, Suite 201, Topsham, ME 04086.