The first time I met Erik Petersen was after an acoustic show he played in Clark Park after a night of Pointless Fest in Philly, on an unbelievably hot August weekend in 2005. I was on tour with my band Countdown to Armageddon, our friends Kakistocracy from Asheville, and Schifosi from Melbourne, and after the gig our friends invited us to join them to watch Erik play.
I’d never heard of him or his band Mischief Brew before, and was pretty amazed to see hundreds of punks sitting in a park entranced by someone singing and playing a guitar with no amps. While he sang out the lines of “Every Town Will Celebrate,” I noticed Matt from Kakistocracy singing the words along, as were a majority of the people in the crowd. I was instantly a huge fan, and I left that park pretty drunk but also totally inspired. Well, very drunk actually.
“Every town will celebrate someday
Waving sweatshop flags and grande lattes
Wearing culture on their backs
Wearing spirit on their hats
One by one they’ll join the parade
Every town will celebrate someday”
The next day I met and started chatting with Erik at the merch table area, and it was one of those moments where you meet someone you’ve never met and it feels like you’ve been friends for years. That guy was so charismatic and funny, and especially eloquent. I told him of my folk-punk project Meisce, and as we were about to pull out of the venue, I grabbed the burned CD of the Meisce demo recording we had recently made, hopped out of the van and ran it over to Erik, and said “Hope you like this, I think it might be up your alley.”
“I bet you in five minutes time,
We find that we know all the same
People, places, and roads.”
What would ensue would be a friendship that spanned over a decade, and over that time Erik became a dear friend, even though we rarely got to see each other in person. We both ran DIY record labels, so we were kindred spirits in the art of having a basement full of cardboard and weekly trips to the post office. He graciously offered to help Meisce release a record on the label he ran with his amazing partner Denise, Fistolo Records, and he and I worked closely on crafting the logistics and art for the 7″ that he and I would be co-releasing on our respective labels, and our ensuing full length CD as well. He was instrumental in bringing visibility to our band, which otherwise would probably have flown under the radar nationally save for our cabal of debaucherous fans in Seattle. I began to help book Erik and Mischief Brew gigs in Seattle, and when the time came for Meisce to spread our wings and tour the East Coast, Erik booked our itinerary, found us a backline, van, and went so far and beyond what anyone of us would ever expect. Erik and Denise hosted us in their home, and were so generous and kind to all of us. Our time out East was incredible; we played a handful of packed and insane gigs with Mischief Brew and Erik solo, and I’ll always remember the incredibly strange and hilarious time we had out there. There was a scene from that tour, on our last date, which was Halloween at a matinee gig at ABC No Rio in New York. Erik played “Coffee, God, and Cigarettes” and halfway through the song he just walked through the packed venue with the crowd singing along, strumming his guitar right up to the merch table in the back, and stood up on it while everyone accompanied. It’s this image I have of him that sticks forever in my mind. It’s a picture of someone doing what he loved, at the peak of his game, with the world in the palm of his hand, and people’s hearts glued like frets to the neck of his guitar.
I liked to tease him sometimes and tell him he was like the “DIY Bob Dylan” of our generation, but I always actually meant that in ernest. He was a creative genius and an incredibly complex songwriter and when you have an entire room of people so engaged and that know all of the lyrics to your songs by heart, you’ve created something higher and more transcendent than just being in a band. This music he left is timeless, and I think anyone that has really appreciated his work might agree.
“This is where the salt are sharing spit and sweat and steam
The kids may all get out alive but none of them go home the same”
He would later contract me to do the graphic design for some T-shirts, their 2011 full-length album The Stone Operation, as well as the reissue of the long lost Kettle Rebellion album, which was the precursory band he was in that would become Mischief Brew. It’s rare I get an opportunity to work on projects that truly resonate with me, and being a huge fan made the design part simple and intuitive.
When Meisce’s time had come to a close, we coordinated our last shows for a Mischief Brew West Coast tour, and it was so amazing having our last performance with the band we had the closest affinity to, and the person that believed in us and worked so hard for us.
And then all of a sudden it was 2016, I’m in my flat in Berlin, it’s 2:30 in the morning and I’m sitting with my guitar studying the chord progressions to “This is Not for Children” and playing along. Erik had contacted me a couple months prior and asked if I’d be interested in joining the band as a guitarist on an upcoming European tour that would span several dates in the UK and in mainland Europe. I was so honored that they would consider me for such a major undertaking, and Erik began sending me music and videos of the songs they had planned to play. Definitely during this time my shortcomings as a self-taught punk guitarist started emerging, but it was a great creative challenge to learn to play Erik’s songs, and to discover little details and things I hadn’t noticed before. Out of this experience two things became so crystal clear.
a) Erik Petersen writes goddamn good songs, and
b) You need to practice your guitar more, stupid.
I suppose that in life we have these fleeting moments, flashes in time, even intimations that connect us to people, and inevitably change and shape who we are as individuals. I am at such a loss and so heartbroken knowing that I’ll never see Erik again, but at the same time I’m eternally grateful for knowing and befriending such an amazing person, to be able to have helped and supported each other’s musical and creative endeavors, and to have someone in my life that made such a lasting impression. It’s been incredible seeing the outpouring of messages of love, support, and admiration surface in the last days from all over the world, and while this is a painful transition to accept, it warms my heart to know that he was so loved by his family, friends, and the rest of the world he helped shape, define, and re-define.
[rh] – July 18th, 2016