Sad news on Tuesday in Seattle, Athens and around the world wherever anyone was lucky enough to know Bill Rieflin. I adored him as an extraordinary musician, a complete gentleman and a gentle soul. And a true friend to his fellow travelers.
Bill was a lifer, an accomplished musician known for his work with Ministry, Robert Fripp, the Blackouts, King Crimson and many other artists. The time I knew him was all too brief: from 2003, when he joined up with the R.E.M. circus for three worldwide tours (2003, 2005 and 2008) and three coda-in-retrospect albums, Around the Sun, Accelerate and Collapse Into Now, until 2010, when it was essentially done, the ongoing R.E.M. chapter of things.
Many other people, including these fine folks, have written personal reflections from their musical brotherhood together:
Each of those tributes are worth reading and I got emotional on them all. No wonder those guys were such a force on the road: they were really good, and they are good, people and band.
My reflections are different because my role was different and my brain works differently: so I just have 2 quick glimpses of Bill at the top of my memory bank to offer here for now:
- (One of the things I most looked forward to back in the touring days was a night off and a random small dinner including Bill. Nobody was a better companion for a couple of hours of food and wine and conversation, a calm and reassuring presence amidst the relentless motion and restlessness of the travel and the noise. Whatever the occasion, small or large, joyous, normal or obligatory, you hoped Bill would be at any dinner, whenever possible). My own favorite dinner memory with Bill was early in the 2008 summer/fall tour of Europe: it was a Monday night off in Prague and Mike, Scott, Bill and I went to the beautiful concert hall on the river to hear a performance in the Dvorak festival which was on that same week. In fact during the intermission, a few of the classical musicians were out in the lobby area and were happy to see Mike, Bill and Scott there to enjoy their show since many of them were planning to come to the R.E.M. show the next night across town. Afterwards, the four of us walked across the bridge and went to a small, cloistered seafood restaurant where the window on one wall was at the water level of the river. Just the 4 of us, enjoying a quiet, late dinner together, happy for an “early night,” random conversation about whatever, feeling lucky to be alive and there that moment before whatever tomorrow would bring.
- (As gentle as he was as a friend and a travel mate, Bill was a hell of a musician and with R.E.M. a hell of a drummer: never overplaying, always a perfectionist— whatever the song needed, that’s what Bill did). Playing-wise, my favorite Bill memory was after the first of the five 2007 shows of the Dublin Olympia residency, when afterwards, just offstage, still cooling off and toweling down, an exhausted and spent Bill exclaimed something along the lines of “Damn, I never realized how FAST those early songs were!.” The guys all shared a laugh. In those days he also suffered patiently through my constant enthusiasm for his playing on the new rocker Horse To Water with my “joke” about “more cowbell.” (I don’t think he liked cowbells).
To me, Bill Rieflin was a rock, an anchor, a wit, always a constant, steady, elegant presence amongst whatever the drama and daily storms of the road– and while he played the hell out of the drums he somehow possessed an inner peace we all aspire to. He was touched by grace, as I guess we all are, but you really felt it with Bill. Wherever he is now, I am happy I knew him, appreciated him and learned from him. He was a good guy and we miss him.
Photo off my screen from the making of the film 6 Days by Vincent Moon and Jeremiah, in the studio in Athens, 2007.