Tuesday, May 29, 2007

CELEBRATING A LIFE: JEFF BUCKLEY



Jeff Buckley

I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted To Be) (Demo)
Lover, You Should Have Come Over (Live Acoustic In Japan)
All Flowers In Time (with Elizabeth Fraser)
Forget Her (alternate version)
Grace (acoustic)
Untitled

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side (The Smiths Cover)
When The Levee Breaks (Led Zeppelin Cover)
Be Your Husband (Nina Simone Cover)
Ulalume (Edgar Allen Poe Reading)

He was already dead when I first learned about his music -- about his adoring fans who can breathlessly recite his lyrics and song-titles, and hum his melodies as if they'd written them themselves. But Jeff Buckley isn't the music-geek's personal soul-mate -- even the casual music-listener has heard or heard of him. His cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", recorded in 1994, emulated John Cale's and - later - the song became omnipresent, used in the sound-tracks of TV sitcoms and dramas, such as Scrubs, The West Wing, and The OC.

But this isn't about the prevalence of "Hallelujah" in TV and Cinema (to read about that, and the song's evolution, read this article). This isn't even really about the fact that 10 years ago today, Jeff Buckley went for a swim in the Wolf River Marina (Memphis, TN) from which he never returned alive. Because, tragic as that is, it doesn't say much about him, or his music. We can't ascertain how someone lived, or what they created in their lifetime, merely by knowing the circumstances of their death. (Although you can read a tribute detailing said circumstances here.) Really, this is just a celebration of the fact that Jeff Buckley lived long enough to record some unbelievable music.

Before he was signed, Jeff Buckley performed in the Sin-é (at that time, a café-style venue in New York's infamous Lower East Side), where he would play mostly covers, and improvise in a whimsical nature -- always encouraging audience participation. The Live at Sin-é EP got released to promote Columbia's new artist to the public before Grace came out, which was then posthumously expanded to a sprawling 2CD and bonus DVD package that truly emphasised the almost flippant nature of Jeff Buckley's talent -- he could step up to a microphone with just a guitar and his voice and wow an audience into silence. Even after his death his music continues to hush, touch, change.

-----

It was through the release of Live A L'Olympia in 2001 that I first came into contact with his music: his guitar skills, his voice, his lyrics. My brother asked for the album as a Christmas present from our parents, and then he invited me into his room to hear it. And I was just... stunned. And when I read the liner-notes I was gutted -- why wasn't this amazing musician still alive? Why?! For a live album to be so emotional and playful and perfect -- it was and still is just incredible. [Buy]

But Grace, the album proper that I subsequently discovered, didn't have the same impact upon me -- the studio setting for me, appears to render some of the emotion sterile. Live, Jeff Buckley could be cathartic, amazing, overwhelming, but - to my ears at least - the studio setting removed some of these desirable elements and almost, in a sense, made the songs too pitch-perfect. In comparison to the studio albums of other artists though? It's still nothing short of incredible, and critics and fans agree (in 2006 Mojo named it the #1 Modern Rock Classic of all Time; in 2005 readers of Q magazine placed the album as #13 on their list of The Greatest Albums Of All Time.) [Buy]

-----

Brief Words On:

Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk: This release left the songs as they were, in their unfinished states, as 'sketches'. Remarkably, this album, so clearly unfinished, is incredibly enjoyable. [Buy]

Jeff Buckley's influence: Admired by Radiohead, Damien Rice, and Martin Grech... enough said.

Radiohead with regards to Jeff Buckley: The vocal for Fake Plastic Trees, perhaps my favourite Radiohead song, was recorded by Thom Yorke in two takes after seeing Jeff Buckley perform. After the vocals were laid down, Thom Yorke apparently broke down into tears.

-----

A gushing summary: Music bloggers in general are stereotyped as being obsessed with the new new NEW! with only the briefest backward glance at what's come before, but few new artists can hold a candle to Jeff Buckley in my eyes. An example of someone adept in all fields of musicianship -- his remarkable voice spanning four octaves (read more at the official Jeff Buckley FAQ), his guitar skills (which, unlike many, he only ever showed off if it was beneficial to the song -- few realise how incredibly skillful he was at guitar because of this), his interpreter's ability to transform the songs of others into his own (see the Sin-é sessions for proof), his lyrics ("My kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder... all my riches for her smiles when I slept so soft against her") -- his whole craft was impeccable. Thus, despite today being the 10th anniversary of Jeff Buckley's death, his music continues to live on and touch the hearts and minds of others.

-----

Links:

Jeff Buckley Official Website / Jeff Buckley Official Store / Jeff Buckley Discography / Jeff Buckley Guitar Tabs / Jeff Buckley on Wikipedia / Grace on Wikipedia / A Beginners Guide To Jeff Buckley

-----

If you want to download more rarities, live versions, and songs written in tribute to Jeff Buckley, then go to I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS. There are a lot of great posts (all conveniently linked at the bottom).

4 comments:

Myriem said...

Many thanks for those covers - I've not heard them!

Flo said...

Same thrills when I heard his voice for the first time on a french radio broadcast... the day they announced he died. I still remember the name of the programm and where I was. Only few things in a life can do that.

Thanks for your description of his talent. It's so true. Thanks al lot for the titles you share, I only have his 'officials albums'.

And sorry if my english is a bit bad.

terry-ann said...

I discovered Jeff Buckley in the comfort of my own home one Sunday evening with my first and only love- whom would ulimately turn out to be my husband and the father of my only child.

We always listened to music on Sundays while cooking and laughing and loving. Any one from Fela Kuti to Miles Davis to Nina to Bowie brought us the icing on the cake that was our sunday evenings in our isolated home in the middle of a national park in the caribbean.

We knew little about the details of Jeffs life and subsequent demise - only that it was a tragedy to the world that such a gorgeously unique voice was lost.

Its only when my own love was severely injured in a tragic freak accident a mere kilometer away from home, I remembered Jeff. Not his story, not the face that I had never seen, but his voice.

I rememeber hearing the news and driving down through the dark road, not knowing the outcome but knowing that my life would be changed forever. A gorgeous haunting melody resounded in my head-- even during the gaury relisation of what had happened, during the shock and horror, during the emergency ward and during the 5 heart failures and even through my desperate cry for O+ blood. I thought i was mad for hearing music in my head at such a time - especially the music of this vague person I had only heard once upon a time (years) before.

Though we desperately fought for the life of my love, the music never stopped until i decided to let him go a week after it had begun. That voice in my head was that of Jeff. And it left me at peace knowing that my love would not want to fight for a life that was already lost.

I never believed in an afterlife or in the spirit world and I still dont know if i actually do. But I realise that the music I heard once upon a time was there to calm me in the face of the worst possible adversity that is mortality and possibly saved myself from death by shock and anguish.

I guess you can really say that he lived on through his music. The reasons for which, may be different for everybody.

Now, I cant say that I still know little about his life. Ive done the research and found the music and Im happy to say that it still brings comfort to hear him sing.

Now, his music is not related to my tragedy as I have rediscovered his music in a way that makes me look to the future with new eyes with my young daughter..

This is my story. This is what I wanted to say all along.

TERRY

lachicayoga said...

Terri thanks for telling your story. The music of Jeff Buckley has been a part of my life since I first heard it in the 90s, while he was still alive. I, like you, also feel it's always been there to help me through troubled times. I feel like his spirit, as I am sure also does the spirit of your beloved, lives on among us, in the air, in the trees, in the the love we have toward each other. I KNOW that beautiful enegy cannot die. It is still here. Much love.