Goodbye, Eric…

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.44.16 PMLast Sunday, Eric Medalle was killed when a tree fell on his car.

Back in 2000, I remember interviewing Eric to be a designer in my marketing department at Madison Newspapers (in Madison, WI). I remember thinking at the time how ridiculous it was that he was a superior designer to the designer I had interviewing him, and how funny it was that she wasn’t convinced he could do the job. (He would later become the Creative Director at Pokemon Company International.)

Eric and I became fast friends over many common interests – first and foremost being our love of, and similar tastes in, music. We were both close followers of anything on the 4AD label – Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Pixies – and bands like New Order, Camper Van Beethoven and other alternative music. The more obscure and electronic, the better the chance we both knew it.

In fact, I’ve been listening to Dead Can Dance ever since I heard the news. I wrote much of this to “Don’t Fade Away,” and it occurs to me, perhaps it should be read to it, as well…

Along with 80s electronic pop, he also had a deep love for the acoustic and art rock influencers. He used to love pointing out that every band I listened to was heavily influenced by either Lou Reed (note his daughter named Nico) or Bob Dylan. This was a sore spot, as I don’t really like either one of them. He knew that, and I think it just made him more excited about pointing it out as just a well-known fact. On this he would never waver.

Because of our common love of music, I was happy to look the other way as he used all of our tiny Internet bandwidth to introduce me to Napster and download every obscure alternative 80s Euro-pop hit that either of us could think of. I still have a few CDs full of this completely random assortment of songs and bands that only Eric could have assembled.

As I picture him now sitting in his cube at the newspaper, I can hear him yelling, “I can’t hear you!” to the guy who talked and sounded just like Fred Schneider from the B-52’s, in the HR department next to us. (Think “Love Shack.”) Leave it to Eric to make the connection and then shamelessly call back to him without the guy ever realizing the joke.

In many ways, he seemed to be the stereotypical alternative nerdy guy. You would have never guessed how much of a sports fan, and athlete, he was. At the time, I had organized an Ultimate Frisbee league in Madison, and I was always recruiting. He had never played but was very open to giving it a try. He joined us for many games until he accidentally hit someone in the mouth with a disc. He never really recovered from that and gave it up shortly after.

I also loved his sense of humor. Eric was one of the few people I knew who’s delivery was frequently even more dry and deadpan than my own. I often had a hard time knowing for sure if he was joking or not. He had the ultimate poker face.

You just never really knew what he was going to come up with next. I remember the day he kind of matter-of-factly shared an mp3 of a new song he wrote, called “Ode to Mad News.” He had rewritten the lyrics to “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” by Camper Van Beethoven and made it a song about his time working in our marketing department at Madison Newspapers.

“Every day, I get up and work for Jon
And he increases the number of plug ads by exactly one.
Everybody’s eating curds for lunch these days.
Last night there were plastic forks in my lawn…”

There’s too many references to explain, but Jergen was our front desk security guy. And as Eric wrote, the donut glaze does, in fact, taste best at Lane’s (Bakery).

Eric fit very well into my department, and I was saddened, though not surprised, that he left only a year after joining. I still remember the day he called me and asked me to meet him at work on a weekend. It turned out he was enduring some sad events in his personal life that led to him moving out to Seattle.

We would keep in touch as best we could, but we didn’t need to. Eric was one of those friends you could not hear from for a year, but the next time you talked, it would be like you just saw him a day ago. There was never a “why haven’t you called?” He would just jump right into whatever was new with him and his family.

I did get to see him in 2006. This was my ninth year at Capital Newspapers, and I could tell it was winding down. I had hired and worked with many great writers, designers and research analysts, and I knew I’d be moving on. So I hosted a party at a bar in Madison and invited everyone who had ever worked for me to join us.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.40.21 PMEveryone showed up, and Eric flew in from Seattle to make it happen. This is Eric with my original team. Everyone on the team loved Eric, and I think he felt the same way. It was great to see him, but sad to only have him around for those few days.

He and I remained in touch – often because of music. A year later, Robyn Hitchcock was making a solo appearance at the Crocodile (an amazing, fairly famous Seattle nightclub), and Eric asked if I could send out my recording equipment to him so he could tape the show. It’s an amazing recording, and one that I still listen to fairly often.

By 2009, I was working for a startup in Madison that I knew was doomed to fail. So I started looking for a new job. Because of the economy, my wife and I put much of the country in play, as we figured I couldn’t be too choosy. Because of Eric, Seattle was one of the cities on our list of options.

In April, I was able to get myself flown out for an interview, and thanks to Eric, I had a place to stay and someone to introduce me to the city. While I was there for that short stay, Eric took me to Shanghai Gardens, in the International District, which is now a restaurant that my daughter loves going to whenever we get a chance.

I can remember sitting at the back corner table as he was filling me in on what was happening in his life. His wife was pregnant with their first child, and he was pretty excited about everything going on with his home, his family and his job.

It wasn’t long before I found out I had gotten the job, and it wasn’t that much longer before Eric had offered me his guest bedroom for a few weeks while I figured out my job, where I was going to live and how things worked in Seattle.

When I finally drove out to Seattle with my friend Joe, they gave us both a place to stay, and Eric took us on what I would later learn was his patented Eric Medalle Reality Tour. He showed me all of the places he lived, but also landmarks like Kurt Cobain’s house, the Troll, where Singles was filmed and Gas Works Park. It was very thorough, and gave me my bearings.

My wife and daughter wouldn’t join me for another month, and if it weren’t for the kindness and patience of Eric and his wife, who remember was pregnant at the time, I’m not sure we would have ever moved to Seattle and would have never known all of the blessings – friends, school, community – that we do now.

I’m sure I wore out my welcome there (I often do), but Eric and his wife never let me feel like I was intruding or unwelcome. Because of them, I was introduced to the entire Bahn Mi concept, as well as the Tamarind tree and many other landmarks.

Over the years, as my family got more integrated into our community and Eric had his second daughter, we didn’t quite see each other as often as either of us would have liked. But as I said, you would have never known it had been that long when we got to talking again. We did get to see some concerts together, like Brendan Perry, and enjoy some Sundays watching the Packers crush the Lions (Eric was from Detroit).

While we didn’t see each other as often, there was one time of the year that was sacred to Eric: Halloween. Working in the creative field, I know many great Halloween costume artists, but none were as consistently great as Eric. Here are just a few samples:

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 12.07.28 AMNote the detail, down to the gloves and mustache.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 12.41.17 AMThe White Stripes…

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 12.42.42 AMChe Guevera and Tippi Hendron from Birds…

And we always shared stories. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my last conversation with him would be last Tuesday, on IM. He was telling me about his trip to LA for a Pokemon conference of some sort. He shared this picture with me:

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 12.06.12 AMYes, that’s him and Drew Barrymore. It was not uncommon for Eric to meet celebrities or enjoy experiences many others can only dream about. While the reason is obviously tragic, that’s he’s trending on Facebook because of this is just so… Eric.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 5.13.40 PM

But also indicative of how many people felt his power. I can only imagine how Eric would react if you could tell him about all of this right now and then tell him that Perez Hilton wrote about him. You know he’d just sit there and look at you nonplussed, betraying in no way how amused he was on the inside.

It’s just the kind of guy he was. Always creating opportunities and never taking them for granted or even acting as if he knew there was anything special about it.

When we were seeing Brendan Perry, he took a video of his amazing “Song to the Siren” performance and posted it online. It was so well done that it attracted the attention of Brendan Perry, who wanted to use it. I also remember when he happened to run into Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords at a bar in Seattle.


It’s just who Eric was. Right place, right time… until now.

Only one person was killed in the wind storms of the past weekend, and I can’t believe it was Eric.

What’s so difficult about his death is that he was always making things happen. Everyone he met became his friend, and he always did the right thing. He made everyone feel good about themselves. He made everyone feel special. And he may not have known it, but he affected the lives of people he would never even meet.

Eric was warm, patient, sharp, creative, intelligent, thoughtful, sharing and open. You need only look at the outpouring of love and support on his Facebook page. I’m amazed, but not surprised, by how many lives he touched in such a positive way – including mine.

I don’t really use Facebook, and so for someone like Eric, who posted a lot of news and pictures, I think I missed out on some key moments of his life. But now that I see the power of it in the coming together of all those he touched, I think he was right all along. It’s proof of how powerful he was.

There’s so much about this that is sad. But that his daughters will never know what an amazing man their Dad was is among them. Having a daughter myself, I just can’t even imagine something like this. I only hope that someday, they can read everything people have written about him and understand who he was to so many. And I pray they can approach life with the same joy and enthusiasm that he brought to it.

Eric will always have a spot in the heart of my family. Who knows how our lives would have gone if he didn’t open his home to us. We love you and your family, Eric, and we’ll miss you.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 12.06.58 AM

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7 Responses to Goodbye, Eric…

  1. Pingback: Road to Seattle: getting a job | Q Logic

  2. Jon, this is a really nice tribute to Eric. I met Eric through daycare (our kids both went to the same school) and had a casual relationship. He was always a nice guy and fun to talk with. It was horrible to hear about his death.

  3. Damon Kiley says:

    Thanks for sharing this, it was a great read.

  4. Woody says:

    Great ode to my old friend. Grew up with him in grade school and he lived 5 houses down. Eric was a baseball junky like the rest of our gang. We played baseball in the summer from sun up to when the street lights came on. We walked the little league parade every year down east warren ave in the middle of Detroit. He loved the game and the stats. Probably my first “moneyball” convos were with him. We kept in touch and had a reunion in 09. In hind sight, I wish I spent the entire night talking with him.

  5. beautiful tribute.

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