A friend recently asked me if I’d heard of Jeff Buckley or his disc, Grace. I thought I’d share my response to her, since it’s been ages since I’ve told this:
I was born in the early 70s (1970 to be exact). I would consider Jeff Buckley to have been my generation’s John Lennon. Grace was the soundtrack to my courtship with Laurel in the summer of ’94. We saw his last Toronto performance in the summer of ’95 at the Danforth Music Hall. I so very badly wanted to play drums in his band, which, being based in NYC, would geographically have been a difficult task for me. That, and him already having a drummer.
I had heard in the spring of ’96 that his regular drummer had quit the group after an Australian tour. Word was that there had been a replacement, but that it hadn’t work out. Over the Hallowe’en weekend later that year, I was in NYC visiting one of my best friends that I played in a band with, who had recently moved there. In fact, this friend of mine, Dave, was the fellow that introduced me to Buckley’s work. He was playing in a few projects with his NYC friends and we all decided to get a rehearsal room in the East Village the Saturday night I was there. As we were walking to the studio, Dave’s friend Ty, who lives in the East Village, had mentioned that the last time he was at this studio that he ran into Iggy Pop. Needless to say, some name musicians rehearsed there.
After playing for a few hours, we decided to pack it up and head back to Ty’s place for some beer, pizza and pinball (l’ll explain the pinball thing some other time). We went out to the front desk to settle the tab to find Jeff Buckley sitting behind the desk. (?!?!?) He quietly said that he was just watching the place for a minute while the usual guy was running a quick errand. I was speechless! Here he was at arm’s length and I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
The bill was settled; we were getting ready to head out, as not everyone in our party knew or cared who he was. My friend Dave teased me about being a star struck little girl (the bastard). Buckley got up from the desk and walked into the rehearsal room next door to the one we’d just finished playing in. My first thought was that he must have heard my playing from next door at some point during the evening. I was just about to follow him in when the band started up behind the closed door. And yes, there was a drummer playing.
On the walk back to Ty’s place, my friend and travel companion Terry, who, like Dave, is my other best friend from the same band, kept bugging me to go back and speak to Buckley about getting an audition. He kept driving home the point that if I didn’t do something that I’d regret it for the rest of my life. When we got back to Ty’s place, I phoned the studio and left a message at the desk for Buckley to call me.
During the next couple of hours, Ty’s phone rang quite frequently, as an impromptu party had begun and people had to phone up to be buzzed into his building. Each time the phone rang, my blood went cold. After sometime, I stopped hearing the phone ring. I figured Buckley would have gotten the message and thought “who the hell’s Gord?”, crumpled it up and tossed it.
Over the din of the party, Ty calls out “Gord, the phone’s for you!” I almost went into shock. No one else knew to call me here. Buckley and I spoke very briefly. I explained that I’d been playing in the room next door to him earlier in the evening and asked if he was still looking for a drummer. He said that he had most likely found one. I thanked him for calling me back and we hung up. My heart sank.
The following May in Memphis, Buckley disappeared while wading in the Wolf River, just off the Mississippi, and was presumed to have drowned. I was devastated all the while that he was missing, hoping that it was all some kind of publicity stunt. I knew that it wasn’t. I even went so far as looking up the club he’d been playing a stream of Monday nights and speaking with the folks there, figuring they’d hear anything before the media did. They found his body on June 4, the day after my 27th birthday.
I met Buckley’s mother, Mary, while she was in town years later promoting a live CD of his, compiled from tapes of his last tour. I recounted my NYC meeting with her son and how Grace had been the CD I fell in love with my wife to. She was very pleased to hear that. At the time, Laurel was about four months pregnant with our first child. Mary seemed especially pleased to hear this.
In the winter of 2001, we were visiting my parents in Singapore. Elliot was two months old at the time. Dream Brother, a biography on Tim and Jeff Buckley by David Browne, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, had just come out and was my travel reading material. Late one night, still suffering from jet lag, I came upon a passage about Buckley finding his replacement drummer, Parker Kindred, on Hallowe’en ’96. I nearly jumped up and down in the late night quiet of my parent’s condo screaming “I was there! I was there!” Instead, I had a cup of tea, settled down with my new, sleeping family and eventually drifted off to the land of dreams and hope.