FEATURE: Jeff Buckley: The Man, The Legend

FEATURE:

 

Jeff Buckley:

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Anton Corbijn

 

The Man, The Legend

_______

IT completely escaped my mind that…

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

Jeff Buckley died twenty years ago today. I remember discovering his a few years after his death and was instantly shocked and numb.

You hear him sing and listen to interviews he conducted and get a real sense of a young man who could have changed the world of music, forever.

Dying at the age of thirty is a savage injustice but for someone who had that gift and ability – it seems a huge injustice he should leave us so prematurely. I guess the circumstances of his death were avoidable but, knowing more about Buckley, you wouldn’t be surprised he did what he did. I shall not go into the harrowing details and tragic last moments but focus on the man himself and what he gave the world. There are few who can deny what an impact albums like Grace had on the world. I will go back a bit and talk about the first experience I had of Buckley’s music. His Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) – I shall include songs in a playlist below – album is my favourite live album because of its intimacy and extraordinary performances. I have written about it before so shall not go into too much detail: only to say it is something you need to hear. We all know about his multi-octave, planet-straddling vocal abilities and one can experience his full range in all its candour and power. Back in 1993, in that Irish coffee-house, Buckley took to stage with little more than a Telecaster, amp and microphone.

PHOTO CREDIT: David Tonge

What I love about that double-album is the range of covers and originals. Songs we would hear fully-realised on Grace were still in the experimentation stages. One can witness early cuts of Last Goodbye and Lover, You Should’ve Come Over. Hallelujah is in there as is Grace; there are some beautiful cover versions from the likes of Bob Dylan (Just Like a Woman, I Shall Be Released and If You See Her, Say Hello) and Van Morrison (The Way Young Lovers Do and Sweet Thing). Each song becomes a sermon and a transcendent thing. Buckley did not merely represent the song but transformed it into his own thing. To take a Bob Dylan song on is quite a brave thing but few manage to top the authority and majesty of its author. Buckley had such affection for the material he was tackling it never seemed like he was trying to, necessarily, make it his own – make it more accessible to the people.

He put his heart and soul into every number and ensured an immense amount of love and passion went into the recording.

Listening to that live album and one learns more about the young man. Shortly before heading into the studio and creating Grace’s masterful strokes; one can (for free) hear Jeff Buckley play a staggering set to a few select patrons. Not only did the man produce sensational readings but unveiled his personality. There are quirky asides and improvisations; chats to the crowd and funny observations. You can hear his Miles Davis impression and some on-the-spot renditions of Smells Like Teen Spirit and Moondance; riffs about chair shortages and a one-on-one about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Buckley’s idol and “Elvis”. I urge people to check out the album and get a real glimpse into Buckley’s mind and music.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hideo Oida

Of course, Grace is the album we all know Buckley for and was his sole studio record. It is an album that cannot be overrated or understated: fully warranting its acclaim, stature and reputation. Not only because it introduced the world to one of its finest singers and young songwriters but the legacy and effect it has had on modern music.

One can barely stumble through the list of contemporary male songwriters and avoid Buckley as an influence.

I review and interview so many who count him as an influence: not only reserved to men but many female songwriters, too. I am not sure whether it is the enticing beauty and intimacy or the allure and peculiar potency of his voice – musicians are still stunned and captivated by it twenty years after Buckley’s death. Yes, there are a couple of less-than-miraculous tracks on Grace (So Real is a bit of an afterthought and an inferior rocker; Eternal Life has the wrong tempo and emotional slant) but every classic album does.

Image result for jeff buckley grace

From the title track’s immense rapture and monumental emotionality to peerless covers of Lilac Wine and Corpus Christi Carol; Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’s extraordinary images and songwriting to Dream Brother’s enigmas and personal relevance. What we all associate with Grace is its standout moment: the cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Countless cover versions – of Buckley’s rendition, especially – have shown nobody can touch his unique take and supernatural powers.

I would offer a moratorium to anyone who still feels the need to cover Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen wrote it; Jeff Buckley OWNS it – simple as that, guys! It is a song that brings shivers to every part of the body and buckles the knees with its purity and sexuality – Buckley’s version was the celebration of the orgasm, as he revealed. Take Grace as a whole and it remains a staggering that, tragically, had no siblings.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

Buckley was preparing to record the follow-up, My Sweetheart the Drunk, when he died. Versions of songs and possible inclusions are available on an album (Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk) but it is hard to say how many, if any of those songs would appear on the final record. Buckley was fiercely creative but a perfectionist, too. So many possible songs were scrapped – he thought they were not good enough – so, in other hands, we might have had an album.

Of course, it makes it extra-sad that we never got to hear that album.

Who knows what would have been on it and the effect it could have had?! Best not to speculate but preserve what he did leave and make sure it reaches as many new people as possible.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

Sadly, there is a large core that only knows Jeff Buckley for Hallelujah and assumes he wrote the song – Buckley was a terrific songwriter but no Leonard Cohen! Anyway, Jeff Buckley showed what a talent he was and, if one looks hard enough, you can discover all manner of records and live tracks.

Buckley could easily transfix an audience in a coffee-house but was capable of creating rapture in an arena. He always yearned, near the end of his life, to return to those smaller spaces and recapture some independence.

That said, one need only listen to Buckley’s gigs at The Bataclan and À L’Olympia to hear what a reaction he received. Maybe it was the French audiences but they would scream at the first few notes of a song. Completely dumbstruck and hysterical at Buckley’s mere prescience: the man himself would be awed and seduced by their affection – charmingly, and laughing, calling one audience strange people for being so impressed. It showed what love there was for Buckley and, in turn, how much that meant to him. At a time when we associate big gigs – from mainstream artists – with a slick feel and a lack of audience connection; Jeff Buckley cast all the pretence and ego away and played music to actual human beings.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

The interviews Buckley conducted through his life (as you will hear/see from the YouTube compilation) provided plenty of humour, revelation and vulnerability. That exceptionally sweet and soft speaking voice gets you hooked but one is blown away by the maturity, intelligence and articulacy on offer. Buckley would tell stories and prompt theories; talk about his music past and what his songs meant.

Rarely, and for good reasons, would he discuss his late father, Tim Buckley, and whether he was close to him.

One can only imagine, if Jeff Buckley were alive today the sort of tabloid questions he would receive – not talking about the music; only interested in gossip and personal pain! I guess few of us listen to interviews of our favourite artists and check out that side of things.

PHOTO CREDIT: David Gahr

Unless they are promoting something, would you really bother digging through YouTube or Google?!I probably wouldn’t but, when it comes to Buckley, his interviews are timeless and ever-relevant.

There is wisdom and lessons that have outlived him and should be followed by people today.

I guess it is easy to get sentimental and see 2017 as a rather sad year. In fact, I rarely think of Buckley in sad terms anymore. Sure, there is emotion and reaction but rarely depression and loss. I am a huge fan so ensure I make him part of my regular rotation. Listening to his interviews feels, in a strange way, he is there and always ready to talk to you. I sound like someone who has a final voicemail from their departed lover as a reminder and last fragment of their being. I know Buckley is gone but having those recorded conversations keeps him as alive and here as his music does.

There are other recordings Buckley left, aside from his live albums and Grace so would recommend everyone spend a bit of time getting acquainted with them. There will be a day when everything he ever put his voice to his discovered but I have a feeling there will be more. Like all legendary artists, he seemed to garner greater popularity and attention after his death. Like an old Jazz hero, he was not properly appreciated in his lifetime.

His native U.S. audiences appreciated his music but did not give it the chart and commercial success it deserved.

A few critics were unmoved by Grace and there was a bit of a struggle getting his music spread. Maybe 1994 was a bad year to release a debut album. In a time when Grunge was still going and U.S. Rock was a hot commodity; perhaps Buckley’s tender and emotional songs were a little too watered down and ineffectual for audiences who demanded something raw and body-moving.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

One can argue, were Grace released a few years later, it would have reached dizzying heights and made him an instant household name. The French understood him and ensured he was given proper adulation; British audiences similarly supportive and effusive. It is sad albums like Grace received more widespread acclaim and better understanding after Buckley’s 1997 death.

Now, it is widely seen as one of the greatest albums ever and a tantalising insight into a stratospheric talent.

Rather than wonder what could have come; stand back and witness what was already there. Few new artists can create something as fully-formed and realised on their opening salvo. I apologise for splitting infinitives and stepping over cracks but I cannot give credence to any notion Buckley was overrated and ordinary. I have seen some suggest that and always have this primal and near-violent reaction.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hideo Oida

If you feel he has been raised, unfairly, to near God-like levels then you are not listening to him properly and understand what his music was about. Fair enough people want to criticise but do not expect proper music-lovers to back that notion. The mark of a truly legendary artist/album is the influence it has on future generations.

We can all see and hear the results of Buckley’s existence and how much he means to musicians.

His incredible voice and wonderful work has crossed gender and genre boundaries; raced right around the globe and compelled so many artists to take up music and showed a certain degree of vulnerability and sensitivity. Many, even at the time Buckley recorded Grace, were reticent about showing any sensitivity in their music – fearing it would be mocked by critics and juxtapose the mood at the time.

PHOTO CREDIT: Anton Corbijn

Now, there are no such stigmas and fears: in a way, Buckley helped break down boundaries and ensure musicians were unafraid to reveal their soul through their work. Of course, there are few modern artists who get close to matching Buckley’s magic and talent but there are many who get close. Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s lead, was enormously affected by Buckley after seeing him perform in London. Following his gig at The Garage, Yorke hurried to the studio where he recorded Fake Plastic Trees. The performance we hear on The Bends is the same one that was recorded, by Yorke alone, after that revelatory moment – after finishing the song, he broke down in tears. If it weren’t enough to help create an album like The Bends – Buckley is responsible for the more emotional and beautiful tracks on the record – one need only listen to the radio today. I can hear Buckley’s tones and spirit in our current crop which gives me a lot of heart.

They are not trying to copy him but show their love and thanks for a brilliant young man who, in a short life, gave so much.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

It may be twenty years ago he left us but, whilst sad, it should not be seen as a chance to mourn and feel sad. Yes, he should be alive today and could have done so much more good but that is the way things are sometimes – life can be cruellest to those who warrant the greatest luck and success. Rather than becoming morbid, it is a chance to celebrate Jeff Buckley and, for many, discover him. There are a lot of people who might never have heard his music or only know him through Hallelujah. Trust me; you will have a great and eye-opening time hearing those rare recordings and live gems from the Californian legend.

No matter what mood you are in, there is a Jeff Buckley song that will suit you and provoke a reaction.

I wonder whether we will ever see another singer like Jeff Buckley that has that rare blend of biblical talent and a loveable personality. Buckley was mysterious and complex but, in the way he spoke and delivered his music, simple and open.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hideo Oida

His personal life was off-limits and he did not feel the need to talk about relationships and private aspects. It was about the music and ensuring it was as brilliant as it could possibly be.

I cannot recommend Jeff Buckley enough and overstate how important he is.

We are living in an age where many songwriters are surrounded by producers and feel the need to farm-out creative and writing responsibilities. There are plenty of talented and able artists who are not culpable but Buckley’s music should serve as an example of what a proper artist is all about: no extra bodies or outside forces: a man who defined what a singer-songwriter should be. I shall leave you with a quite by Buckley that seems very relevant and meaningful given the events of the past week. It talks perfectly demonstrates his intelligence and understanding of humans. In the words of the great man himself:

Our suffering is peeling off and revealing a brand new skin, a new power

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

LOVE heals all wounds and not just time alone.”

 

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