Lou and Peter Berryman may well be the only musicians in the world who launched a 30-year musical partnership three years after they divorced.
The Appleton High School classmates were both 20 when they exchanged vows amid the turmoil of the Vietnam War in 1967.
"Peter planned to go to Canada to evade the draft," says Lou. "His mom didn't want him to be alone, so we got married and I went with him.
"When we moved back to Madison in 1974, we realized that we still had some growing up to do and that we needed to be single," she adds.
Perhaps because they were so young and because the circumstances of their marriage were unique, the Berrymans' split was never bitter. They resumed what they'd been doing together since they met in an art class at Appleton High: making music. With Lou on accordion and Peter on guitar, they harmonize on a humorous style of folk music all their own.
Since they launched a weekly gig at Club de Wash in November 1977, the Berrymans' musical quirks have symbolized all the weirdness and wonder of Madison itself. Who else could pull off writing a song about a butter and cheese warehouse fire on Pflaum Road in 1993 ("And the gutter/Ran with butter/And the cheese flowed/All the way to Pflaum Road")?
On Sunday, Oct. 7, the Berrymans will celebrate their 30th musical anniversary with a 6:30 p.m. appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Simply Folk," broadcast live from the seventh floor of UW Vilas Hall. Doors open for the live audience at 5:30 p.m.; listeners at home can tune into 970 AM or 88.7 FM.
When I interviewed the Berrymans outside Michaelangelo's coffeeshop on State Street last week, the events surrounding us seemed like a verse from one of their songs.
A "Jena 6" student protest roared down the street, drowning out our conversation. Local piano star Ben Sidran strolled by, unplugging his iPod from his ears long enough to say hello.
Peter and Lou talked about why they've marked the beginning of their career with the start of their Club de Wash weeklies in '77.
"They didn't have music at all in Club de Wash at that time," explains Peter, "but we knew one of the bartenders, and he convinced [owner] Rodney [Scheel] to give it a try."
"We decided to charge a cover of 25 cents just to make the event seem like something special," adds Lou. "It went so well the first night, Rodney said, 'Let's try this for a while.'"
It kept up for 10 years. At their peak in the early 1980s, the Berrymans played Club de Wash two times per week.
"That forced us to write a lot of new songs," says Peter.
Over 30 years, the Berrymans have been able to keep music as their primary occupation.
"Neither of us has had a full-time job since 1972," says Lou.
They've developed a national following on the folk circuit, with core audiences in California and New England. Last month, they released their 17th recording, titled The Universe: 14 Examples.
"This one is not as much of a word avalanche," says Peter. "As you get older, life gets more complicated, and we had the urge to simplify."
Before the album is over, they manage to give Madison another ironic embrace: "The skyline of Madison beckoning me/I pine for the smokestacks of MG&E."
Happy Anniversary, Lou and Peter. If you ever release your greatest hits, please call it 62 Square Songs Surrounded by Reality.