by Alex Maiolo
Ed Ackerson, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer on October 4th, was the very embodiment of it. Ed was one of those people who you knew about, even if you didn’t know him personally. He constantly showed how social media could be used to promote positivity, which extended the reach even more.
About seven years ago, in one of many constructive, informative, online threads hosted by veteran musician – and industry good guy (they exist) – John Strohm, it dawned on me that, yet again, this Ackerson guy and I were literally and figuratively on the same page. We started following each other on the platforms, and within a matter of days I realized that, along with bands like The Replacements, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, and Zuzu’s Petals – to name a select few – he had recorded many of my friends’ bands as well. He’d also promoted their shows, slept on their couches, guested on their recordings, run sound for them at the famed 7th St. Entry, and released their records of his Susstones label, over the past three decades. We started exchanging emails on the reg, exchanging obscure psych album recommendations; usually by bands from Scandinavia, which we both had a deep affinity for. Almost daily, we laughed about our parallel lives, growing up obsessed with mod and psych music, playing Rickenbackers, and, of course, recording, at which he was considerably more skilled than me. We had come up through the same ranks and had unusually similar experiences and obsessions, even when you take into consideration that we were part of the same extended tribe. He treated me as an equal because of this, but it became clear over time that only one of us had had an incalculable impact on our music community. He may have had a big personality, but he was also exceedingly humble, usually preferring to promote other bands over his own. Peak uncanniness came when, completely by coincidence, we met side stage at a Slowdive show in New York. We were both guests of the band, but didn’t know we’d be in the same spot that night. Impossible as it seems, that November 2017 night was the first time we’d actually met, face-to-face. There, standing in front of me, wearing the exact same outfit, same glasses, and carrying the same brand and model of shoulder bag, as if we’d coordinated it down to the finest detail, was the person I already considered a dear friend.
Ed touched many people’s lives, was endlessly generous with his time, enthusiastic, and kind to a rare degree. When I first saw a photo of him, and his daughter Annika, holding a pop art colored Loog guitar, I thought, “I’m so glad this guy is shepherding a young person so positively through these uncertain times.” He and the love of his life, Ashley, were the “cool parents” that give us hope, and it was utterly inspiring that the two of them played in the band BNLX together.
Though having played in many bands carrying the mod and indie pop standard, such as The 27 Various, and The Dig, his best known band, Polara, were in the select tragicomic club of bands who had the gold ring dangled before them right before the bubble burst. Signed to Interscope, but with no label support, the band pressed on, and it’s clear Ed emerged with his enthusiasm intact. In the past two decades that devotion has been present in the grooves of every record to emerge from his beloved Flowers Studio.
Packed with unique and vintage instruments and an SSL desk, Flowers is the space a lot of us have aspired to have. It also features a lounge in a converted greenhouse, to provide band members’ pupils, denied of sunlight, a respite even while recording during cripplingly long Minneapolis winters. Everybody is aware that Ackerson knew his gear, which he used to craft records with a huge sound, often owing a debt to the past, but never bathed in pastiche. A perusal of remembrances from various outlets, and a who’s who of indie rock legends, yield terms like “wizard” and “mad scientist,” but in reality Ed was the confluence of skill, curiosity, and artistry. He was a master of his craft because he worked hard at it every single day of his life.
2019 seemed like a particularly active year for Ed, full of travel and projects. In line with our parallel interests, in the span of a year, we missed each other in London by days, Stockholm by a day, and Berlin by mere hours. He was in the latter working on a project with Anton Newcombe. There were other sessions with his wife, Ashley, old friends, Strohm included, and looking back, there’s a palpable feeling that perhaps he was checking some things off of The List, against a ticking clock. Through all of this he still had plenty of time to answer questions, like, “How do you think they got that bass sound on Klaus Johann Grobe’s Du Bist So Symmetrisch?”
About a month ago we were treated to a video from a Who concert, where Pete Townshend gave a shout out to Ed and said he hoped he’d get better. After the smile subsided from our collective faces, because our friend had been acknowledged by one of his heroes, I’m sure a lot of us were left with the same question: “Get better from what?”
Pete’s not going to reference a bout of the flu in front of an enormodome full of people. With the jig up, Ed released a statement that he’d been battling the disease for the past year, it was a hard slog, and while good wishes were appreciated, he had work to do, so he might not be so responsive. He’d pass within a month of that post, but in the meantime he celebrated his wedding anniversary, spent quality time with friends and family, saw Massive Attack, and lived a full life.
Last Friday, at the very rock ‘n’ roll hour of 4:20 p.m., Ed Ackerson left us, having accomplished what most of us couldn’t have even if we’d been granted five lives that hadn’t been cut short. He is survived by his wife, Ashley, and daughter Annika. A Go Fund Me account has been set up in his honor to help a truly wonderful family get through the grieving process, and celebrate the life of a person who gave so much to our international community. His impact on Minneapolis, and far beyond, will continue to be felt, and can’t be overstated.