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Ed, My Friend, It’s Too Hard to Say Farewell

I write this late on an unusually warm Tuesday night in California, following close to 18 hours living in a fog of real tears, genuine heartbreak and a cascade of intermittent, interrelated images and memories of a fine, fine man. Then some more quiet sobs.

Just 24 hours earlier I’d flown in from a week at AES. I spent the day sending in last-minute fixes and additions for the November issue, wrote my editor’s note, did some laundry and fell into bed, exhausted but happy. After three weeks on the road, I was home in Oakland. Then, early Tuesday morning the texts and phone calls started coming in, and I was once again reminded—in a deep and painful way—that the world isn’t always about me.

Ed Cherney, an engineer, producer and one of the music industry’s most talented and beloved individuals, had passed away in the night, with his wife, Rose, at his side. She had lost her husband. This amazing, wonderful, creative, unpredictable, surprising, colorful, caring, generous, wild collection of talent and creativity that makes up the recording industry, this crazy and committed Music Industry Parade that we all live in and dance to, had lost its Grand Marshal. And I had lost a friend.

I’ll leave the obituaries, discographies and listings of Ed’s many awards to others, and they’ll probably do it better than I could right now. The outpouring of love began right away, and the industry tributes and the family’s celebrations of life will no doubt be held in the coming weeks in and around Los Angeles and Chicago. They’ll need to find some pretty big spaces; the friends of Ed and Rose fill a pretty large tent.

But that’s all to come. I was raised in household that subscribed to the John Donne maxim that “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind…” But I’ve also lived enough of my own life to realize that those close to home can hit awfully hard.

So, here and now, I’d like to pull rank, play my Mix card and tell a few of my own Ed stories. Please forgive the indulgence. We all suffer loss, and we all have an Ed in our life who’s now on the other side of the glass. My loss seems minuscule tonight compared to many others, even to millions of others across the world. Perhaps I’m just ego-driven, and living out my therapy in real time. But it’s still my loss, and it’s still hard. i don’t expect anyone to make it to the end. It’s way too long.But thanks for indulging me.

Just a Regular Guy: I first met Ed and Rose Mann Cherney at the 1990 TEC Awards, at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Karen Dunn, on-site producer of the show and a former Mix editor who had hired me two years earlier, introduced us at a table in the Lobby Bar, and a few hours later I found myself upstairs in my room, alone with Ed, indulging in a little something the is now legal in California though it wasn’t back then.

“Wow!” I remember thinking, in a wide-eyed, small-town-kid-from-Indiana kind of way. It was my first time at a black-tie affair in the Big City, and I was the stage manager, hanging around all these celebrities! And now I’m swapping stories with the hottest engineer around, fresh off a Best Engineered, Non-Classical Grammy for Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time! I’d played that CD a million times! And The Rolling Stones! Bob Dylan! Right here in my room! Looking back, I’m sure it showed.

We went back down to the party, and by the end of the night I realized that he and Rose were just a couple kids from Chicago with big hearts and big talents. By just being who he was, Ed taught me that we’re all in this world together, and that those we look up to are just regular people, too. Everybody deserves respect. Even though I might name-drop now and then as part of my job, from that day forward, when in a room and surrounded by greatness, I feel a little less wide-eyed and a little more relaxed.

On Nicknames: Ed was one of only two people in the world that I allow to call me “Tommy.” Usually, I politely discourage it, nip it in the bud. But whenever Ed said it, in that singsong voice with his cheeks rising high and his smile going wide, it felt like the warmest welcome that two syllables could possibly provide. He always called me Tommy.

Then one night in Orlando about 15 years ago, while at a dinner with legendary engineer Bruce Swedien and listening to stories from the Bill Putnam and Universal Recording days in Chicago, with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and all their friends walking through the doors, he mentioned that back then Ed had been his assistant engineer. Then he let slip that whenever they worked with Quincy Jones, Ed was known as Big Julie.

“Q had a nickname for everybody,” Bruce recalled. “I was known as Sven, because of the Swede in me. And Ed was Big Julie because he was the assistant, and right around lunchtime every day, Q would send Ed out for sandwiches from Big Julie’s, the deli across the street. ‘Hey, Big Julie, you getting hungry?’ And Ed would go get sandwiches.”

I pulled out my phone immediately and called Ed. He picked up, and trying to sound super cool in low, bluesy baritone, I said, “Hey, Big Julie.” There was a loooooooong pause, and he replied, “Who are you talking to?” I soon passed the phone to Bruce, a good laugh was had by all, and a few great memories came back to the surface. All because of a nickname.

Casa Cherney, on the Canals: After 30 years of travel with Mix, I have grown tired of hotels. They can be lonely places. Whenever possible, I prefer to stay with friends, to the point that if we’re real good friends, I might even invite myself. The first time I stayed with the Cherneys in Venice, in their beautiful, warm and comfortable home on the canals, I was invited. Now I sometimes invite myself when I’m going to be in town. I’ve never felt like they were hosting me. As you might imagine from the woman who invented studio comfort and service and a guy who naturally makes everyone in a room feel comfortable, they simply made me feel like family.

I’ve walked the streets of Venice with Ed and his late, beloved dog Archie. They would be stopped about every 15 feet by someone they knew; if either one had run for mayor of Venice, they likely would’ve won. It didn’t surprise me at all to later learn that Ed and Rose are deeply invested and involved in their community. They pay attention to the world; they care about their neighbors. They are regulars at James Beach.

I’ve watched a couple of Grammy Awards at their house, with other friends of theirs, and taken in some of the funniest, slicing, insider commentary to never leave the room. I’ve sat for dinners with extended family—brother Charles (Chuckie), sister Leslie, niece Maggie, along with Maureen, Paula, Karen and a collection of musicians, artists and neighbor friends, all of them most interesting. Ed and Rose loved to entertain, surrounded by friends, and they loved their alone time together. That’s family.

Golf, Back Pain and Yoga: Ed loved to golf. He loved to talk about it, he followed it in the sports pages, and he was good at it, maintaining a relatively low handicap, somewhere in the mid-80s if I remember right. He looked the part, too, in his comfortable, stylish slacks and shirt as he walked through the kitchen and said, “I’ve got an early tee time, Rose, and then I’m going to the studio. But I should be back early. How about I bring us back something for dinner?” Then he was out the door. He loved to golf.

But over the course of his life, there were many periods of no golf at all. The back pain that plagued him most of his adult life was just too great. About five years ago, as I was launching my nine-month recording industry road trip from the first stop in Los Angeles, I spent a night at the Cherneys and learned Ed would be going in for back surgery. He’d had a couple back surgeries, years ago; neither worked. But this one seemed promising, new technique and all.

A week later I called from the road and said, “So how you feeling, big guy?” He replied, after a long, contented sigh: “Imagine the worst toothache you’ve ever had. Now imagine that it’s ten times worse than that, and it’s been that way for 30 years. Then you go to bed one night, wake up, and it’s gone. Completely gone. That’s what I feel like right now. [Pause] But the doctor said I still should wait a while before I go back out and swing a club.”

After that, he did return to the course, many times, and he started practicing yoga. I know that he was on the mat at least semi-regularly until he couldn’t do it comfortably any more. Rose prefers Pilates.

One More Thing to Admire: Ed would freely and wholeheartedly lend his time and talents to things he believed in, and he cared passionately about quality audio and respect for the art of recording. He was a founding member of the Music Producers Guild, which would later become the Producers & Engineers Wing, the largest category in the Recording Academy’s membership. He has held numerous positions with local and national boards of the Recording Academy, He was a founding member of META, the Music and Entertainment Technology Alliance, fighting for high-quality standards to close the gap between professional, high-res audio and consumer delivery of compressed low-bit-rate audio. He also liked to teach. He liked to pass on knowledge. He felt that it was important .

Farewell, Eddie: Hey, big guy. Rose calls you Eddie, Chuckie calls you Eddie, Paula calls you Eddie. Though I would never pretend to be that far inside the circle, I’m going to be presumptuous enough just this once to call you Eddie, as I say goodbye to you now and as I say hello to you tomorrow and forevermore inside my mind. Bob Marley said it so wisely: “I live inside my head.” From now on, inside my head, you are Eddie, and you always will be.

I came into this industry feeling a bit like a country bumpkin; you made me feel like I belonged. I’ll never forget that. You might notice that I’ve said nothing about how incredibly talented you are, how creative you are, how much you loved music. Nothing about technology, nothing about your later-years love of mixing music to picture in 5.1. Many people will be giving you your professional due in the days to come, many who knew you better than I did. But you sure set a good example, and you meant the world to me.

From that first night we met, back at the TEC Awards 30 years ago, I’ve thought of you and Rose as the King and Queen of Recording. Benevolent and welcoming. There’s never been a King and Queen of Recording before, not that I know of. And there will likely never be another. Tonight I think of the sadness in Rose’s heart; tomorrow I’ll shout to the sky, “Vive le roi!

Well, Eddie, it’s now 3 a.m. and the Jameson has run dry. Soon I’ll settle in to sleep, and I already know what I’ll dream:

We’re all in New Orleans, on Bourbon Street. It’s early morning as the sun rises, but it’s still last night for all of us. This party isn’t ready for a fade-out. All your friends are there. A booming, joyful, 20-piece brass band is blasting and popping as it rounds the corner and joins in, the funk band on a flatbead trailer is groovin’, jugglers weave in and out of the dancers, all in costume. A stilt walker glides along the sidewalk, and before you know it, the crowd has grown ten blocks long. All the music and voices and joy rise as one. And there you are, with Rose at your side and a scepter in the air, leading the parade. That’s how I’ll think of you tonight, Eddie. It’s too hard to say farewell.