IN THIS PHOTO: Jeff Buckley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A Voice from the Heavens: The Jeff Buckley Playlist
I will make this brief…
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Buck
because, when it comes to Jeff Buckley, people want to hear his music and that incredible voice – my words cannot do justice to his brilliance and audacious abilities. I am writing this because, on Wednesday, it will be twenty-two years since Buckley died. It is strange to think that, at the age of fourteen, I discovered this terrific musician had died. I was not too familiar with Buckley’s music in 1997 but, having learned of his death, there were a lot of tributes; his music was played (more so) on MTV and there was a huge outpouring of sadness. The loss of such a magnificent and once-in-a-generation artist moved the world and the fact Buckley was only thirty when he died added to that sense of loss and tragedy – someone so young and promising taken from us so cruelly. Whilst in Mississippi and putting together the bones of his second album, Buckley drowned after being inspired to get into the water during a warm evening; lying on his back and singing along to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love – he and his friend were plying on a boom-box -, the boom-box was moved as an incoming wave approached, and when his friend/roadie, Keith Foti, looked back he saw that Buckley was gone – pulled under the water by a passing tug boat; it would be several days before Buckley’s body was discovered by a passing tourist boat. It is of some comfort to know Buckley was in a good mood leading up to his death and was in playful spirits.
PHOTO CREDIT: Merri Cry
The music world was shocked to learn of Buckley’s death but you look at music now and so many artists are inspired by what he gave us. Buckley’s sole studio album, Grace, turns twenty-five on 23rd August – and it will be a great opportunity to mark this incredible human. Upon its release, it sold poorly in the U.S. and struggled to make an impact on the charts. In a year when other sounds and genres were making an impression, Grace did not really get the respect it deserved. Subsequent live performances and the passing of time have seen the album gather the acclaim and celebration it should have received back in 1994. Buckley was, in many ways, ahead of his time. You look now and there are a lot of sensitive male songwriters who enjoy great affection and assimilation. Those whose ears and minds were truly open embraced Buckley but it is a shame that it took a lot of posthumous attention to see Grace grow to a larger extent. I have been a fan of Buckley for years and there are so many different aspects to him and his music that compel me. One cannot ignore that voice: this heavenly thing that stretches in all kinds of directions and can bring people to their knees. One can only imagine where Buckley would be now if he had lived; what direction his music would have taken.
From his early days performing in coffee shops around New York – a scene he was keen to return to when the madness of fame and touring demands took over – through to his final weeks, he was this hugely adored artist who sounded like nobody else. Go and acquaint yourself with his live albums like Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) and hear this man, in a modest and small café, blow away a lucky selection of attendees. He did not lose that allure and magic when he started playing bigger venues but, at every gig, you sort of feel like he was more at home in the New York bars and cafes. In any case, Buckley did inspire and amaze those around him. You only have to listen to interviews he conducted and hear that beautiful voice speak so passionately. Maybe Buckley was better understood in the U.K. than the U.S. I guess people here and in Europe were more willing to bond with this romantic soul with a sensitive side; a musician capable of immense power and beauty. It is almost a shame Grace arrived in 1994: a year when Grunge was still firing and Britpop was bouncing in the U.K. Since Buckley’s death in 1997, there have been numerous collections and projects that bring together lost recordings and his biggest hits. There are great biographies such as this that get to the heart of Buckley and, in October, Jeff Buckley: His Own Voice hits the shelves – a collection of photos and diary entries.
On Wednesday, I hope people do mark Buckley’s passing and, rather than feel sad, appreciate all the music he gave people and see how his music and legacy has affected the next generation. So many artists cite Buckley as an idol and that must be very humbling; Buckley would have been chuffed to realise how much his music means to people. I am still heartbroken he is no longer with us because there is always that suspicion that he was on the cusp of his greatest work. When he was putting together his second album, My Sweetheart the Drunk – the album, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk collected together recording he made for the album finished and half-finished alike – there was this change of direction afoot. There was a grittier and slightly bolder sound; a bit more electricity and something that was shaping up in Grace but never quite materialised. Grace is rightly regarded as one of the greatest albums ever but Buckley was keen to move on and develop his sound on his second outing. One can only guess what would have become of his second album and, knowing his perfectionist tendencies, how long it would have taken to come out! Rather than mourn this incredible artist that shone bright and too briefly, let’s all take some time to spin the music that he gave us. From his live recordings, through to Grace; his later sketches and those rare cut, it goes to show that there was nobody quite like him. Twenty-two years after the legend’s death, there is still nobody out there…
LIKE the amazing Mr. Buckley.