A sudden, heartbreaking loss to Milwaukee's music community

We bumped into Peder Hedman last Saturday night at Zappafest. He looked great. Older, like all of us, but good. He was as animated as usual. All of us at the table we were surrounding were grousing about how we just don't get out late like we used to, but still. It's good to get out to see some bands, especially when friends are playing in them, and more than half the people on the stage that night had the privilege of calling Peder Hedman "friend." Hell, half the people in the audience could say that. After some fine words about the musicians (Peder never shied from heaping praise upon musicians that moved him) he admitted, "I gotta go," and we all understood that reluctance to leave but also the need for sleep that people our age, with families and other responsibilities, have. A lot of us were right behind him. And we waved goodbye figuring we'd see him at the next excellent show.

And today I got a call from Victor Demechei with the terrible news that Peder passed on, from a sudden heart attack. Cliches like too young, too soon ring true here. This wasn't a guy you expected to go so young: he took good care of himself, had a beautiful family and a darling son who so obviously kept him "young."

As people started flooding FB with tributes, I'd mentioned the first time I saw him play. I'd just moved to Milwaukee, and was looking for the local scene to start going out to see bands. Somebody recommended Liquid Pink to me, and I ventured out to go see them. Liked them instantly. They had everything I liked in a band: garage-y sound, snappy lyrics, great, animated stage presence, and terrific, hooky songs that found a way into your head and stayed there.

While I knew that (the about to be defunct) Plasticland hailed from Milwaukee, and of course there were the Femmes, Liquid Pink answered my plea: "Doesn't this town have a Vertebrats?" Yes, it did: this band was loaded with all sorts of great songs that varied from sensitive ballads to flat out punk rants to pop gems, and Peder had the versatile rhythm section of Dale Kaminski and Rob McCuen to punch them all out. Their list of covers ranged from the Velvet Underground to the Chambers Brothers -- yes, they took on "Time Has Come Today" and they aced it. Their self-titled album was one of those records whose worst song was still great.

And as he formed new bands and explored different genres, I realized why: because Peder Hedman was a great songwriter.

No matter what he attempted, whether it was the psychedelic alt-country of the Peder Hedman Quartet, or the heavy thrash of Bicentennial Rub, or the loving parody of glam that was Detroit Jewel, gawd, that guy wrote magically great songs. And when he sat in with his friends from Voot Warnings to John Frankovic, he added a bit of spice and spark that enhanced the band, but never upstaged them.

And often in the audience were an older couple that turned out to be Carl and Nancy Hedman, his mom and dad. I'm trying to remember a show where they didn't turn up. They were so obviously (and justifiably) proud of him, and I got a warm fuzzy every time I saw them at a show, supporting their kid and genuinely enjoying the music he made.

And while this is a music blog, and this obituary is focused on the music the man made, I don't think I'll find anybody who disagrees that Carl and Nancy raised a great guy. He was always kind to me and Brian and our family. He was open to all sorts of music and supported his friends in a number of ways, and while he could snark with the best of us, he was so genuinely moved and excited by music and musicians, and encouraged them in so many ways. Some of the last words I heard from him Saturday night were complimenting the musicians on how well they played. Peder Hedman gave the Milwaukee music community so much in so many ways. It's been less than a day since we learned of his passing, and I suspect it's going to be weeks before we truly realize what an enormous loss this is.


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