Paulie Heenan was looking forward to "lighting this town up."
That's what the musician and sound engineer told his friend Mark Whitcomb in a text message late Thursday night, after visiting Whitcomb's recording studio, DNA Music Labs, on Winnebago Street. Heenan helped install wiring in the studio in 2001, Whitcomb says. He went on to serve as a recording engineer there, making records for bands including Shotdown and Solid Gold, and playing guitar in such local outfits as Monovox and the Pull. Heenan moved from Madison to New York City about eight years ago, Whitcomb says. He recently moved back to Madison and started to work with Whitcomb again.
Early Friday morning, Whitcomb learned that Heenan, 30, had been shot dead in an altercation with a Madison police officer. Police called the incident on the 500 block of South Baldwin Street a burglary in progress. Others have said it was a misunderstanding and a mistake, that Heenan simply walked up to the wrong house on his way home.
The tragedy involves another man who's lent his enthusiasm to Madison music over the years. The man who shot Heenan, Officer Steve Heimsness, is friendly with many local musicians. He is an avid supporter of Madison bands, including the Motorz and Brown Derby, and sometimes plays guitar and sings at the Sunday-night open mic at Mickey's Tavern. Heimsness and the other officer at the scene, Stacy Troumbly, have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings. Heimsness has been an MPD officer since 1997 and serves as treasurer for the local police union, the Madison Professional Police Officers Association.
It's not clear whether the two men knew each other, but their shared love of local performers makes Friday's incident doubly upsetting for Madison's music community.
Before MPD released the officer's name Sunday, it was heartbreakingly clear just how much Heenan meant to his neighbors and fellow musicians. Members of the Hometown Sweethearts, for whom Heenan served as a sound man, honored him by playing a scheduled gig Friday night at the Crystal Corner Bar. Band members Scott Beardsley, Chris Boeger and Nate Palan released a statement, calling Heenan "a sweet, caring and talented guy who would go out of his way to help everyone he knew" and "an indispensable part of many of the musical projects we've been involved in over the past 10 years."
"There was a larger turnout of folks that were just kind of shocked about the whole situation and needed to be somewhere and be with people and talk about it," Palan says of Friday's show at the Crystal. "Our band is typically an upbeat band, and I think people came out hoping to have their spirits lifted a little bit, at least for the time being."
Drummer David Skogen, who attended Oregon High School with Heenan, wrote in from France, where he is currently on tour with Youngblood Brass Band: "Even in high school, it was obvious that Paulie was possessed of a musical enthusiasm that was infectious and did everything he could to encourage that kind of enthusiasm in those around him."
"He was gentle, sweet, funny, abhorred violence, loved Wisconsin, loved rock 'n' roll, hated negativity," Skogen added. "It absolutely could not have happened to a more wrong person."
Local musicians' outpouring of grief only highlights how inseparable musical relationships are from friendships in this town. Whitcomb says the first DNA Studios recording project Heenan helmed -- after assisting Whitcomb on many -- was Sharp Steel Pinafore, an album by singer Amelia Royko Maurer. Heenan had recently moved into a Baldwin Street home with Maurer and her family. Whitcomb says Heenan and Maurer had recently begun making music together again. Maurer declined to comment for this story on Monday.
When Heenan recorded bands, he went out of his way to get to know them outside of the studio. "He would go to their rehearsals, and forge a relationship and help make the record that way," Whitcomb says. Recently, he was working at DNA to record a local band called Thee Rule.
"Typical Paulie, he would go to their rehearsals two times a week to help them prepare," Whitcomb adds. "He was really excited about it."
Between 2003 and 2004, Heenan worked with electro-rockers Solid Gold, joining the band for a while and engineering their Out of Your Mind EP. The band has since moved from Madison to the Twin Cities. "He really helped bring all of our ideas together and we really developed our sound while we were working with him," member Matt Locher says. "He was incredible at guitar, singing and keyboards." Locher also recalled having Heenan along on a short tour in 2004. While driving through Indiana, Heenan spotted a coyote on the side of the road and joked about picking it up, starting a running in-joke about the band having a pet coyote.
Musicians who know Heimsness don't presume to know what happened Friday. They've been quiet online, out of respect for those grieving over Heenan's death. Still, the incident hasn't stopped them from thinking of Heimsness as a friend.
Adam Schabow of Madison and Milwaukee band the Shabelles knew Heenan a little, and has become good friends with Heimsness over the past few years. He refuses to speculate on what happened Friday morning, but calls Heimsness a friendly, funny man who's been "very supportive" of local music. In September, Schabow and Heimsness sat down at Mickey's Tavern to discuss collective bargaining and the Capitol Police's recent enforcement actions against protesters, for Schabow's political video series, Rants Without Pants. Schabow says he has not heard from Heimsness since Friday's shooting.
Local media have focused less on Heimsness' music connections than on his involvement in previous incidents. The State Journal reported that Heimsness was suspended for 15 days without pay in 2001, for firing his gun at a car in the Lake Street parking ramp. In 2010, Isthmus' Bill Lueders reported on an investigation into a 2006 incident in which Heimsness was accused of using excessive force on a suspect at State Street Brats. An internal investigation later cleared Heimsness.
Bars like Mickey's and the Crystal Corner are not just hangouts for Heimsness, but also part of his beat. "There are several bartenders who have gotten to know him, and we're all feeling just sick about this, as none of us can wrap our heads around it," says Liz Granby, a bartender who books music acts at Mickey's. "I know [Heimsness] mostly on a professional level, as he has been on duty and responded multiple times when Mickey's has had to call the police for various problems over the years."
Friday's shooting presents many unknowns and unimaginable grief for those close to Heenan. But one thing is clear: It happened to a man whose friendship and love of music left a profound impact on Madison.
A visitation for Heenan will be held Tuesday, Nov. 13 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Cress Funeral Home, 3610 Speedway Road. A memorial service will take place at 6 p.m. Heenan's obituary requests that donations be made in his name to the Oregon High School Orchestra.