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Sunday, March 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Overcast with Haze
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Fame and infamy

Our issue this week contains two large dollops of death. These deaths are far removed historically, but they still abide after 40 and 50 years because, in different ways, they are associated with this place in which we live. To outsiders they are part of our identity and, though they are far in the past, will always be a part of the lore to people who are intrigued by certain things.

It's been 50 years since the horror of Ed Gein was revealed to the world. The village of Plainfield, Wis., hasn't been the same since. If by some chance you've never heard of Gein, I'll allow author Scott Hassett to fill you in with his report, "Our Psycho." He's been fascinated by the story, as has much of Wisconsin and the world, since he was a boy of seven. As a young newspaper reporter he revisited the story 20 years later. As secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the beginning of each deer season would bring it to mind again.

Our other story of death is one of tragedy rather than terror. Otis Redding, a young black singer on the verge of stardom, lost his life when his plane crashed into Lake Monona on Dec. 10, 1967. There is a plaque commemorating the loss on the roof of Monona Terrace. Before Monona Terrace was built it was on the lakefront, and in 1988 I had the opportunity to take members of Booker T. & the MGs, Redding's first backing band at Memphis' Stax records, to visit it.

The band was in Madison to perform in a truncated version of the Festival of the Lakes, an arts event of the day. In those years they tended to tour under the name of the Blues Brothers' Band, leveraging the notoriety gained from their appearance as such in the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd movie of that name. But in the town where Otis Redding died, they were Booker T. & the MGs again.

The story of Otis Redding, "Soul Man," is retold to us by Charles Hughes, a graduate student in history at the UW. He's also a student of American pop music, especially soul and country, and a performing musician in his own right.

Back in '88, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and Booker T. Jones, original members of the band, were appreciative that Madison had not forgotten Redding. The town still hasn't. There are two memorials to him planned: on Monday, Dec. 3, at Monona Terrace, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., and on Thursday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m., at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. More details can be found in the sidebar to the story.

There will be no memorials to Ed Gein.

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