Ed Ward tribute
Mr. Tobin in B&W glory, 2016
interviewed by Jason Gross
PSF: How did you first meet Ed?
AT: October 2001, a few weeks after 9/11, and Louis Jay Meyers had set up A2A: Access to Amsterdam, an attempt to launch an annual music conference and showcases in Europe, much like the SXSW model he had helped to start in Austin. And who better to ask to lead the panel discussions than his old Austin acquaintance Ed Ward? Ed was living in Berlin at the time, a six-hour train ride from Amsterdam. I met Ed for the first time at a pre-event cocktail hour/drinks do. My first impression was of a larger-than-life man, held in the highest esteem by anyone I talked to. A man full of stories and experience. I had created and filled the A2A website, and Ed and I soon got to talking - yet two more Americans over in Europe! I'm not sure what led to what, but the next day I ended up chairing a panel or two myself. Ed had put me straight to work!
PSF: How would you describe him on a personal level?
AT: The timeworn cliché applies here: cantankerous, imposing exterior vs. caring and kind personality. But Ed didn't suffer fools gladly, and as long as I knew him, he was also always what they would call an Uberlebenskunstler in Berlin, the survival artist struggling to eke out a living and making regular rent payments. He didn't always succeed. He loved Europe and the culture here, the history, yet the German penchant for administration and bureaucracy often get the better of him. At the time, I was editing a little online magazine of middling quality, yet Ed always found encouraging words and never treated me or my opinions with disdain. He introduced me to others as "my friend, a really good writer, Alex." Ed loved his food, loved to talk about cooking, loved to cook up a big old pot of gumbo and get cilantro to grow outside his door in often-cold Berlin. Like those plants, he seemed to be a transplant from warmer climes, a bit of an acquired taste. As with cilantro, not everyone loved Ed, but his candid opinions and take-it-or-leave-it style struck a chord with me. I asked him to be best man at my wedding in 2003, something to which he luckily readily agreed.
PSF: Do you have a favorite piece of writing that he did?
AT: My favorite writing by Ed were not the pieces he became well-known for, but his regular contributions to the online community The Well, along with extensive blog posts about the highs and lows of life in Berlin, followed by years in Montpellier and an eventual return to Austin. Like me, Ed was looking at Europe from a different perspective. Although our daily lives were quite different, I recognized some of the battles he was fighting all too well.
PSF: Ed had a lot of great stories about musicians he knew, interviewed and met- can you share any of those?
AT: Sure, Ed had a lot of stories, and some of them would probably be considered libellous were I to repeat them here! I'll leave it to others to trot out the big names and big stories here. What I do remember, though, is that he remained an admirer of music (even if he refused to listen to pretty much any new music, with the possible exception of some classical). Never starstruck, he still got a kick out of being able to watch Dylan perform from the side of the stage at a show in Berlin (thanks to a friendship with Bob's bass player Tony Garnier).
PSF: What went through your head when you heard that he passed away?
AT: Utter, immense sadness. We had not been in regular touch for quite a few years (a story about a loan not being repaid, which I won't go into in detail here), but last August, Ed and I had a short exchange of messages. His two volumes on the history of rock hadn't sold as well as he would have liked, and he wrote me this: "Now that I've got two books out (although nobody actually knows it), I've been thinking of teaching a history of rock course. and it seemed to me that at one point you were doing something like that in...was it Utrecht? [...] I would very much like to get out of this country again, so I thought I'd pick your brain about your experience. I don't have a degree, but other 'n' that, this might work."
Finding out about Ed's death in a newsletter, then hearing of the circumstances, I was enveloped by a feeling of loneliness, about dying alone - in Ed's case, undoubtedly surrounded by perilously towering stacks of box set and books. Here was a man who had made such an impression on others, but who was always fighting with everyone = with the system itself, it often seemed - to be heard, to make a living. He deserved better, and I hope he's sitting up there with a big pot of gumbo, ladling it out to all his friends who passed before him.
PSF: What do you think his legacy is?
AT: "I'm not a reviewer; I'm a critic."
I remember Ed never forgiving Reed (normally such a journalists' darling!) of abandoning Sterling Morrison when he was virtually on his deathbed after the VU reunion tour. All of these details bubbling back up now.
And Ed's famous Berlin Walking Tours! Any friend who came to town had better have some comfy walking shoes with them... He loved sharing facts and information.
If I'm not mistaken, he donated a large part of his archive to the University of Texas.
Cheers from Ed
See Alex Tobin's website
See the rest of our tribute to Ed Ward
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