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 left the group after an Australian tour, and I was under the impression that there had been a temporary replacement. Over the Hallowe’en weekend later that year, I was in NYC visiting one of my best friends, Dave, with whom I’d played with in the band Substack, who had moved there the previous year. Dave was the one that introduced me to Buckley’s Grace shortly before I met Laurel. He was playing in a few projects with his NYC friends, and the Saturday night I was there, we all decided over dinner to get a rehearsal room in the East Village and make some noise. As we were walking to the rehearsal studio, our friend Ty, who lives in the East Village, had mentioned that the last time he was at this rehearsal studio Iggy Pop was there. 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 Buckley sitting behind the desk. (whaaaa?) He let us know that he was just watching the desk for a moment while the usual guy was running a quick errand. I was speechless. Here was Jeff Buckley at arm’s length, and I couldn’t think of a thing to say to him.
With our group’s bill settled, we were getting ready to head out, as not everyone in our party knew who Buckley was. 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 the past couple of hours. My first thought: he must have heard my playing from next door at some point during the evening. I was working up the nerve to follow him in when the band started up behind the closed door. There was a drummer playing with the band.
On the walk back to Ty’s place, my friend and travel companion, Terry, who, like Dave, is my other best friend from Substack, kept bugging me to go back and speak to Buckley about getting an audition. During the rest of our walk, he kept saying that if I didn’t go back there, or do something, I’d regret it the rest of my life. When we got back to Ty’s place, I worked up the nerve to phone the rehearsal studio and left a message at the desk for Buckley to call me.
During the next couple of hours, Ty’s phone rang frequently, as an impromptu Saturday night gathering at his place had begun, and visitors had to phone up to be buzzed into his building. For the next hour or so, each time the phone rang, my ears perked up and I panicked. Over the next while, enthralled with conversation (and beer), I no longer paid attention any time the phone rang, thinking Buckley would have gotten the message and thought, “I don’t know any Gord”.
Over the din of the party, Ty calls out “Gord! Phone for you!” An icy sensation washed over me. No one else knew to call me here. I took the phone to a quiet-ish spot in the loft, and spoke briefly with Buckley. After exchanging pleasantries, I explained that I was visiting from Toronto, and had been playing in the room next door to him earlier in the evening, and asked if he was still looking for a drummer. He politely said that he had already found a drummer. Still somewhat star-struck and not knowing what else to say, I thanked him for calling me back, and we ended our call. My racing heart gradually returned to a somewhat regular pace as I rejoined the party, confirming, “Yep, he called me back.”
The following late 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 looked up the club he’d been playing a string of Monday night solo shows and spoke with the folks there, figuring they might’ve heard something before it was in the media. A few days later, on June 4, the day after my 27th birthday, they found his body.
I met Buckley’s mother, Mary, while she was in Toronto years later promoting a live CD of his, compiled from tapes of his last tour. I recounted my NYC story of speaking with her son, and how Grace had been the soundtrack to which I fell in love with my wife. She was pleased to hear this. 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, who were living in Singapore at the time. Our son, Elliot, was two months old. Dream Brother, a biography on Tim and Jeff Buckley by David Browne, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, had recently been published 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.