Eric Gary Barnes thought his first name sounded too much like “ear ache” for his liking. So he chose Edgar Burn, a name that stuck for his work on stage, among friends and around Mankato.
To a growing cadre of Mankato-area folks touched by his humor, hard work and generosity, what this father, musician, skateboarder and artist called himself was less important than what he was: Their friend.
Burn, 49, died March 30 at his home in Eagle Lake after battling pancreatic and liver cancer for nine years. Rather than be defined by illness, he worked, smiled and laughed in the face of most of what life threw at him, said longtime friend Scott “Chuck” Rodriguez.
“His positivity was just incredible,” Rodriguez said of the friend he first met more than 30 years ago while skateboarding. They would drive together each week to Rochester, where Burn would receive treatment. It was seldom a serious drive. Rather, it was filled with laughter and jokes. Jokes about life. Jokes about cancer and, sometimes, about dying. Of course, with two best friends who met in high school, there were even a few fart jokes.
“Not that long ago, he said to me, ‘Don’t let anyone think I’m dying of cancer. I’m living with cancer,’ ” Rodriguez said.
Live he did.
He was a punk rock drummer who assembled his own kit using barrels and scrap metal. A graduate of Mankato West High School, he studied aviation mechanics in Eden Prairie and lived and worked in Minneapolis for a time before returning to the Mankato area, where he worked as a mechanic in Eagle Lake. A lover of art and music, he volunteered as a Friday night host for years on KMSU radio with the Minnesota Music Network and later launched the Midwest Art Catalyst to raise money for the creative arts in Mankato.
A post-holiday, chase-away-the-blues party he and Rodriguez organized morphed into a benefit a year later — after Burn was diagnosed with cancer. He was so moved by the generosity of those who contributed to his care that Burn decided to keep the party going for nearly a dozen years, using it to raise money for a variety of other causes. It was a way to pay it forward, Rodriguez said.
Burn’s girlfriend, Tatum Roberts, met him five years ago on a February Wednesday night as he played pool at the Oleander Saloon in Mankato. Drawn to the guy with a black leather jacket, black stocking cap, piercing blue eyes and an “awesome smile,” she said he had a quiet way of drawing people to him. It was later she learned he’d been living with cancer for several years.
“In the five years we were together, you would have never known he was sick,” she said. “He lived his life every single day as if he wasn’t sick. And that’s what I believe kept him alive.”
He even received chemotherapy while playing shows.
Tim Lind, who attended Mankato West with Burn and also hosts a radio show at KMSU, said Burn always supported local bands and musicians. A percussionist for Rythmaplex, Burn was at the radio station the week he passed away, arranging details for this year’s post-holiday extravaganza.
“He created this baby and it was just a really personal thing,” Lind said.
Said Roberts: “There was just something about him.”
Burn is survived by his daughters, Ella and Calista Barnes; his parents, Marlene and Roger Barnes; brothers, Randy, Marcus and Bradley Barnes; his girlfriend, Roberts, and many extended family and friends.