JEFF BUCKLEY – ” Grace ” Classic Albums

Posted: April 29, 2019 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Juliana Hatfield Remembers Jeff Buckley

Shocking and unexpected was the news that Jeff  Buckley had passed away. The tragic drowning death in 1997 at the age of 30 instantly propelled him to a legendary status accorded the greats who die young, he was already well on his way to becoming one of the more admired and respected singer-songwriters of his era. He drowned? How?? It was so awful, so unbelievable. Jeff was gifted with a prodigious, supernatural, dazzling talent. He could do so much with his voice and his guitar and the way he wove them together was breathtaking. The gateway to acceptance came with his very first studio album, Grace, released in 1994 (25 years ago this summer). Though not a huge success when it was released, Grace was to become one of those albums that sort of insinuated itself into people’s album collections over time, as friends passed it to friends, discovering one cool song after another that spoke to them for whatever reason. His lyrics were often spare and poetic, delivered in that unmistakable voice that could easily move from a near-whisper to an ethereal wail. Of course, it was his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluljah” on Grace that really put him (and that song) on the map.

He was a fan of so much music, so many kinds of music, and he absorbed it all with a quasi-photographic musical memory, integrating all sorts of disparate elements effortlessly. It must have been overwhelming sometimes to have so many options, hard to narrow down what it was he wanted to present to the world. Grace is filled with exceptional songs, among them “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” presented in a striking video performance here.

Sometimes Jeff seemed to be trying genres out, trying to figure out what he wanted to be, dipping a toe into a certain musical style one day, into another the next. Sometimes it seemed that with certain choices he made he was trying to prove his punk rock/indie rock bona fides, like when his band would play a version of “Kick out the Jams” was too self-consciously overwrought. Jeff’s guitar shredding abilities — his real technical skills, and his musical sensitivity and sophistication — were not punk rock at all. With punk rock, the whole idea is that you barely know how to play your instrument. And you do just one thing — the one thing that you can do — over and over again.

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Jeff Buckley could do so many things. His music was kind of all over the place. It showed off. It was exploratory. Jeff was category-resistant.

Jeff also had that star power. He would play it up and play it down. He would wear a grubby, once-white, ill-fitting V-neck T-shirt a lot (the one he wore in the “Last Goodbye” video), as if to resist his own glamorization. But then he also had a sparkly gold jacket (the one he wore in the photo on the album cover of Grace), which he put on in New York for a big show at the Roseland Ballroom.

People were discovering Grace’s mysterious, confident charm, falling for it — falling hard. Jeff would sometimes joke about his growing stardom, to lighten the load of it, maybe. But at the same time there was a gravity and a sense that his charismatic power (musically and otherwise) was not something to be squandered or misused — he accepted it and respected it although it must have been a burden, all the passion he inspired, all the projection onto him, people wanting access to him, wanting pieces of him, of his time, and all the expectation and pressure to deliver a second album that was as magical and accomplished and ambitious and  weird and wonderful and unique as Grace.Grace was all those things and more. It was serious, playful, puzzling, exotic, traditional, quiet, loud, clean, dirty, pretentious, humble, curious, beautiful, sad, happy, challenging, rewarding— as was Jeff.

Jeff did hilarious, spot-on impressions of other singers. He did a great Chris Cornell; if you closed your eyes you could almost believe that Chris was in the room. Jeff could mimic female singers, too. It was uncanny. And loving, and admiring — all of his vocal impersonations were done in homage and appreciation rather than meanness or mocking.

His gifts, his music, the things he liked, his time. Jeff was a model for savoring it all, being fully in every moment, rather than off to the side, just observing or thinking about it. Each show he did was like a ceremony of sharing, a sacred ritual, an active meditation of mindfulness, but also fun. He was fully immersed in every second of every song, but also fully connected to the audience.

Part of what was so heartbreaking about Jeff Buckley’s early death was that he seemed determined not to end up like his father, Tim Buckley, who had died young (at twenty-eight, of a drug overdose). It wasn’t something Jeff really talked about, but you could sense that there was some recognition or pull that Jeff felt toward some darkness, some dark legacy. And that he was going to shape and drive his fate away from that, to somewhere less tragic and more self-determined. (In fact he did outlive his father by a couple of years, age-wise.) Even though Jeff never knew his dad and met him only once as a boy, when he took his birth father’s last name and went public as an artist it was an acknowledgment of that connection.

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