The Courage, The Strength, The Grace.
His majestic voice and entrancing songs have inspired legions of modern-day artists; a truly remarkable and singular human being. I investigate the incredible legacy of one of the music world’s greatest ever lights.
IT is hard to believe that Grace was released twenty years ago now…
I shall go into more depth about its release (and the year 1994) later on, but I guess that is the wonder of enduring music- it seems fresh and current, so long after its release. For me, Jeff Buckley (or Scottie Moorhead to give his birth name) is a unimpeachable icon- and my all-time music idol. Buckley is the musician that resonates most in my heart; a human I relate to and understand. Although he died seventeen years ago (this year), I still think about him every day: strange given we never even met. Watching and listening to various interviews, I always sit and sigh; his voice is so mellifluous and calming, it is hard not to become seduced. The way he spoke about music; his idols and influences; what it meant to him- it is something you do not hear often in the modern climate. In a capricious music industry, tastes and trends change; ‘idols’ are almost disposable, and fickleness mandates critical minds. Buckley seemed like a pure drop of sound in the ocean: few musicians have ever seemed so genuinely in awe of music and what it can do to a human being. When trying to distil the essence of Buckley into a single thought or semblance, it is impossible- vast and layered is his influence. I guess my opening paragraph is dedicated to one core responsibility: to offer thanks to the man. Buckley was-and is- the reason I picked up a pen (to write my first song). As a man (whom experienced much heartache and setback) his tenacity and focus is an awe-inspiring tapestry that has guided me past some tough times. His voice gives me shivers, and compels me to bend, mould and nurture my own- in quest for perfection that will never be realised. As a human, Buckley remains a relatable and down-to-earth figure whom resonates hugely with many; as a voice and musician (in my mind) he is untouchable. Many have tried to mimic and match the legend (I will touch more on this later), yet none have equalled him, and with good reason: his originality and talent are his and his alone. I know there will be some reading this- if any are reading at all- whom are familiar with Buckley’s back catalogue; some whom are intimately enamoured of his every move- and some unaware of the U.S. icon’s glorious- if brief- career. I shall do my best to fill in any blanks; reignite something in those (whom may have a dusty copy of Grace in their C.D. collection); as well as pay tribute to one of the most important- and underrated- musicians of the past twenty-or-so years.
In November, 1966, Jeff Buckley arrived into the world. Born to Mary Guibert and Tim Buckley in California, the star-in-waiting’s embryonic years were fraught with upheaval as well as musical influence. Tim Buckley- for those unaware of his name- was a key name in the music world during the 1960s and ’70s. His albums were paragons of Folk purity, free jazz experimentation- as well as Sex Funk sweat. Buckley senior’s voice was a multi-octave instrument of pure force; something that scored some remarkable songs and fascinating movements. He went on to make nine (studio) albums, and inspire a wave of enamoured and inspired musicians- each impressed by Buckley’s fierce talent and prolific output. Although the quality of Buckley’s albums varied, and in spite of the fractious relationship between him and his son, you cannot deny: fathering Jeff Buckley was his greatest triumph. Tim Buckley died (from a heroin overdose) in 1975 (aged 28; Jeff Buckley was an eight-year-old at the time), and abandoned Jeff when he was a child. The bond between Jeff and Tim Buckley was non-existent; our feature-ee did not consider Tim to be his dad at all. The Buckley household was awash with various genres and styles of music- peaking our icon’s mind from a tender age. The family (Jeff, his mum and step-dad Ron Moorhead) moved between various towns in Orange County- it was a nomadic and dislocated upbringing. The one stable constant in Buckley’s childhood years was music; from U.K. acts such as Queen, Led Zeppelin and The Who, through to U.S. legends such as Nina Simone and Kiss. Physical Graffiti (by Led Zeppelin) was the first L.P. Buckley bought (and fell in love with), and amidst a turbulent and anxious period of his life, music offered a sanctuary and safe haven. Buckley attended music school, yet considered it a huge waste of time- his talent was a birth right, and could not be taught or improved upon. Buckley’s instincts and upbringing enforced his music ideologies and ambitions, and it was the sounds he grew up on- not the teachings of any academy or college- that moulded the star. Buckley’s climb to prominence had humble beginnings. In his teenage years, the American played in various different bands- performing gigs in a range of hotels, bars and locations. Dividing his time between L.A. and New York, Buckley was initiated to new and fresh sounds and forms of music- yet in terms of performing, started out as a backing singer. One of Buckley’s first public appearances was signing at a tribute concert to his father (in New York in 1991), yet it was not until a few months later things started to really click- and begin an extraordinary trajectory. Collaborating with Gary Lucas, the two worked on songs (which would feature on Grace) including Mojo Pin and Grace. No longer was our hero a loner; no more was he a backing singer- he was finding his feet in the spotlight and starting to set tongues wagging. Towards late-1991/early-1992 a transformative (and elemental) period of Buckley’s life began: performing around Lower Manhattan and East Village in New York. It was not huge venues and arenas that were being charmed, but small and intimate cafes and bars. I shall expand more on Buckley’s interpretive talents and the importance of Sin-é (a small Irish café in East Village), but that moment and that tiny café seemed like Buckley (perhaps first) natural home. Buckley himself has some particular views on his itinerant travelogue: “Moving to the East coast from California was the most extreme and successful self-rescue operation I’d ever implemented. Otherwise I was going to rot from the inside. It was do or die. I’ve always done music, been in bands, but at the time I was staring at the walls, with no hope and no confidence”. It was here (in New York) that his formative moments were consecrated and gilded; it was here that many had the fortune of witnessing a young man, at the start of a wonderful career. A lot of various components and elements went into shaping and moulding a truly extraordinary musician.
I shall take you inside Sin-é shortly, but want to give you some lead-in. Buckley did not merely rock up to the café one day, ready-made and complete- his influences and music collection was a vital composite. I have touched upon some of the acts which peaked Buckley’s (young) mind- but it only tells part of the tale. When many think of Buckley, it is perhaps his voice that is the most synonymous facet. To me, anyway, I feel that this is our hero’s calling card. Buckley’s voice is something that he worked hard to foster, yet also influenced and shaped by his musical heroes. In many interviews, Edith Piaf and Nina Simone have been cited as major idols. As well as Led Zeppelin (and Robert Plant), the likes of Morrissey and Van Morrison featured highly in Buckley’s regards- helped to add additional colour and imperialism to his treasured pipes. Diverse artists such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Judy Garland, Bad Brains and Elton John were important too- the combination of all these disparate and wide-ranging musicians left their mark. When analysing Buckley’s voice in pure terms, it is hard to explain. There have been several artists (since his death) whom have tried to evoke some of Buckley’s essence (I shall highlight this towards the end of the feature), yet in the early ’90s, Buckley gorgeous and rarefied tones were certainly not commonplace: few male vocalists had the same capacity or ability as our hero: He was a tenor capable of reaching a falsetto pitch. A tenor’s range in the bass clef spans middle C to high F. Jeff’s actual range was four octaves. A student from the University of Queensland studied Buckley’s voice; and came to the following conclusions: “Jeff Buckley was a light lyric tenor. His very different registers were blended marvellously. His chest, voice, and head voice were perfectly integrated. His falsetto was good, too, and his fluctuating between falsetto and head voice is something most singers are very jealous of. His tessitura (or comfortable singing range) was between E below middle C, which he often started verses on- (“Grace”, “Lover …”, “Last Goodbye”), and the notes D right above middle C and F# just above that- in most of his choruses. He also used his high A frequently. A typical lyric tenor tessitura. In other words, to the unacquainted, the same range as Pavarotti. Except, Jeff was very fond of the alto register, which he would exploit in falsetto, or coordinated head voice (a fuller, wailing type of voice). His lowest note was on a live version of “Dream Brother” (on the Australian Grace album pack- it must have been the weather!) and it was the second A below middle C — this is quite low for a high tenor voice. He loved to wail in head voice on the high E, which he did on half the songs on Grace, but mysteriously stopped doing them on Sketches. He could sing in an alto range quite effectively- check out “Strange Fruit” on the “Man in the Moon” session — breath-taking; or the Edith Piaf cover on Live at Sin-é”. Buckley never really mentioned his voice, and was always modest about its genius. As much as his idols helped to shade his tones, a natural ability and instinct made it what it was. Buckley explained by saying that “there is no ‘good’ singing, there’s only ‘present’ and ‘absent.’ That’s it—it’s the balls. Just the utter deathlessness, fearlessness… What really fuels your art is the courage to express yourself, and just, sometimes you get kicked in the nuts for it“. Before I open the doors of New York’s aforementioned Irish café, I want to mention Buckley’s song writing. In interviews- with self-deprecating humour- Buckley claimed he did not really know how to write songs- in a conventional manner. Often dreams and poems would influence songs and movements- our hero was not a fan of the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. He was enamoured and impassioned by words; seeing song writing as a deeply personal thing. Buckley explained song writing, thus: “Your thought is your right, your art is your right. You are allowed to invent and explore your song. You are allowed to make it real through your concentration and hold onto your gift, man, and let go… I daydream thinking about great songwriters. I was brought up with all these different influences—Nina Simone, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Patti Smith—people who showed me music should be free, should be penetrating, should carry you“. The original semblances Buckley was compiling around 1991/2 were filled with romantic declaration, and paeans to cherished love. The young man was experimenting and finding what he had to offer as a songwriter. Buckley had views when it came to ‘sensitive’ song writing, and expressing himself this way: “Sensitivity isn’t about being wimpy. It’s about being so painfully aware that a flea landing on a dog is like a sonic boom As Buckley was ready to bring his songs to East Village, everything was going t change for him; as he saw it: “Just feeling is a subversive act. Expressing it is rebellious“.
I am not sure what Sin-é looks like today- or whether it has been re-named- yet in 1993 (when Buckley recorded the songs that appeared on his Live at Sin-é E.P.)it was an intimate, homely and charming venue- small bit filled with character. Buckley would often help serve coffees and clean up tables (after and before gigs) and seemed comfortable and ensconced within its safe walls. Buckley felt naturally secure here (“I could never be tired of New York“), and it was at Sin-é that his firmest early steps were made. I will mention Buckley’s vocal range later, but if you listen to the Live at Sin-é (Deluxe Edition), it is a hugely impressive collection of songs, that highlight just how staggering his voice is. Tracks from the likes of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan were reinterpreted and redefined by Buckley: each was given a unique stamp of authority. As exciting as it was to hear original words from the young master, it was his huge interpretive talents that were wooing audiences the most. I have provided a couple of links (at the foot of the feature), that go to show just how good he was. Tracks such as Sweet Thing and I Shall Be Released became tender and hugely evocative tales: imbued with a falsetto vocal of purity and clarity. Each night he played, there was a new set list; songs played previously were given a different take, and one would never hear the same performance two nights in a row. Buckley had his own with regards to his music, and singing: “Music comes from a very primal, twisted place. When a person sings, their body, their mouth, their eyes, their words, their voice says all these unspeakable things that you really can’t explain but that mean something anyway. People are completely transformed when they sing; people look like that when they sing or when they make love. But it’s a weird thing—at the end of the night I feel strange, because I feel I’ve told everybody all my secrets”. Given the fact that Buckley was performing in a café, it was obviously a very small location: making the overall sound that more personal and intimate. Each night, the young hero would be on the (tiny) stage: just him and a guitar. I cannot do full justice to how great the performances and recordings from this time are- and I wish I could have been there. The way Buckley employed his guitar as an additional vocal element; changed chords and direction mid note: making each track as mesmeric as possible. Buckley himself said: “It’s all about supporting the voice—any real guitar player should know that. Rhythm and melody are the king and queen and it’s all to support the voice—ask Keith Richards, ask Robert Johnson“. Original numbers (which would appear on Grace) such as Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, Last Goodbye and Mojo Pin were being worked on and witnessed for the first time. It is a shame that more modern-day performers do not take the route Buckley did: playing live at homely and character-filled locations, rather than bigger venues. Buckley himself understood the importance of where he was playing (“I like low stage volume. I want the idea and the sound of the idea to intoxicate—not the voltage“). Very soon, the young American was about to get his big break. Record label executives would watch his performances, and it was the eyes and ears of Columbia Records whom would get the signature of Jeff Buckley.
“Grace is what matters. In anything. Especially life, especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death. About people, that’s what matters. That’s a quality I admire very greatly. It keeps you from reaching for the gun too quickly; it keeps you from destroying things too foolishly; it sort of keeps you alive and keeps you open for more understanding“. It was Buckley’s debut- and only- L.P., Grace, that contained a lot of these elements and considerations. Joining together with new band recruits Mick Grøndahl, Matt Johnson and Michael Tighe, the quartet laid down the movements that formed the basis of one of the greatest albums of all time. Retreating to the heat and striking landscape of Woodstock, the sounds and sensations of Grace took shape. As well as recommending you seek out the album and enjoy every moment, I would say it is well worth watching a promotional documentary about the album (the first link under Interviews). It was clear how much making music meant to Buckley, and how important it was. With producer Andy Wallace, a masterpiece was unveiled. Tracks such as Mojo Pin were based around dreams and psychedelic images; the title track is an epic song dedicated to true love- both containing Buckley’s mix of powerful belt and transcendent falsetto lines. One thing that struck me about the album is the maturity and range of Buckley’s lyrics. The title track was filled with evocative images and pain-ridden sacrifice (“And the rain is falling and i believe/My time has come/It reminds me of the pain/I might leave/Leave behind“). Mojo Pin blending emotional romantic sways as well as striking and detached images: “Precious, precious silver and gold and pearls in oyster’s flesh/Drop down we two to serve and pray to love/Born again from the rhythm screaming down from heaven/Ageless, ageless/I’m there in your arms“. Our hero was turning scribbled notes and verses into hugely emotive and stunning songs. Last Goodbye– perhaps his most effective track- defines what made Buckley whom he is: an impressive lyricist with a voice that brings every word to life. As well as being one of his most direct and memorable vocal performances, it also contains some of his most emotional and racked utterances (“Kiss me/Please kiss me/But kiss me out of desire, babe, and not consolation“). I shall go more into the vocal displays that augmented each track, but Grace demonstrated what a confident and talented songwriter Buckley was. It was the shared kinship and tightness of the entire band that added the colour and weight, but the strength of the lyrics and music was evident. It was obvious that Buckley would include some cover versions, and the likes of Lilac Wine were included: a song that Buckley wished he had written, and adored. That particular song- which has been performed by the likes of Nina Simone- was transformed into something that Buckley made his own. It was perhaps the lyrics of that track that Buckley connected to, and vibed from. When it came to his own words, Buckley had opinions on what made (great lyrics): “The thing is that I also like to have lyrics that are inclusive, that give you space to be inside them, to put your experience on to them, so that they can move through other moments“. The ‘inclusive’ nature of lyrics is perhaps an elemental focus when one looks at Buckley’s interpretive skills. He clearly identified with songs such as Lilac Wine, and found ways of making these tracks his own. I shall get onto one particular number soon, but want to mention a few more tracks. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over (a track moulded and shaped during the Sin-é regency) was Buckley longest track, yet one that was rife with scenery, fascinating characters and above all, pure declaration. The opening lines brought the listener right into the song: “Looking out the door I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners/Parading in a wake of sad relations as their shoes fill up with water“. As it progresses, we see our hero parading the floor; hungry for his lover, but regretful, too (“And much too blind to see the damage he’s done“). As our hero waits in the rain, lonely and pining, the final words are unveiled: “Sweet lover, you should’ve come over/Oh, love well I’m waiting for you/Lover, you should’ve come over/Cause it’s not too late“. Eternal Life is an angry song that rallies against corrupt forces and men behind desks and masks, whilst the swan song Dream Brother are filled with lyrics that could have double meaning (“Don’t be like the one who made me so old/Don’t be like the one who left behind his name“). Before I complete my survey of Buckley’s 1994 masterpiece, I have to mention one song: Hallelujah. Originally written by Leonard Cohen (on his album Various Positions) it was owned by Buckley. This is the song that bring many to the wonders of Jeff Buckley- depressing, considering all the terrific work he has left behind. I suppose it is unsurprising that so many are in awe of Buckley’s rendition- it remains one of the greatest vocal performance of all time. Of course it was Leonard Cohen’s spellbinding words that provide the basis, yet Buckley gave the song a lease that the original did not contain. In a sense it was a perfect marriage: pair phenomenal words with a voice capable of bringing them fully into life. According to producer Andy Wallace, Buckley took many runs at the song. Versions ranged from hard and angry, through to ‘manly’ renditions: the young artist endless sought to hit that ‘perfect rendition’. The definitive take that we hear on Grace is the result of several takes sewn together: the result is one of the defining songs of the ’90s. I have mixed feelings about the success of Hallelujah. I am ashamed that so many reality stars and ‘YouTubers’ have covered it- they have watered down and eradicated its potency. Buckley’s version is the definitive version, and the song requires no further reinterpretation. It is a shame, but I suppose inevitable, given the potency of our hero’s voice. In a way, mind, I am glad as no one has even a modicum of Buckley’s talent: no subsequent version has got even remotely close to Buckley’s take. You can listen to it and come to your own opinions, but it remains the focal point of an album filled with huge confident, nuance, wonder and intention. The reaction to the L.P. was a bit slow-burning, and initial sales were pretty slow. It is one of these albums that arrived at a difficult time. Grunge was still present, and the likes of Britpop were beginning in the U.K. Grace seems somewhat alien when matched against these diffident genres, and it took many years for people to truly latch onto, and appreciate the album. The likes of the U.K. and France took the album more to heart than Buckley’s native fans, and a lot of post-Grace touring took place here. The album’s purpose what to highlight what a force Buckley was, and what a talent the young man had become. Many- in its wake- were keen to see the master in the live domain- witnessing the songs first-hand.
Buckley spent much of the next year and a half touring internationally to promote Grace. From the album’s release, he played in numerous countries, from Australia, to the UK (Glastonbury and the 1995 Meltdown Festival). Following Buckley’s Peyote Radio Theater tour, the band began a European tour on August 23, 1994, starting with performances in the U.K. and Ireland. The tour continued in Scandinavia and, throughout September, numerous concerts in Germany were played. The tour ended on September 22 with a concert in Paris. A gig on September 24 in New York dovetailed on to the end of the European tour and Buckley and band spent the next month relaxing and rehearsing. A tour of Canada and the U.S. began on October 19, 1994 at CBGB’s. The tour was far-reaching with concerts held on both east and west coasts of the U.S., and a number of performances in central and southern states. The tour ended two months later on December 18 at Maxwell’s in New Jersey. After another month of rest and rehearsal, the band commenced a second European tour, this time mainly for promotion purposes. The band began the tour in Dublin; Buckley has remained particularly popular in Ireland. The short tour largely consisted of promotional work in London and Paris. Touring recommenced in April with dates across the U.S. and Canada. During this period Buckley and the band notably played Metro in Chicago. Buckley’s Mystery White Boy tour, playing concerts in both Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, lasted between August 28 and September 6 and recordings of these performances were compiled and released on the live album Mystery White Boy. Buckley was so well received during these concerts that his album Grace went gold in Australia, selling over 35,000 copies. Between the two Oceania tours Buckley and the band took a break from touring. It was clear that Buckley meant a lot to people, and the demand was huge and consistent. After the consistent rigours of touring- which saw the young star tour relentless pretty much until early-1997- Buckley was keen to take a break, as well as work on new material.
“Relentless, endless joy peaking into tears, resting in calmness, a simmering beauty. If you let yourself listen with the whole of yourself, you will have the pure feeling of flight while firmly rooted to the ground“. This was a quote from Buckley, and perhaps summarised how he felt about music, and what it meant to him. I guess some of its beauty had been lost in the mesh of touring commitments, so our hero was eager to reconnect with music’s wonder. Buckley said it himself: “I don’t write my music for Sony. I write it for the people who are screaming down the road crying to a full-blast stereo“. Buckley wanted to give something to the fans; explore new territory- and put as much new and original material onto tape as possible. Buckley became interested in recording at Easley McCain Recording in Memphis. He rented a shotgun house there, of which he was so fond he contacted the owner about the possibility of buying it. Throughout this period, February 12 to May 26, 1997, Buckley played at Barristers’, a bar located in Memphis, underneath a parking garage in an alley off of Jefferson Avenue. He played numerous times in order to work through the new material in a live atmosphere, at first with the band then solo as part of a Monday night residency. The new atmosphere and scenery compelled Buckley, whom spend time alone writing new material. Most of the time Buckley was in Memphis alone (whilst his band remained back in New York). Buckley would send tapes back to the band, whom would listen and digest- keen to meet up with their frontman. All of this activity would result in the (posthumous) recordings that would feature on Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Ultimately I will have to mention Buckley’s death, and it is all the more tragic, given that our young hero was in such inspired mood. Buckley was reconnecting with music, and saw it as a curative and healing process: “My music is like a lowdown dreamy bit of the psyche. It’s part quagmire and part structure. The quagmire is important for things to grow in“. Ensconced within a tiny house in Memphis, Buckley would commit rough sketches to four-track; seeing what he could come up with. Our hero was a perfectionist, and would often be unhappy with songs. Tracks were recorded and scrapped, as Buckley continued to chase his ideals of perfection. If you listen to Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, you can hear some of the completed cuts- as well as the rough demos- and Buckley never intended them to be heard. Grace was a pivotal moment, yet Buckley wasn’t to create an album that was original and different- to break away from his previous sound. Tracks were taken into the studio and recorded with (producer) Tom Verlaine: yet Buckley was dissatisfied with them. Our hero parted ways with Verlaine, and called Andy Wallace up- keen to start from scratch and try to regain the energy and enthusiasm he had during the recording of Grace. Perhaps it was expectation and market pressure that got to him; or the strains and fatigue from touring, but Buckley was restless and constantly questioning himself. He suffered from Bipolar Affective Disorder which would have effected his creative process and put stress and pressure on his shoulders, and it seemed that a lot of the magic of music had been lost. In spite of everything, in May, 1997- as Buckley’s band mates were due to fly to Memphis to start recording new material- our hero was in good mood; excited by a new lease of life. Unfortunately, Buckley’s new enthusiasm was to turn to tragedy. On the evening of May 29, 1997, went swimming in Wolf River Harbour, a slack water channel of the Mississippi river, while wearing boots, all of his clothing, and singing the chorus of the song Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin. Buckley had gone swimming there several times before. A roadie in Buckley’s band, Keith Foti, remained on shore. After moving a radio and guitar out of reach of the wake from a passing tugboat, Foti looked up to see that Buckley had vanished. Despite a determined rescue effort that night, Buckley remained missing. On June 4, two locals spotted his body in the Wolf River near a riverboat, and he was brought to land. It is typical of Buckley that he went into the river- he was a romantic that was impulsive; yet it was a move that cost the music world a true great. I shall not go into more detail, but in my conclusion will state why Buckley’s death hit me hard. Just when our hero was on the precipice of a second L.P., he died- at the tender age of 30. Luckily, a lot of the studio versions and rough takes have been released (on Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk). The quality varies- not surprising as our hero was still working on the songs- yet there are clear glimpses of where Buckley was heading. The overall sound was harder and heavier, evident in tracks such as Nightmares by the Sea and Witches Rave’. Buckley wanted to move away from the pure ethereal aspect and beauty of Grace and inject some elementary grit and force. Amongst the harder numbers, soulful gems such as Everybody Here Wants You and Opened Once remained; trippy swirls like New Year’s Prayer were delightful, and- one of my favourite songs from this period- Vancouver showed how Buckley’s song writing has developed. It is perhaps ironic that the dozen or so ‘professionally-recorded’ tracks would have made a terrific album- yet Buckley was not satisfied enough to take that leap. That makes Buckley’s death even more potent: just how good would have Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk been? It is well worth seeking out the album, and hearing our hero’s intentions- and imagine what could have been.
“The only way to really make it—anywhere—is to put every bit of your being into the thing that only you can provide. The only angle is the art that you choose, that only you can provide. And to do that, you have to be quiet for a long time and find out what you bring forth. You have to know what’s in yourself—all your eccentricities, all your banalities, the full flavor of your woe and your joy. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What makes it different from everybody else’s? It’s totally subjective. You’re just given the task of bringing it up“. Buckley’s words, music and beauty still resonates with many- nearly seventeen years after his death. Birthday celebrations and tribute concerts are held each year (in November), with fans and musicians remembering Buckley’s brilliance and legacy. Tribute concerts and events take place regularly, with new acts all keen to pay homage and keep his legacy alive. It seems that- even after his death- many cannot (and will not) forget what the man gave to the music world. In New York, an annual tribute concert is held, and I am sure that this will be taking place for decades to come. In spite of having a brief career, it is clear how much the music means- and how hard it resonates.
When asked if he (Buckley) had any advice to new musicians starting out, he stated this: “I have no advice for anybody; except to, you know, be awake enough to see where you are at any given time, and how that is beautiful, and has poetry inside. Even places you hate“. To Buckley, music was the most important thing. He did not want to be remembered as a human (he did but it was secondary to the music); the songs and his musical memories were most important. Songwriting, to him, was a calling and something that defined his life. He said that “songs come out of poems, and sometimes poems come out of dreams“. The U.S. dreamer gave the world a hell of a lot of beauty, and changed the music world forever. Before I give my personal thoughts (and sum up), just think about the legacy he has left. As well as the live recordings, Grace and various other tracks, we have the interviews- both recorded and written- that inspired a wave of musicians and artists. Thom Yorke said that The Bends (by Radiohead) would not have sounded like it did- and have been as good- were it not for Buckley. Radiohead watched Buckley perform in 1994, and following a particular mesmeric performance, Yorke was overcome. He rushed to the studio, and without anyone else, laid down a vocal take (that actually is the album version we hear) of Fake Plastic Trees. Such was the effect that Buckley’s music had; that it hit musicians and fans that hard. The softer and purer moments of The Bends was inspired directly by Buckley- that album, to me, is the greatest ever recorded. New and upcoming artists incorporate elements of Buckley’s voice and artistry, with musicians such as Matt Bellamy counting our hero to be amongst their all-time greatest icons. The greatest legacy the man can have, is for his music to be remembered and kept alive. If you have never heard any of his music; or have not visited it for a while, take the time to do so. I not writing it to be sad and to use this as a late obituary or eulogy; more to pay respects to a hugely inspirational figure. Because of Buckley, I picked up pen and paper and decided to write music. Listening to his voice reduced me to- and still does- goosebumps, and he is my music idol for so many reasons. As a human, he was down-to-earth, sensitive and beautiful. His speaking voice was a whispered and entrancing instrument, and the way he talked about music was infectious. Buckley was jocular and witty; upbeat and playful. He has a tragic and affected side; he was mysterious and alone, but as much as anything: he was Jeff Buckley. There was no fakery or sob story; no tinsel or scandal- it was just a young man trying to bring his music to as many people as possible. For me- being 30-years-old- feel more inspired by Buckley more than ever. By my age, the man had recorded everything we have heard from him, and covered so much ground. Being someone trapped inside a crappy life, in a place I do not want to be, I am always looking for the back door- to escape and be somewhere else. As a songwriter, I need to overcome nerves, financial poverty and depression (as well as procrastination) and make a move: whatever the outcome. The man compelled me to start writing music and to want to become a good a songwriter and singer as possible. Buckley was brave and bold; he moved between cities and took huge personal risks to make his music. For me, he defines what it is to be truly inspirational: do what you need to do, no matter what. I wish I could be more like him, as I hate myself for being trapped in a rut; for being in a stressful environment that I hate (more than I can say). Perhaps revisiting his music will spark an idea in my brain (I hope it does), but as much as anything I want to say thanks. Buckley is my hero and has made me into a better songwriter, and someone whom wants to follow dreams; and f*** ‘real life’ and all the boring stressy crap that comes with being ‘ordinary’. I guess you cannot ask for more from a human being: that is why I am writing this. Of course one cannot ignore Buckley’s voice, as it seems to be what he is more synonymous for. I am obsessed by the voice, and strive to reach to Buckley’s levels: knowing I perhaps never will. The year 1997 was so sad, because it was the year that a huge musical force was taken away. It was a senseless death, and I cannot do anything about it. It makes me sad thinking about it; how upsetting it must have been for his band (and family); what could have been. I guess it is not worth dwelling on the past, but celebrating what Buckley gave the world: the music, the influence and the beauty. He is someone we will never see the likes of again and was a true original. We are lucky for having him in the world, and his music and songs will remain long after we have all gone. As much as anything, listen to his music; hear the man talk in interviews, and don’t feel sad: feel compelled to change. If you are stuck in a rut, in misery; in a place you do not want to be; then get out- move on and be what you want to be. Buckley proved that lifer can be cruel and indiscriminate, and I guess it is pointless feeling regretful and trapped inside boxes you do not want to be in. I guarantee that, when you listen to his songs again (and again), it will compel change and something special: it has for me, indeed. I will leave you with some sagacious words, from the man himself (with regards to his own music): “I try to make my music joyful—it makes me joyful—to feel the music soar through the body“. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing- just listen to his music. Do not do so for the sake of things or because it’s apropos: do it because it is joyful. After all…
IT is what he would have wanted.
Ten Essential Jeff Buckley Recordings:
Calling You- Live at Sin-é (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJk3RErKtmI)
The Way Young Lovers Do- Live at Sin-é (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kPUT_1d4dA)
Grace- Grace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZSTTEoHVxo)
Last Goodbye- Grace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8II4oKMvudk)
Hallelujah- Grace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIF4_Sm-rgQ)
Everybody Here Wants You- Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQN_OmIboNo)
Vancouver- Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0_pFAh6cbw)
Satisfied Mind- Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCU3HXNGaAw)
We All Fall in Love Sometimes- Live Radio Performance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYGZ4M-dXls)
Dido’s Lament- Meltdown Festival, 1995 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y11AMsuh6Ls)