In November of 1993, I was a fresh-faced singer-songwriter -completing my first national tour in New York City. The final performance was to take place at the renowned CB’s Gallery. Road-weary and recovering from the flu, I trudged through the front door of 313 Bowery, hoping to muster the last of my strength for the night ahead. As the door closed behind me, I was enveloped by sound of a most peculiar and unearthly sort. My jaw dropped, literally, as did the guitar I had been carrying. Before me was a trio in full soundcheck; so overwhelming was the song and the exquisite singer, my movement involuntarily halted. This continued until the nearly empty space fell quiet and I remembered why I was there: I was the opener for someone called Jeff Buckley.
After a while, and a few strangers sporadically entered, I began to play. So inspired was I -from the artist to come, I intensely reached for everything I had left -but fell short and exhausted. The audience was small but I really only hoped to impress one young man who impacted me. Sheepishly, I concluded and scurried off the stage in shame, and into the back room where I lamented briefly.
My friend Peter was to play next so I had to emerge into the club but hoped to do so inconspicuously through the narrow passage. I was about half way when Jeff appeared walking in the opposing direction. I looked to the ground with the intention to slip by without eye-contact. I thought I had, but a second later, I felt arms around me. I heard Jeff say: “that was incredible” as he lifted me . In an instant, he became like a loving big brother. He later explained: “there’s beauty in the struggle”…
Mid-set, Peter had decided that there was a small enough audience to unplug, move to the bar, and continue unamplified. He asked: “Brad, Jeff, will you sing with me on this?” and then began to play Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing”. We traded verses, counterpointed, and harmonized; and it was good.
Three months later I saw Jeff again on a stark and snowy night at a tiny Uncommon Ground cafe on Chicago’s North side. There was camaraderie among us few in attendance as we kept each other warm. With the background sounds of steamed milk, the smells of espresso, the window panes were gradually painted white. -All were enchanted by our chanteur -there against the display of desserts.
Jeff and I became friends over the next years, occasionally visiting -in each other’s cities; sometimes it was planned and sometimes by providence. Our conversations spanned all subjects and he never failed to provide encouragement. On this anniversary of his birth and on the anniversary of our meeting 23 years ago, I remain like the faithful and loving younger brother.
I wrote a song that fateful spring of 97, originally titled is “File” (feel-uh), which is a Gaelic word meaning vision poet. Jeff saw things and said things that still influence me today. In his words: “It’s, Never, Over”.