November 17, 2016.
Today would have marked the 50th birthday of one of the most influential artists of the ’90s, one of the most unique singer-songwriters of all times and my greatest inspiration in music Jeff Buckley. Would have, had a very stupid yet fatal accident not occurred 19 years ago from now. But let me give you some background first.
Buckley Jr’s life was full of drama since the very day he was born. His father, Tim Buckley, who happened to be another cult figure in the history of folk rock music, left his young wife in order to pursue his career when Jeff’s mom, Mary, was pregnant with him. Jeff only saw his father a few times in his life.
‘ I knew him for nine days. I met him for the first time when I was eight years old over Easter and he died two months later.’
Tragically, Tim Buckley died of a drug overdose aged 28 in 1975. The hurt of abandonment, apparently, never left Jeff: he never sang his father’s songs, never watched his performances, never even mentioned Tim to his friends. The only desire was to distance himself musically and mentally from his father. However, he did have his public singing debut at a tribute concert for his father called ‘Greetings from Tim Buckley’ on April 26, 1991 in New York. He later mentioned it in the interview to Rolling Stone: ‘ It wasn’t my work, it wasn’t my life. But it bothered me that I hadn’t been to his funeral, that I’d never been able to tell him anything. I used that show to pay my last respects.’
He performed I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, a song that was actually dedicated to him and his parents’ complicated love story.
‘ The flying Pisces sails for time
And tells me of my child
Wrapped in bitter tales and heartache
He begs for just a smile ’
Ironically, the concert turned out to be the starting point of his career in the music industry.
Jeff Buckley’s debut album Grace, the only album completed in his lifetime, became the absolute highlight of his career. It included 7 original tracks as well as 3 covers, amongst which was the very much recognised cover on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.
The album eventually went on to feature in Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of the Nineties, and is now considered to be an exemplary album for every following generation of musicians. Positive feedback on it has been received from legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and others. In order to understand the concept behind Grace, it is essential to explain how much the single word ‘grace’ meant to Jeff:
‘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.’
From a musical point of view, the album is a masterpiece. Having one of the most unique and extraordinary voices of the era, with a vocal type of a lyric tenor and a vocal range of 3 octaves, 6 notes and a semitone, has helped Jeff easily express all his profoundly spiritual emotions through it. His voice was his main instrument. He was also an exceptionally gifted multi-instrumentalist and a poet but his voice is nothing else than a vehicle that’s taking you to the places you never knew existed.
‘ Words are really beautiful, but they’re limited. Words are very male, very structured. But the voice is the netherworld, the darkness, where there’s nothing to hang onto. The voice comes from a part of you that just knows and expresses and is.’ © Jeff
After the success of Grace came the international tour. Everything seemed to be going perfectly well. Jeff was on the eve of releasing a new album to be called My Sweetheart the Drunk. But as it happens, God takes the best first.
On the evening of May 29, 1997, Jeff Buckley went swimming in Wolf River Harbor, a slackwater channel of the Mississippi River…and drowned. His body wasn’t found until 4th of June, when locals spotted it in the river. No alcohol, suicide or drugs were involved. The man just drowned while swimming. So much talent gone way too soon.
Jeff, poor Jeff.
If only you knew how big of an impact your Art had on people. You may have not had tremendous commercial success but you’ve definitely left a great legacy behind you. From Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay to Moby, Damien Rice, Chris Cornell and to Adele, Sia and Lana Del Rey – you’ve inspired so many.
Asking myself the question “What was it about his art that had me hooked straight away?”, I come up with a whole bunch of answers. His music is serenity, power, hope, love, pain, anger, joy and so many other things at the same time. It’s timeless. His lyrics speak to you, encourage you to think about the meaning of life and the eternal. He treated his work with such sensitivity, such caution, as if it was his child. He desired to create emotions as genuine and pure as he possibly could.
I believe it was Bono from U2, who said: ‘ Jeff Buckley was a pure drop in an ocean of noise’. It couldn’t have been said any better.
Whenever I listen to ‘Lover, you should’ve come over’, which happens to be my favourite song ever, I experience a wide range of emotions: from love to agony to sadness. The song is so gentle and pure, it touches every fibre of my being and leaves me breathless for a while. In all seriousness, it’s under my skin. I remember once getting to the point where I literally couldn’t move or breathe while listening to it. I also remember realizing that it is exactly what real music is – an absolute catharsis of a soul. I feel truly blessed to be able to understand that.
This article definitely went out of control but hey, this is my tribute to my favourite artist, and I’ve gotta speak out!
Happy birthday, my idol!
May your legacy continue to inspire and bless the world!
To conclude beautifully, here’s the main precept of Jeff:
‘ The most audacious thing I could possibly state in this day and age is that life is worth living. It’s worth being bashed against. It’s worth getting scarred by. It’s worth pouring yourself over every one of it’s hot coals. ’