Similar to the other 3,542 Facebook friends Jon Bunch had, yesterday I learned through social media that the former Reason to Believe, Sense Field and Further Seems Forever singer had passed away.
I read the post, then re-read the post, thinking it couldn't be true. I had been awake since far too early, sitting at the Long Beach airport, waiting for a flight that was delayed three hours. This was about me, not Bunch. There was no way he was dead. A guy like that, so full of tenderness, a powerful, booming voice, who had been fairly active on Facebook as recent as Jan. 25 — that guy couldn’t be dead. Surely, it was my too-tired mind that couldn’t understand properly what I was reading.
Sadly, it wasn’t me or my mind. The comments began to appear and soon it was clear that it was true — Jon Bunch had died.
I don’t know how he passed, nor do I care. What I do care about is that at age 36, after nearly two decades as a music journalist, I might not be here if it weren't for Bunch.
Two decades ago, I didn’t know anything about being a reporter. But I loved Sense Field’s 1996 record Building (and everything else they had done), so when my friend Travis invited me to go to the band’s El Segundo rehearsal space to interview them, I agreed. In my mind, seeing them practice was the equivalent of a private show — and if having to ask them questions was what got me into that private show, then ask questions I would.
If I try hard enough, I can scroll through the mental snapshots of that practice. Travis and I sitting against the wall, the drummer watching us as we watched him. Bunch singing with both hands on the microphone, arms tucked into his chest, as if the words coming from his mouth were gospel. His body elongated when he sang and an already tall man grew in physical size. He filled that room with presence, emotion and grace.
It’s hard to wow an introverted, mad-at-the-world, 19-year-old kid. But he did. Just like his voice on record, Jon Bunch grabbed me and forced me to take note. This was one special dude.
Bunch and the rest of Sense Field were polite upon our arrival, but they didn’t say much. Which was fine. For me, this was a private show. For them, this was a midweek band practice.
Between rehearsal and the interview (which took place in a car, Bunch and Sense Field guitarist Chris Evenson sitting up front, Travis and me in the back, the tape recorder on the armrest), the four of us stopped at a Coffee Bean. I was a very new coffee drinker, so intentionally I let everyone in my party get ahead of me in line, because I didn’t know what to order. I watched as Bunch and Evenson approached the cashier like pros and I, as always at that age, felt awkward, out of place and afraid of looking like a phony.
I ordered a hot mocha, my reason being that I liked chocolate and the word “mocha” made me sound like I knew what I was doing inside a coffee shop. I didn’t know what I was doing in a coffee shop, which might explain why I ordered and then just sort of stood there, unaware that I’d be receiving my drink down the counter from the cashier. And had it not been for Bunch, I’d probably still be standing there.
“Hey, Ryan,” he said through a crowd of approximately five people. I looked up and saw him smiling at me, a look on his face that suggested he was happy to be there, happy to be alive. No reason. Just happy.
As I approached, he looked at me and said, “What’d ya get?”
I’ve interviewed hundreds — maybe even upwards of a thousand — people in my career and I’ve never forgotten this moment. Not because of what he said but how he said it. His words were sincere, like he actually cared what a kid he’d met that night had ordered at the Coffee Bean. Sadly, it was an emotional bond with which I was unfamiliar, particularly with strangers and even more particularly with strangers who sang in bands I really enjoyed.
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This brief encounter not only made me feel at ease during our interview but gave me the confidence to ask questions to anyone. If I had to trace one exact moment when I felt like I became a real journalist, waiting for a mocha with Jon Bunch is it.
I don’t use the word “hate” often and — based on the positivity he so often sang about — I imagine it’s one Bunch wasn’t fond of. However, I hate that I’m telling this story this way on this day. We’ve been Facebook friends for long enough that I could have told him what sort of impact he made, not just on my career but on my life. I wish I had told him this story, about how a totally innocuous, throw-away question impacted me beyond three little words. It wasn’t anything, really. But it meant everything.