I first met Ed Ackerson, a force majeur on the Twin Cities music scene, when I was 12 and we were in the same 6th grade class. I’d just moved to the suburbs of St. Paul from the inner city and was in a new school with new people and trying to find my way. Ed lived a few blocks up from where I lived. I had a hard time fitting in at that elementary school. Luckily, we all got punted into junior high and in another new school with many new faces we didn’t know the following fall, so we were all in that same uncomfortable boat. I remember that while Ed wasn’t ever one of those making life uncomfortable for anyone else.
Ed and I had some common friends over the years. Many of them either played in bands with him or saw him play somewhat regularly at First Avenue in Minneapolis. I remember going to a couple of shows of his back in college when I was at UM. At that time, he was playing in his band, Polara. The band has its own star at First Ave. Pretty effing cool. He and his band went out and did the rock star thing – touring, playing and recording. He was out running around with lots of alternative and punk-like bands that I liked or was trying to like during the 90s – REM, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Blink 182 to name a few. His latest band was called BNLX. They did some tracks I really liked – 1929 and Opposites Attract, for example.
I’m sure Ed and I had classes together at some point. Chemo has eaten so many of my memories along with middle age that I can’t predict my memories anymore. I used to be able to distinctly remember things from when I was very small. I remembered experiences with a pretty excruciating level of detail. I could be counted on to remember song lyrics, lines from books, a lot of whacky trivia about movies and the people that were in them. At work, I was the one who could tell you how to fix something without having to look at the screen because I already had a picture of it in my head. Now all those memories are pretty spotty if I have them at all. I barely remember what I did, who I talked to or what I saw yesterday much less something from a year or more ago.
I left Minnesota in the mid-90s so our paths didn’t cross again until Facebook came along for people not in high school around 2009. One of the things he’d post on Facebook that I really enjoyed were reviews of new bands/albums/talent he’d found and was recording or promoting. He was an encyclopedia of bands he’d known, heard of or worked with.
“Some of the biggest names in Twin Cities music passed through Flowers, including the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Motion City Soundtrack, and the Replacements.” – Erik Thompson – City Pages
Ed made music and recording and engineering his life and he was damned good at it. Looking back, I wish I’d have stayed in closer touch with Ed. One thing I’d wanted to do from the time I was in high school was be a professional recording engineer. I’m not saying that he’d have been receptive or had the time to entertain the idea between writing his own music, touring and recording it along with working with other bands in the Twin Cities. At this stage in my life, I can only hope that we’d have had at least a conversation about it had I approached him.
Two recent things really hit me in the feels. First was that he was able to go visit Abbey Road and talk to the recording engineers there in August. I didn’t know it then, but Ed was struggling through treatment for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. A month or so later, his bandmate, and friend gave his wife a video of Pete Townshend of The Who doing a shout-out to him at a recent concert in Minneapolis. You’ve got to have some real street cred to have a rock superstar like Townshend call you out from onstage. I’m joking that I’m now a friend of a friend of a friend of Pete Townshend. It’s only fair… I’ve loved The Who since my dad started playing their albums for me in about 7th grade. I missed their concert here in Seattle last year or the year before because of my own cancer treatment.
I don’t remember exactly when his now wife, Ashley, joined him in the band. Once I saw them performing together, it made perfect sense. I can’t say how happy I am that he met, married and worked with his soulmate. As I watched via Facebook through the years, I saw they made a great pair both on and off stage. I really like what they’ve done with their current band, BNLX. It reminds me of a lot of other music I’ve really liked, but there’s no copycatting. It’s all Ed and Ashley. I’ve always admired how he stayed true to his own unique style, the Ed I knew back in 6th grade. That’s our kindred connection – we do things our way and pretty much to hell with what anyone else thinks. Since “finding” him again on Facebook in 2009, I’ve happily tagged along on his adventures with his music, his wife, Ashley, their daughter, Annika, and their beloved Boston Terriers.
Ed passed away a week ago today, just a few short weeks after announcing that he’d been fighting Stage 4 pancreatic cancer for over a year and that his condition deteriorating. I recognized our kindred spirit yet again – he didn’t let cancer take him down. He didn’t make a production of it. He kept his focus on the people he loved and the things he loved to do, just as I am. He describes pretty much how I feel about living with cancer in this video. As he says, there isn’t a lot of point in spending a lot of energy thinking about or dwelling on the what-ifs. It’s counterproductive. It saps energy and takes away the joy we have today. It’s in some ways a real gift to know that life truly is short and we need to make the most of every day. I’m sad that he left this world so soon. I am glad and grateful to have known him. I know his memory will live on in his music, his wife and daughter and the work he’s done with Flowers Studio. As much as others are saying good-bye, I can only say that I’m sure I’ll see you later.