The outpouring of grief from the local music community has been palpable, and Berg's impact was larger than I think he ever knew.
Brian was a close friend for nearly 20 years, and his death has been difficult to believe and understand. I reached out to a number of his friends to share their thoughts and memories. I received so many replies, this piece could have run 50,000 words. Space limitations prevent me from sharing them all, but three things were consistent throughout the responses: Brian was a sweet, loving man, a brilliant musician, and haunted by some personal demons that made his last few years a difficult struggle.
Please click the jump for memories of Brian Berg from those who knew and loved him and his music.
He was a sweet soul and really lovable guy. I knew him from Salem when he and I worked at a record store together and we stayed in touch over the years. He made a lot of music and had many friends in Salem before going to Portland. Brian really was one of the kindest souls. He was always happy to chat and share a joke or two. Such a loss. —John Stephens
Brian and my older brother were best friends growing up. He had a sweet side even as a junior high guy, he was protective of me and my siblings from day one. Brian's talent and creativity with music was noticeable from a very young age. His heart and soul was music. Brian was a dear brother, and friend. He will be missed so by so, so many. His musical talents and heart have left this world a much better place. What could be better than that? —Megan MacTaggart
He always looked out for others in a way he couldn't for himself. He was always, always kind and supportive and enthusiastic about anything anyone else was doing, be it musical or otherwise. I hadn't seen him in over a year when this happened. I didn't know he had lost hope, but I knew he struggled and that living never seemed easy for him. Even when it seemed like it was or "should" have been. And he was open about that. —Susannah Weaver AKA Little Sue
Brian Berg was a nice man. He was a kind man. He was a good player. He heard melodies I had trouble finding. I remember him being ready to work—which was really refreshing. He was as respectful to the session guys as he was to the newcomers to the scene. He had a wonderful ear. He found it easier to listen than to talk sometimes. He was clever and relatable. I will miss him. —Kate Schlippert
He touched and influenced the local music scene incredibly. He was such a big part of me and my crew's musical life. The earliest band I was in, the Watchmen (in which three of us would go on to be in the Dharma Bums—me, Eric Lovre, and Jim Talstra... John Moen and I had a band, Perfect Circle, between Watchmen and Dharma Bums), got our first musical break when I was 14. Brian loved the Watchmen and recorded us. He then went on to give us our first bar bookings opening up for his band in Salem. I loved him and will miss him with all of my heart!!! —Jeremy Wilson
Brian was one of the first musicians that I performed with in Portland and from day one, he was also one of the kindest and most genuine folks that I've ever met in this city. He was a masterful singer, songwriter, and guitar player, a legitimate triple threat! He could rock your ass off and sing a ballad that would make you cry. Brian was a little older than me, so I truly looked up to him as a songwriter and as a human being. His unexpected passing will leave a very big hole in my heart and in our musical community. Everyone loved Brian because he was on of those rare musicians that liked to hear more about what you were doing than talking about his achievements. I think that he was extremely underappreciated and I always thought that he deserved much more acclaim than what he received. The last time that I saw him was at a show at Dante's and we laughed while recalling our crazy days at Satyricon. I care to remember him that way and I really hope that has finally found the peace that he has been looking for. He will be missed and never forgotten by me. —Fernando Vicconte
I was lucky enough to play a few shows with 44 Long shortly after the release of Collect Them All. One was a show for an Octoberfest show; their drummer Cory Burden couldn't do it so Brian asked me if I could. I sat in a van and listened to the songs and played the set without ever rehearsing with them. Brian smiled at me and counted off each song—he was always so kind. I also played SXSW with them around that time. I remember sitting with him at the house I was renting, working on the CD art for Inside the Horse's Head. He kept saying he wasn't "young and cool" like [my band] Pinehurst Kids but I knew he was one of the most beloved and respected songwriters in town. He was practically a legend because he could write so damn well, and play all the instruments. As the years went by I saw him less and less and I heard of his troubles and it made me so sad because when I met him, shared shows with him, he had the world all in his favor. He inspected my house in 2004 before we bought it. He handed me the list and said wryly, "Here is your to-do list for the next 10 years." Damn this is so sad. —Joe Davis
Brian Berg was a unique and talented individual. I’ve known him for at least 25 years. He had a gift to write songs and he wrote a lot of them. His biggest obstacle was trying to figure out what songs to use, whether it was playing live or making an album. I went though a few album planning sessions with him. He would present me with a possible album he had in the works and then a week later, after writing another half-dozen songs, have a different album altogether. He was passionate about the music he wrote and the music he played. It was an extension of his inner self. I remember when David Fricke from Rolling Stone wrote about his first 44 Long album. It was like receiving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for what he loved to do: music. I always believed in Brian’s music and always hoped he would get an opportunity to take it to a larger audience, but it never really happened. For us in Oregon, it just meant we got to see him play more often.
Then was Brian the person. I loved the guy. I had some insanely great conversations with him over the years. Sometimes the demons loved him. I always worried about the demons that surrounded him and hoped he could wrestle the better half of them. Getting an e-mail that Brian is no longer with us was not what I ever wanted to see. I hope wherever he ends up, there are some of his old friends like Kal Tanner and they play music, write songs, and have a great time. —Terry Currier
Brian and I go back to high school years; I put out Collect Them All on my label [Schizophonic Records] back in the day. Over the last few years I had been involved with a number of other local music folks trying to help Berg sort it out and get back on track. Hard work, in that it felt like he'd given up more than once. I've been heartbroken since I heard the news on Saturday afternoon. When my company at the time, CD Forge, was down in Chinatown in the mid-'00s, we'd have a First Thursday party every month. You could always count on Berg to be there, chatting and visiting with everyone. Always a smile no matter how he might have been feeling inside. i've seen him play in so many bands over the years, so many times, and I've never once gotten tired of that singular experience of seeing him play or hearing those many beautiful songs. It's a huge loss for all of his friends and fans. —Mike Jones
Brian was the real deal as a songwriter and total sweetheart. I was so floored by him when he first came on my radar. I started covering "I Fall Off the Wagon" because he articulated something I knew well and it's a lovely song. I remember talking with him about his getting a lot of the critical acclaim I wanted so desperately at a time when the Portland music press pretty much hated me (I imagine they still do). I, on the other hand, could work nationally and pay my bills which is something I think he would have liked more of. I remember we were laughing (or crying) about how it was difficult particularly in Portland to have both. Portland has a way of eating its talent under the auspices of hipster insider knowing winks and vitriolic passive aggressiveness. Too bad, because they should have had a yearly Brian Berg Day. He was that good and that important to Portland music and could have used more public announcements to that effect. I myself am guilty of not being more active in following up on his career and blowing my trumpet about his talent. It seems these type of lessons in loss (of beautiful talented humans) repeat themselves with far too much frequency. I'd toast Brian now, but I tried to learn the lesson of his song and quit falling off the wagon... so sending prayers instead. —Jerry Joseph
I'm writing on behalf of my daughter Bridget. She wanted you to know that Brian Berg left behind a daughter that loved him very much. She is 15 and goes by Bridget Mistkawi Berg. —Ann Mistkawi Gibbons
Now, my turn: I was so blown away the first time I saw 44 Long play, I bought 10 copies of Collect Them All and gave them out as Christmas gifts that year. I dragged friends to shows for years, and they always left fans. I booked him to play some shows with clients, who were always blown away by his kindness and talent. He always had a warm bear hug and kind words for me, and I, in turn, would always ask him, “How’s your daughter?” No matter how he was doing in his life, his face would light up and he would excitedly recall how smart, beautiful, kind, and funny she was, how she was his proudest accomplishment, and how much he loved and adored her, which was obvious to anyone.
While working on this, I came across this story, which introduces quantum physics into the “life after death" discussion. I’d like to think that Brian is aware of how much he is loved and missed, and smiling every time someone plays his music. So if you have a few minutes, please click and play the songs listed below. And turn it up.
(You can hear more of Berg's music at 44long.bandcamp.com.)