What’s more tragic about the story of Jeff Buckley is not his actual death by accidental drowning – it’s that he had such a promising career ahead of him. A self-taught guitarist and vocalist, Buckley’s debut album is considered by many publications (both in music and other organizations that cover music like TIME Magazine) to be one of the best albums ever. Not even just in rock music, but any genre, all-time.
I’m kind of a sucker for rock bands that were popular during the 90s, but Buckley doesn’t resemble anything released during that time period. Grace is timeless. There’s no other way about it.
As a moody teenager, when I heard Buckley’s harrowing cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the first time, I was moved to tears. It still hits hard, and I can only stomach the song every so often.
Grace is made up of 7 Buckley originals and 3 covers. Accompanying Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is “Lilac Wine” (originally by Elkie Brooks and made popular by Nina Simone) and a version of “Corpus Christi Carol” (originally performed by Janet Baker). But, were it not for this project, I would never have guessed the latter two were covers, because of the life that Buckley injects in them.
Lyrically, he writes with such a down to earth and modern style that it’s hard not to appreciate. Here are the full lyrics for the title-track “Grace”, which in retrospect, are especially haunting considering his sudden demise and that he mentions drowning.
There’s the moon asking to stay
Long enough for the clouds to fly me away
Well it’s my time coming, I’m not afraid to die
My fading voice sings of love,
But she cries to the clicking of time
Wait in the fire…
And she weeps on my arm
Walking to the bright lights in sorrow
Oh drink a bit of wine we both might go tomorrow
Oh my love
And the rain is falling and I believe
My time has come
It reminds me of the pain
I might leave
Wait in the fire…
And I feel them drown my name
So easy to know and forget with this kiss
I’m not afraid to go but it goes so slow
I don’t remember a whole lot of my early years, but I recall coverage of Princess Diana’s death and a news story about Jeff Buckley’s drowning. Even as a kid, I remember being more caught up on Buckley because, for one, he was American and I didn’t understand Diana’s profound influence. But secondly, I was a child who liked swimming, and sometimes with a shirt on.
What is it about the deaths of musicians that romanticizes their discography? Look at Elliott Smith. It was obvious he had deep psychological issues associated with his alcoholism, but in spite of taking his own life, he remains a cult icon. Was it because he committed suicide that his legacy remains in tact, or is it still about his music? Not saying that one should throw out his Figure 8 CDs just because he offed himself, but his suicide definitely swayed my opinion.
Does the same type of romantic attachment exist for an artist like, I don’t know, Ol’ Dirty Bastard? Big Baby Jesus overdosed, so certainly it has more to do with the manner in which artist dies that ultimately determines their fate in the public eye.
Regardless: I never knew Jeff Buckley (obviously), but I miss him. Not just because Grace is David Bowie’s sole “desert island” album. Not just because his cover of “Hallelujah” is the standard bearer for all cover songs, period. And not just because the only full-length he ever released didn’t receive its proper credit and due until years and years later.
I miss Jeff Buckley because he’s the greatest musician that never was.
From Grace (1994- where does the time go?), here is Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”:
Standout tracks: “Hallelujah”, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and “Last Goodbye”
Weakest track: N/A
RIYL: Modern rock, alt. rock. Singer-songwriters. Elliott Smith, Nick Drake. Last.fm lists Ours as a possible similar artist, and some of their songs are pretty bleak, so I could vibe with that.