("...the voice within the voice, the sound within the sound...")
"I don't write my music for Sony. I write it for the people who are
screaming down the road crying to a full blast stereo. There is also
music I'll make that will never-ever-ever be for sale. This is my music
alone, this is my true home; from which all things are born and from
which all my life will spring untainted and unworried, fully of my own
Known to be notoriously precious about his music, one wonders if Jeff
Buckley is looking down upon the thousands of people with copies of
Sketches (For My Sweetheart The Drunk), and cringing.
I read these private thoughts taken from personal notebooks, now
displayed for the entire world to see, and listen to the bare,
home-recorded demos, and feel like a complete intruder. Like I have been
caught hiding in a closet reading his diary. Or, as one fan likened it,
that I have walked in on Buckley in the bathroom.
More disturbing are the depictions of Buckley as just another ill-fated
tormented artist. Some have stopped short of calling his
death-by-drowning suicide. His is a story much too easy to romanticise:
a voice as sweet and pleasing to the ear as his image was to the eye;
songs of love forlorn; an artist with a musical map in his lineage, who
battled memories of a complicated past and released but a single album
in his short-lived career, before drifting away from this world in the
murky waters of the Mississippi.
Similarly, his story is far too easy to twist: haunting confessive
songs; an estranged father who too was an artist short of his prime when
taken by a drug overdose like so many artists of the 70's era - of
course adding fuel to the sparked rumours that Buckley too had a drug
problem (something feverously but quite sincerely denied by his closest
friends and relatives).
On stage in his only Adelaide show in February 1996, he was untouchable.
We watched him transform as he mesmerised and seduced us. Brought us
into his world as he bared his soul, with that celestial voice, his
magical guitarness, and of course that divine poetry. He was an artist
in its purest form.
Grace was about passion. Your greatest fears. Your darkest secrets. It
was about being human - the grief and joy. The most poignant moments
were whispered, like voices in your head speaking aloud. If Grace was
used as the single reference point by which to judge this musician you
would have only one aspect of the man. It indicates the contemplative,
languid and often nostalgic side of Buckley, but the person many of his
friends knew was far from this.
He was a curious character: profoundly pensive one moment - charismatic,
eyes glinting and grinning the next. At last year's public memorial
service held at the venue of Buckley's infamous debut, St Anne's Church
in New York, close personal friend Susan Feldman said, "He can't be
captured in print or in words, because whatever is said is a reduction.
He was more. Bigger, greater, funnier, wilder, crazier, more beautiful."
For those who knew, met or saw him in concert, he will be remembered far
more for his hilarity than solemnity. His endless impersonations and
embarrassing anecdotes. His hysterical fits of laughter. His
On their recent tour, I spoke to Nathan Larson of Shudder To Think, one
of Buckley's favourite bands. A close friend, Buckley had toured on bass
with Larson's side band Mind Science of the Mind (including The
Dambuilder's Kevin March and Joan Wasser).
Larson: "I remember meeting him first at The 9.30 Club at one of our
shows. He was really drunk and he looked beautiful, he was wearing this
really weird, black toreador shirt. I knew he was Tim Buckley's son but
beyond that I didn't know he was a singer really. I thought he was too
good looking to be talented, so I sort of blew him off - I thought,
"You're a freak! You're too hot to possibly be that good!"
"Whenever you have a strong person in your life and they do what you do,
and are as talented as that, it's always such a struggle to feel worthy.
(Sigh) He was ... the best."
he was also a perfectionist, perpetuating debate over the posthumous
release since the time of the accident. leaving no will, buckley's
estate fell entirely into the hands of his mother mary guibert. no
matter what your feelings towards this album, it was the most difficult
situation to be in, and despite what decision guibert reached in regards
to the release or non-release of any of her son's material, there were
bound to be a few unhappy faces. who knows buckley's true musical
intentions? his charm was his unpredictability and the incessant
evolution of his songs. given the ultimatum of no new material heard
ever or sketches... , i dare say most of us would choose the latter.
disc One, the Tom Verlaine sessions as mastered by Grace producer Andy
Wallace, are arguably the best results possible given the circumstances.
But band members, friends and work colleagues have insisted since very
early on that Buckley intended the tapes be destroyed in a planned
"burning session" when the band arrived in Memphis. Buckley's attorney
and manager George Stein admitted to NME magazine the Verlaine sessions
were never intended to be the actual finished product, they were merely
experimental sessions, but in the end he was not satisfied. Buckley had
decided months before his death that he wanted to re-record these from
Anticipation following Grace was immense and the long break between
records had intensified the pressure. Despite media gossip of 'burning
out' after vigorous world touring, Buckley had plunged into numerous
side projects with Patti Smith, Mind Science of the Mind, Shudder To
Think's soundtrack for First Love, Last Rites (out in August), and
tribute albums to Jack Kerouac (Kicks Joy Darkness) and Edgar Allan Poe
(Closed on Account of Rabies).
He was a prolific writer but the press who continued to herald the
prominence of Grace failed to recognise the new material being
experimented with live. The Sky Is a Landfill
was heard as early as the '95
Bataclan show in Paris. In December, NY radio show Idiot's Delight had
Buckley play the intoxicating Woke Up In A Strange Place
, later heard on
the Australian Hard Luck Tour along with Mood Swing Whiskey,
instrumental version of Vancouver,
sung by bassist Mick
Grondahl, Tongue (So Real B-side), and a gorgeous untitled song with the
refrain "all flowers in time, bend towards the sun".
Home in NYC a faster version of New Year's Prayer
was performed at New
Year's Eve shows at Mercury Lounge and Sin-e, where he returned in
September 1996 with Morning Theft.
Buckley continued roadtesting,
including The Nymph's Yard of Blonde Girls
on his "phantom solo tour"
playing under mischievous aliases such as Possessed by Elves, Martha and
the Nicotines, and Topless America. Buckley missed his life as an
anonymous performer away from the infinite intrigue and expectations he
felt were premature.
He played some official shows in early '97, solo and with band (drummer
Parker Kindred now replacing Matt Johnson who played his last show at
Sydney's Selina's bar) and along with Grace favourites performed mostly
new songs including
Nightmares By The Sea,
Witches' Rave and
Haven't You Heard?
They recorded sporadically with ex-Television guitarist Tom Verlaine on
controls in NYC and Memphis until Buckley sent the band home while he
continued to work on four-tracks and demos (some featuring on Disc Two).
Word of Buckley's regular Monday night shows at the small Barristers'
bar spread quickly across the internet and one fan even flew in from
England to see him. One set included the freshly written Jewel Box,
perhaps one of the more completed demos released.
Some of the material released on Disc Two had not yet even been heard by
the band at the time of Buckley's death. The rawness and sparsity of
many of these songs will challenge even the most open-minded fans.
Perhaps because it was this music he made for himself alone. The lyrics
of Murder Suicide Meteor Slave
are alarmingly baring even by Buckley's
But if something positive has come of this release it has been to
somewhat fill the void left when Buckley vanished. To give us glimpses
of the brilliance yet to unfold, tragic as they are. To let us hear the
Buckley who played like a kid on the pitch controller, flirted with
eighties cock-rock and made it sexy and unleashed his brazen punk lust.
The Jeff Buckley I remember is one who took energy from all around him,
encapsulated it in a sound, drew me in and taught me to "stand absolved"
and unashamed of being human.