Me, You and I
PERHAPS apropos of nothing...
it is to Jeff Buckley I divert my passion. A man capable of awed hush and frisson: A true musical angel who remains my music idol. This feature is not entirely without relevance and timing: In a few weeks, a new compilation is released- bringing some never-heard-before material and early cuts- that were committed to tape before Buckley recorded Grace- his seminal debut and only studio album. You and I bring some previously heard material- Everyday People and Just Like a Woman has surfaced on YouTube- will nestle with cover versions (The Boy with the Thorn in His Side; I Know It’s Over) with an early version of Grace. Before I investigate Buckley- and the true reasons for this post- I implore everyone to get You and I when it is released March 11th): It is an album that shows a once-in-a-lifetime talent in his element; showing an extraordinary talent for interpretation. Buckley is an artist who not only penned extraordinary original compositions but was a masterful cover artist. From Led Zeppelin- Night Flight- to Poor Boy Long Ways from Home (a traditional Blues number that the likes of John Lee Hooker have covered this); you have a range of tracks that showcase Buckley’s immense voice and peerless talent. Just listen to Just Like a Woman—Buckley’s affection for Bob Dylan is evident and clear- and you get shivers and start to lose breath. Whilst purists argue Dylan tackled the song with more grit and directness- perhaps appropriate given the song’s lyrics- Buckley’s version has such passion and soulfulness- elevating the song to the realms of godliness and Heaven-kissed beauty. The way that voice wraps itself around the words- almost a sermon from a young man who could relate to every word- is just one snippet of what to expect.
There will be those- Buckley fans included- that will argue against You and I’s release. Many will ask why it took so long for these recordings to come to light- given the fact they are over 20-years-old. Whilst it would have been easy to unveil this compilation following Buckley’s death (in 1997) perhaps it was never appropriate or right at the time. Others will debate the reason behind the compilation- for financial gain or a way of getting every Buckley moment into the ether- and question the necessity of these recordings. If Buckley were alive he would probably not want the record to be released- he was a fierce perfectionist throughout his career- and wants to keep these songs private. Whichever side of the fence you come on, for me at least, You and I is a window into a phenomenal talent finding his feet- discovering who he was as a musician and singing these spellbinding love letters. I agree it goes against Buckley’s will and desire- a conscience-troubling greediness I will have to reconcile- but you cannot leave these songs in the vault. Every recording reinvents the original- Calling You is one of the most spine-tingling recordings from Buckley I have heard—and you feel like you are in the studio with Buckley- such is the intimacy and immediacy of the production. It is just one man and his guitar: Allowing the songs to pass through his blood; you feel the chills come and drift away. I cannot wait to get the album (on vinyl; as the gods of music intended) and allow that wondrous voice do its thing. Of course, You and I arrives with a bittersweet price: It is terrific hearing new material from Buckley; the fact he is no longer with us is something I cannot get over…
Despite the fact I never met Jeff Buckley- I was a 14-year-old when he died- thinking about his death almost reduces me to tears: Such a beautiful man taken in such a random and avoidable fashion. En route to the recording studio- Buckley was priming himself to begin recording the follow-up to Grace- the 30-year-old was driving through Memphis. Having seconded himself in Memphis- he rented a shotgun house and laid some tracks down on 4-track- things were looking very promising. Buckley was worlds away from New York and L.A. - the big cities he had called home at various points- and seemed at peace in a tiny house away from the hurly-burly of modern life. Happy with how things were going- the recording sessions prior to this time saw Buckley dissatisfied with the results- and things were starting to come together. Buckley went for a swim in Wolf River Harbour (on May 29th) and I cannot figure out why. Perhaps the water looked inviting and romantic that evening: Maybe there was a lure or it was a hot day that required a cooling-off opportunity. After being dragged under the water- passing tugboats had created waves that dragged Buckley down- the U.S. legend was reported missing- his body was discovered days later by a passing tourist boat. It is such an unfair and insane thing to happen. One of the music world’s most promising and prodigious talents was taken from the world in such a strange and unnecessary way!
Perhaps it is fitting of an artist so impulsive and bold that he met with such an ending. Many will argue with mythology and ‘inevitability’- Buckley’s father, Tim Buckley, died at 28- but the truth is it was a tragic accident that should never have happened. Maybe if Buckley had decided to drive on- get to the studio and pass by the river- music would have been changed forever. Maybe the young hero would have retired from music in years to come- dissatisfied with the changing face of the industry. Would he have embraced social media or seen it as an unnecessary tool that takes away human connection? These questions will (sadly) never find an answer: That fact causes heartbreak and immense sadness in me. It is unusual to be attached and in love with someone who was a sound through the speakers- a human I never got to see up-close and personal.
Some people dislike Buckley and find his reputation and legacy rather shallow- a column published in The Guardian back in 2007- http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2007/jun/02/jeffbuckleynothankyou- saw the writer (a foolish human!) list her reasons and arguments. If well-argued- plenty of passion in his disapproval- Jude Rogers- the author of the piece- saw Buckley as too calculated and self-aware; someone who penned only a few decent hits- someone who employed melisma and overly-emotive phrasing too often. Whilst I would never deny anyone their freedom of speech; I cannot agree with anything in this article. True, Jeff Buckley was a man who knew he was good looking and had a tragic past: Unavoidable, genetic predispositions that he could not overlook or ignore. Given the fact he only recorded one studio album; it is unfair to criticise a lack of breadth and consistency in Buckley’s songwriting. An artist who covered a lot of artist- the recordings that surfaced after his death (that could have featured on his 2nd album) were by no means artist-approved and complete- you cannot judge a songwriter on the strength of a few songs. Sometimes Buckley did over-exude when phrasing and delivering lines; some of his songs lacked necessary intensity and quality- Grace’s Eternal Life lacked the rawness and kick it would be given in the live setting- whereas So Real does not demand repeated listens. Every artist and album contained a couple of less-than-perfect tracks- how many albums ever recorded are flawless?- and it is unfair to see Jeff Buckley as purely the result of Grace. If you love the album- the vast majority do- or are indifferent to its charms; the American legend had so much more to him…
Why do I love Jeff Buckley, then- and the real motive behind this piece- you might be asking? Buckley (I’ll start calling him ‘Jeff’) was a lonely man whose childhood was fraught with constant moving and instability. Having never known his father- Tim Buckley died of a drugs overdose when Jeff was a boy- he was moved between states and cities. Music was Jeff’s way of making sense of the world; the way for a shy man to make himself heard- a way for him to express what was inside. So many musicians today seem so anodyne and robotic- you wonder whether there is a soul behind the eyes- you cannot connect with them or fathom why they are in music at all. No other artists I have ever known seems so at home in music. For Jeff, music was not just a vocation or thing to do: It was a calling; the only thing that really made sense to him. You only need to hear a few seconds of a Jeff Buckley song knowing how much music means to him. Every song seems like an exorcism of sorts: That bruised spirit finding peace and purpose in something pure, magical and transcendent.
Listen to the man talk- with that sweet and angel-like speaking voice- and you can hear that passion and love pour from him. A human who possessed extraordinary intelligence, wit and wisdom: Every interview I hear (Buckley conduct) teaches me something new about the world. Not a soundbite-friendly musician who trots through interviews with expressionless fatigue: Jeff Buckley was a man who oozed charisma, charm and authority. The ‘90s was a decade that saw so much terrific music emerge: Jeff was an artist who stood among the best and brightest from that time. One of the most influential musicians of all-time; you can hear that legacy in so many of today’s artists.
The link below- a retrospective feature on Jeff Buckley- is a recent discovery that compelled me to write this piece. A passion piece that pays tribute to a phenomenal human being: New information and revelations came out; new sides to a musician I feel I had all figured out. The narrators/contributors documented Jeff’s time in the U.K.- the young star was excited playing his first gigs in the capital- and the trials and tribulations he faced. Having to overcome stupid and ignorant interviews- who unwisely brought up Tim Buckley; against Jeff’s wishes- those tense moments were overshadowed by a hungry artist who wanted to bring his music to as many people as possible. One of the best parts of this documentary- and what really defines Jeff Buckley to me- is how anger defined his music. During one London interview- Jeff was pissed-off after the D.J. name-dropped Tim prior to his arrival in the studio- there was so much tension in the air. Jeff gave one-syllable answers and was (understandably) frosty towards the D.J. What followed- asked to perform the song Grace- is the stuff of legend. That particular performance- against the circumstances and anger inside Jeff- dropped jaws and showed how that music; the voice and that soul can turn anything into awe-inspiring beauty and divinity.
Whatever shit was happening around Jeff- whether it was other people’s stupidity or his struggles with depression and loneliness- it was the music that brought him back to a safe and warm place. Nothing else mattered when he was lost in the moment. All the stress and negativity were funneled into something pure and biblical. One of the great tragedies is the fact I never got to saw Jeff perform live- imagine seeing the legend in an intimate venue absolutely owning it- so have to rely on recorded tracks, interviews etc. Jeff might not have transitioned well into the 21st century. A musician who favoured intimate gigs over stadiums- most bands and artists today do the opposite- he would have hated Twitter and Facebook’s ‘influence’ on people- the way communication and friendships are faked and fed through computers. He would have despised a lot of modern music and what it is turning into.
What I do know is- had Jeff have lived- is the joy and pleasure he would have brought to the world. You cannot change the past and the tragedy that claims the finest humans: We are lucky to have had this man on Earth for the short time he was there. It is hard keeping my emotions in check when typing this- I hear his voice and picture his smile right now- and am so sad it has been 18-and-a-bit years since his death- how has it been THAT long?! Jeff Buckley is my idol because he epitomised what every musician should be/do. There was no calculation and fakery to his personality and words. Someone who was uninterested in sell-out venue gigs and magazine photoshoots: He was a pure musician that simply wanted to spend his life showing his affection for something that meant so much to him. Perhaps it is appropriate he is no longer here- he would seem strangely out of place in today’s scene- and the world is so much sadder for his departure.
I shall leave this piece with a song/moment that (for me, anyway) defines Jeff Buckley- and explains why I idolise this man. There was no pretense and bullshit; there was just a beautiful man trying to connect and find meaning. If you have never heard Jeff Buckley’s music- what the hell have you been doing with your life?!- this clip perhaps defines why you should rectify this. A one-off treasure we will never see the likes of again; I am thankful for any new material that comes to light- You and I will be on my stereo for many months to come. Jeff Buckley made me connect more with music; he made me feel less alone and lost- a person who seemed similar to me- and I am so fu***** mad he was taken from this planet. Whilst that anger will never abate; I am at least thankful for what he gave- and what he still gives to us- and the undeniable effect he had on the music world. For that, and because I don’t need a reason to say this, I will end by saying…
THANK-YOU Jeff Buckley.
The Jeff Buckley Playlist:
For more information on Jeff Buckley: