Out of the blue

Someone with whom I once shared a tight friendship recently passed away from brain cancer. He was 53. In the late Nineties and early ‘Aughts, we made music of which I am proud, but we’d had a falling out in 2003, and had not spoken again. Because he lived in Brooklyn, our paths never crossed, and I did not seek him out, or Google him in the ensuing years. Two mutual Facebook friends posted that he’d died, and the algorithm let me know.

The news hit me hard, even though we’d long since checked out of each other’s lives. The friendship had been an intense one – he was an intense, charismatic guy – and represented a lot to me. He and I met in 1997, introduced by one of my dearest friends, my son’s godfather, who would die tragically in 2006. My wife Holly was pregnant in ‘97, and the chapter of my life that would be earmarked “Fatherhood” was just beginning.

Following Jack’s birth, I established a schedule. After a day spent being hyper-responsible with my infant son, if I wasn’t serving drinks at the Beauty Bar, I would leave my boy with his mother and steal away to my friend’s Chelsea apartment. Even though I usually abstained from weed, we would get high, drink Rolling Rock, listen to albums with expanded ears, laugh and commiserate about non-parenthood things. I was letting off steam, still allowing myself to dream big. This generated a lot of energy, which made that Chelsea apartment glow. We created bluesy, funky music, and he recorded it. He was a great producer. Of all the recordings I’ve made over the decades, the stuff we laid down in his apartment is among my favorite, sonically speaking.

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In this man’s presence, I was able to believe the musician life I’d long envisioned, of fans, tours, and some kind of stardom, was still possible, even as I entered my mid-thirties. My friend and I worked diligently towards that fantasy. Tapping into his will was intoxicating. I now count him as one of the handful of extremely willful males under whose sway I’ve allowed myself to fall, for good and for ill.

In the midst of sadness over his death, I’m nevertheless pleased I introduced him to his longtime companion, who I’d met in 1985, and with whom I’d had a history and some adventures. I now gather she loved and cared for him, and was deeply loved in return.

When I read that he’d died, I searched what we’d called “the web” to see what he’d been up to, to his social media, his LinkedIn, the company he’d been working for. His had been a rich life, and for that I’m glad, and not surprised. He had quite the appetite, and was intent on satisfying his various hungers, which I admire.

I reached out to mutual friends for details. It was a heartbreaking story. Any rancor from our falling out – which was pretty dramatic – has long since dissipated; as news of his death sinks in, I mourn him, and the entity that was our friendship. Although long vanished from this plane, that relationship retains shape and contour and resonance somewhere inside me, and beyond me.

I am not alone in these longings and feelings of connection beyond the time-space continuum. The day after I found out he’d died, a mutual Brooklynite friend who’d been in our band texted out of the blue to say she was in the area with her dog and did I want to get together? She and I had not seen each other in 18 years, and had only been in intermittent social-media contact. She’d also had an irreparable falling out with our recently deceased friend.

I assumed she was calling to inform me of the sad news. She wasn’t. She hadn’t even known he’d been ill. I broke it to her. She said he had been on her mind, strangely enough. We talked about him – we both have stories aplenty – and made plans to walk the blacktop the following day, which is today.

Today: a simple, two-syllable word that is quite suddenly the biggest word in my vocabulary.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.