Two years after college, a terrible tragedy occurred in my life.
I’ve never written about the incident or that day, until now.
I was attending NYU Graduate Film School.
Daniel Klagsbrun and I met in college. He was one of a core group of guys that was about as close to a band of fraternity brothers as one could get at small liberal arts college without a Greek system. Danny and I met sophomore year when we lived next door to each other and our friendship wound up being an essential link in creating a much larger group of friends.
When we graduated, Danny and I both moved to New York, he, because he was born and raised there, me, because I was attending NYU.
It was a Saturday when it happened.
Ironically, that very same day, I met someone else significant in my life, Jaffe Cohen, a local playwright who had come to audition as an actor for a short student film I was producing. Jaffe turned out to be my writing partner for the next 18 years. Even though I could not have anticipated that, it seemed like a day of beginnings, not endings.
The urgency of the work load I was facing at school was starting to get to me. I had committed myself to making a really good movie and was in the process of getting it organized. As much as I wanted to go out with my friend Danny to celebrate his turning 24, a late night out drinking was the last thing I needed to do at that moment.
And so I called Danny and asked if we could celebrate his birthday another night. I would take him out after the shoot.
Danny was gracious and told me not to worry about it and we’d hang later.
It was the last time we ever spoke.
Danny went out with his friends on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to a bar called The Dublin House. The group included 6 guys, one of whom was another “frat brother” from college, Richard Snyder, who was in town from Boston.
The evening went without incident until Danny and the group were getting ready to leave the bar for the night. It was now the wee hours of Sunday morning.
A troublemaker, who had been kicked out of the pub earlier in the evening, was lingering outside the door, and started talking trash to Danny and his friends. A couple comments were exchanged, but nothing happened beyond a verbal back and forth.
My friends turned a corner from 79th street onto Broadway and walked a couple of blocks, when suddenly this guy comes running up behind them and announces, “I’ll take all six of you on right now.” Danny, who is totally non violent, and who had said nothing to this guy prior, stepped forward and indicated they didn’t want to fight. At which point this stranger performed a round house karate kick, connecting with Danny’s neck.
Danny gasped for air and fell to the pavement and the assailant jumped into a car and took off. The group surrounded Danny and quickly realized he was in trouble. They called 911.
Danny was rushed to the hospital and was pronounced brain dead a couple of hours later. His carotid artery had been severed.
This was one of the most profoundly disturbing events of my life. To this day, I still have a voice mail recording Danny left me before going out, saying not to worry about coming out for his birthday and reminding me they were playing football the next morning in Central Park.
Instead of football, I went to the hospital to say goodbye. Danny was taken off of life support 24 hours later.
The reason I am bringing up this tragic story is that a few months ago, I was rummaging through my garage looking for videos of my student films for this website. I came across an old photo of me.
It was a photo taken by Danny when we were in college.
Danny was enrolled in a photography class sophomore year and he asked me to pose for a black and white still. I said, “sure.”
When I saw the photo a lot of memories came flooding back.
I posted the picture on Facebook ...
And that’s when it hit me …
I had been putting together an album of my songs called, “30 Years Unplugged.” It was a compilation of songs I had written and recorded over the course of my life. I had been looking for a photo to put on the cover. Why couldn’t I use a photo of me taken from when I was young? Better yet, wouldn’t it be cool to use a picture taken by my friend Danny?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to do it. The picture was taken in a time of innocence for a creative project. It would mean the world to me to be able to use something creative my friend had produced all those years ago for something creative I was working on now. And it just so happened that the picture was taken the year I wrote my first song, in the very dorm in which I wrote it.
Danny knew I was interested in music as a profession. I’m sure he would be happy to know that his photo would wind up being being the cover of my first album.
I went on line to look up the old newspaper articles about the incident. I wanted to know the exact date Danny died so I could include it in a description of the album cover.
When I saw the date, my blood froze.
The day in the garage I found the photo ... The day I posted it on Facebook ... The day I decided to use the photo for the cover of my album, “30 Years Unplugged.” …
… was 30 years ago to the day Danny died.
Perhaps Danny was whispering in my ear. Maybe my unconscious mind knew what day it was and it was trying to release the long buried pain as an act of healing. I’m not sure …
Whatever it was …