Thursday, December 31, 2009
Jeff Buckley died on 29 May 1997. On that day, I was 14, he was 30. I remember hearing about it on MTV news, much like the passing of Kurt Cobain, and like Cobain, I knew of the man, but had no connection or understanding of his life or work at the time of his death. The news was memorably upsetting mostly because of the way he died; drowning in the shallows of the Wolf River in Memphis, while a friend stood on the banks, helpless, just a few feet away. It is believed his body was pulled under by an intense current caused by a passing boat, one where even the strongest of swimmers wouldn't have stood a chance of survival. The world lost something incredibly talented and beautiful that day.
It wouldn't be until about a year later, while I was cleaning my room on a warm day, windows open and the breeze causing my curtains to billow, carrying the sound of National Public Radio throughout the house, when I would finally be introduced to the sounds that would change music for me forever. That day I was more concerned with the radio acting as company during my tasks but it was then that I heard the song, the voice more specifically, which stopped me in my tracks. The sound which poured from my speakers that day was unlike anything I had heard before. The most impassioned, spine tingling-ly beautiful voice accompanied the tune. Then his name popped into my head for the first time since reports of his death. Just like that I had found a piece to the puzzle I didn't even know was missing. THIS was Jeff Buckley. It just had to be. I don't know how I knew but I was certain before the announcer could confirm this as fact. This became my first and official introduction to one of the most virtuosic and soulful musicians I would, and likely will, ever hear.
Always enamored with music and the people who created it, it took no time at all before I procured a copy of Jeff's debut album, Grace. I wore that album out yet never tired of those 10 tracks and it is, to this day one of my all time favorite pieces of music to listen to. Without intending to, I taught myself to be a better singer by listening along to his advanced vocalizations, soaring from rich tenor to the highest heights of falsetto without coming off as campy or overdone. His voice was a true gift and I've never heard another quite like it. Jeff was born to make beautiful music and did so with apparent ease and, well, grace.
You may be taken aback by his stunning good looks but Jeff likely took all that with a grain of salt. He had an extreme beauty both inside and out, a true artist and something of an amateur comedian. Whether you listen to and love him or are newly introduced to Jeff's work, the experience cannot be complete until you hear live recordings including his stage banter. He was a master of impressions and off the cuff improvisation and the only thing that saddens me about listening to the recordings is that we will never hear any new jokes or experience the goofball antics that could and undoubtedly would take place with any given Jeff Buckley performance.
It's really hard, near impossible for me to pick a favorite track of his to share. Unfortunately, what video exists of him is limited as he passed before reaching the height of his stardom. A few music videos were created to accompany Grace, the only full length studio album that was released during his lifetime. Of that album, I tend to lean toward "So Real" as my favorite track, likely because of the hard to ignore passion that exudes from his voice while singing a phrase as simple as "I'm afraid".
See for yourself: