FROM: CNN (June 1st 1997) ~
The search for singer Jeff Buckley, who disappeared Thursday while
swimming in the
Mississippi River, was scaled back Saturday because of foul weather
and the belief that he drowned.
Police braved rain "to search for what we presume to be at this time
the body," Memphis Police Lt. Brenda Maples said. Search dogs, divers,
helicopters, boats and foot patrols conducted an intensive search
Booking agent Chris Walker described the New York-based musician as
"very strange." He won't believe Buckley is dead until he sees a body.
"He could be anywhere right now. If he's dead, I won't be surprised.
If he's in San Diego, I won't be surprised."
Buckley, 30, who had signed with Columbia Records, went to Memphis in
February to work at a recording studio. Columbia publicists said
Thursday that he was preparing to cut a new album in Memphis beginning
Buckley was with a friend on the east bank of the river when he
disappeared. The singer was fully clothed when he waded into the water
while listening to music, his friend told police.
He was the son of singer/songwriter Tim Buckley, who died of an
accidental heroin overdose in 1975.
Buckley's 1994 album "Grace" yielded the alternative hit "Last
Goodbye" in the spring of 1995. He contributed to Patti Smith's 1996
album "Gone Again."
FROM: A Tribute To Jeff Buckley (August 1997) ~
By Mike Gee
"I couldn't awake from the nightmare
It sucked me in and pulled me under
pulled me under
Oh, that was so real ..."
- Jeff Buckley ("So Real") -
Those lines take on a haunting, horrific nature now. It's as if some
two or three years ago Jeff Buckley wrote his own epitaph: now they
echo a sad, painful, farewell.
Jeff Buckley, 30-year-old genius of a singer/songwriter/guitarist, and
son of the great and legendary Tim Buckley - a father whose shadow
haunted, taunted and perhaps, ultimately, consumed him - is dead,
drowned in an offshoot of the mighty Mississippi River in Memphis. The
last time he was seen alive he was swimming on his back, fully
clothed, singing. Perhaps, that is the memory those who loved his
music, his astonishing songs and incredible, incendiary voice - so
like that of his father - should cherish.
What to say then of a man claimed so young, who left just one album,
an EP and a bunch of singles, and guest appearance tracks, yet was
already considered one of the potential greats of his times. Perhaps,
that although he always spoke so much of living, of the need to live
life at its fullest, to smash the culture of anti-life as he saw much
of society, government and authoritarianism as representing, Buckley
was as close to death as he was life. He walked such a fine line.
A product of the Greenwich Village folkie and bohemian circuit,
Buckley lived on the frontline, choosing to mix it amongst the
communes and squats where he found what he called the last real
writers, artists, expressionists; people he could relate to, people
unafraid of society's mores and dictates, willing to take a chance.
Over 1994 and 1995 I spoke to him twice. Each time we spoke mostly of
life, what he saw around him, the injustices, the fear, the laws that
repelled him, the death of Western civilization, the loss of
spirituality, the problems he had coming to terms with the modern
world and those in silent power, and, sometimes, the shadow of Tim,
the father he hardly knew who died when he was just eight.
Tim Buckley knew no limitations; for him, songs were a springboard for
risk-tasking, for delving into the dark side of man's nature and the
indefinable nature of the spirit. Tim only knew that once he found the
edge, he had to go over it. And through a series of extraordinary
albums that tested the limitations of jazz, folk and rock and his own
freeform fusion of the elements he took those who listened with him.
On June 25, 1975, at the age of 28, Tim Buckley was dead from an
accidental drug overdose.
Today, he is revered as a true great, a man capable of charging songs
with an emotional depth few have ever reached or dared to try and
find: it was a trait that somehow passed itself onto Jeff, even though
he was forever trying not to admit it.
One stinking hot LA morning when the temperature had already soared
past the older 100 degree mark, Buckley who had been talking with more
and more lateralness for half-an-hour suddenly said, "All this stuff
about my Dad, I never knew him, really. It's so hard to live with. I'm
Jeff not Tim. Do you think what they say is true?"
The question never got answered. How could you tell him, yes, he was
so much his father's son. The way he sang, that extraordinary
multi-octave voice, the jaggedness of his music, his willingness to
throw it into freeform chaos, to bend between genres, and the passion
and the scary, fractured, hanging on and yelling out emotion that flew
effortlessly in unforgettable codas that spanned much more than words
can ever transmit in songs such as "Grace" and "So Real".
No, Jeff Buckley could never be told that, it didn't seem right. He so
much just wanted to be Jeff Buckley, and he so badly wanted to change
the world. Instead we talked about how LA's city fathers owned a tank,
about the 'no smoking in certain public places' law, about how he
didn't want to write the second album the record company or anybody
else wanted him to write and how he would write the songs that he
felt, no matter what anybody thought. To Jeff, it was all part of
beating and breaking the system. The streets romanced him and the edge
scared him - there he was different from his dad. He already feared
what he might find out and he already feared what he might become.
Somewhere towards the end of the conversation, he spoke of insanity -
he saw it all around - and how he feared that he too would become
insane. Yet, you sensed there was something driving him on, something
terribly urgent and restless within him. He could, easily, have taken
the soft option; given the music industry, the public, what they
wanted - whatever that was. But it would have been a defeat Jeff
Buckley could never have lived with and so he went on, taking a very
long time to write his second album, which he was finally just about
to go into the studio and record.
Buckley was due to begin working up material for his long-awaited
sophomore effort at Memphis's Easily Studios on Thursday, the day he
disappeared. Former Television leader Tom Verlaine was originally down
to produce the project, but that partnership was scrapped in March
when Buckley decided he needed more time to come up with material for
the album. Recording with Andy Wallace - who produced Buckley's
phenomenal debut - was scheduled to begin at the end of June. The
not-yet-titled album was set for early 1998 release.
Although Buckley already had more than two-dozen songs finished, he
wanted to spend the next month preparing himself for the production of
the album. Buckley most recently appeared on a track featuring Inger
Lorre on Rykodisc's Jack Kerouac tribute, 'Kicks Joy Darkness'. He was
also going to contribute a song to Hal Willner's forthcoming Edgar
Allan Poe tribute alongside Lou Reed, Diamanda Galas and Leonard
Cohen; and was to appear on the 'First Love, Last Rites' soundtrack.
The facts then as they are: On the night of Thursday, May 29, Buckley
was hanging out with a friend at the Mud Island Harbor marina, half a
mile inland off the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. He and
the friend were listening to a stereo and playing a guitar when
Buckley waded, fully clothed, waist-high into the water. He started
singing and laid back on the water, when a boat went by causing waves
to come in to the shore.
The friend on shore turned his back to move the stereo away from the
incoming waves and when he turned around, he couldn't see Buckley.
After a 10-minute search, the friend called local police. The Memphis
police department began dragging the waters that night and continued
to do so - weather permitting - for the five following days. They also
checked on the chance of him having wandered out the water. Friends
were contacted and people in the area of the marina questioned. They
came up with nothing. Jeff Buckley simply vanished.
Finally, the news came through at about 7pm on June 4: the body of
Jeff Buckley had been found. Police said that a passenger on the
American Queen river boat spotted the body at the foot of the city's
famous Beale Street. The body had a pierced navel - like Jeff's - and
was in the same clothes he was described as wearing when he
disappeared. His body was subsequently identified by friends and taken
to the local morgue awaiting an autopsy. The waiting was over and the
tears could finally flow unchecked for a beautiful spirit, tragically
And so we have lost another young genius, and another man who saw
perhaps too much, too soon. Worst of all, we'll never know what Jeff
Buckley was thinking, what those 20-plus songs contained, where he
would have taken that unshakeable faith and idealism.
Some interviews you remember. And I remember that last one, so well,
too well. His voice is still as clear as if it that interview was
yesterday; its nuances, its pain, its anger, its frustration and its
love. Jeff Buckley could never hide how human he really was.
Ironically, but fittingly, the words that best fit this tragedy are
Patti Smith's in "Beneath The Southern Cross" from "Gone Again", her
stunning comeback album of last year, and one of two tracks on which
Buckley appeared, his voice soaring ethereal like some ghostly angel
calling from the infinite beyond. It seemed right he should sing with
this woman who has known more tragedy than most. They were like
spirits. "Gone Again" celebrated life after death and a great spirit;
the honesty of loss; an enduring love.
Jeff understood all those qualities and now in their light we should
remember this blazing light shaded far, far, too early.
Jeff Buckley in art: http://www.alcorngallery.com/JeffBuckley.jpeg
Second-generation pop stars hardly ever live up to their
illustrious parents. Jeff Buckley was the exception to that
His considerable talent and distinctive soprano voice eerily
echoed those of his father, the singer Tim Buckley, who died
of a drug overdose in 1975. And, in the space of three years
and one album, Jeff Buckley attained the cult status his
troubled father had taken eight years and as many records to
achieve. Yet, though they hardly had a chance to bond (Tim
was estranged from Jeff's mother and died at the age of 28,
when his son was seven), their tragic destinies mirrored
Born in 1966, Jeffrey Scott Buckley was the result of a
short-lived liaison between Tim Buckley and Mary Gulbert. In
one of the few interviews Jeff Buckley later gave, he
recalled that the couple:
broke up in the early Seventies. I was only about four when
my dad left. I was really brought up by my mother and my
stepfather. I owe them my most pregnant musical memories.
They were together for about four years and the house was
full of music. My mum would play piano and cello all the
time and my stepdad had great musical taste. I would listen
to anything: the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joni
Mitchell, Judy Garland, Robert Johnson, Thelonious Monk,
Bartk, Mahler. And I asked a lot of questions. Learning
about music seemed effortless. I guess I must have had
natural abilities. Looking back, it felt like instinct.
Indeed, at five, the young Buckley had picked up his
grandmother's guitar and taught himself to play. In Southern
California, he might have felt rootless and restless, but
music already seemed to drive him on. Aged 13, Jeff even
wrote his first song, "about a break-up with a girlfriend.
It was awful."
Having graduated from high school, the teenage Buckley left
home, studied at the Los Angeles Musicians' Institute and
played in a few rock and reggae bands (including Shinehead).
In 1990, he moved to New York and started hanging out on the
Lower East Side, forming Gods and Monsters, a short- lived
group. He also guested at a Tim Buckley tribute concert
where he attracted the attention of the producer Hal
Buckley only found his forte two years later when he started
to perform solo with his electric guitar at coffee houses
such as the Fez, Bang On and the Sin-e Cafe, in Greenwich
Village. By the time the "Live at Sin- e" EP came out in
late 1993, Buckley had evolved an amazing style, blending
jazz, folk, rock, classical music, unusual covers (an epic
version of Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do") and
French chanson (Edith Piaf's "Je N'en Connais Pas La Fin) to
create a fluid hybrid in which both listener and performer
could lose themselves. He soon signed to Columbia Records
and, fittingly for an exponent of the neo-hippie tendency,
set about recording his debut album proper at Bearsville
studios, near Woodstock.
Buckley left nothing to chance. Since he'd only been playing
with the bassist Mick Grondahl and drummer Matt Johnson for
a month, he called upon guests such as the ex- Captain
Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas (who'd already helped him
shape some of the compositions like "Mojo Fin") and the
avant-garde composer Karl Berger who provided unusual,
flowing string arrangements. Andy Wallace's production did
the rest and, by the end of 1994, rock critics the world
over were praising Grace to the heavens.
The soaring, yearning vocals drew comparisons with Robert
Plant, Jim Morrison and, predictably, Buckley's father. The
puzzling, wide-ranging choice of cover versions (Leonard
Cohen's "Hallelujah", Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi
Carol", "Lilac Wine", a standard covered by everyone from
Nina Simone to Elkie Brooks) was discussed in hushed tones.
Having added guitarist Michael Tighe, Buckley toured like
there was no tomorrow, appearing at Reading and Glastonbury
festivals and winning fans wherever he went. His vulnerable
stage presence made girls swoon and he became an unlikely
sex-symbol of the alternative music scene.
In 1995, Rolling Stone magazine named him Best New Artist
and "Last Goodbye" became an alternative hit on US college
radio. Yet, though Grace sold very well in Britain and
France, Buckley never really appealed to the MTV generation.
This suited him fine as he was keen to explore new musical
However, following up Grace's early promise proved difficult
and Buckley marked time with various limited- edition
releases ("Peyote Radio Theatre", among others). Last year,
he guested with Jazz Passengers and appeared on Patti
Smith's comeback album Gone Again. More recently, he paid
tribute to the beat poet Jack Kerouac on Kicks Joy Darkness,
a collection of readings which also features REM's Michael
Stipe, the Clash's Joe Strummer, the actors Matt Dillon and
Johnny Depp and the writer William Burroughs. Last December,
internet fans could read a worrying message Buckley had
posted on his website. It read: "I'm in the middle of some
wild shit now. Please be patient."
Earlier this year, Buckley finally set about recording new
songs in Memphis with former Television guitarist Tom
Verlaine. But the resulting sessions had left Buckley
somewhat frustrated and, having scrapped those and sent his
backing musicians home, he was trying new material on his
own while considering using the producer Andy Wallace again.
There was already talk of a European tour to coincide with
the album release in the autumn and Buckley obviously felt
On 29 May, Buckley and a friend, Keith Foti, went to
downtown Memphis and hung out at the Mud Island Marina with
an acoustic guitar and a ghettoblaster. Having played some
songs, Buckley decided to go for a swim in the Mississippi.
His friend tried to stop him but Buckley jumped in fully
clothed and still singing. As a boat passed by and created a
large wave, Foti moved the ghettoblaster out of range of the
water. When he turned round, Buckley had disappeared from
view, probably caught by the undertow in the treacherous
Listening to Buckley's recordings again ("Eternal Life",
dedicated to a long-lost lover, "Dream Brother", written
about the father he didn't know), the sense of foreboding
present in the lyrics proves overwhelming, never more so
than in "So Real" during which the singer wails, "the
nightmare. It sucked me in and pulled me under".
Jeff Buckley was fond of describing his wonderful songs as
"dreamlike, coming from your subconscious. You have to let
yourself go and it can scar you or destroy you. It's a bit
Jeffrey Scott Buckley, singer, songwriter, guitarist,
organist: born Orange County, California 17 November 1966;
died Memphis, Tennessee 29 May 1997.
Jeff Buckley. The Son Who Soared
FROM: The Guardian (June 6th 1997) ~
By Adam Sweeting
Few rock business careers began more tantalisingly than that
of Jeff Buckley, who has drowned in the Mississippi river,
aged 30 (his body was found on Wednesday this week). In
1991, record producer Hal Willner, known for assembling
imaginative, star-studded tributes to Charles Mingus and
Kurt Weill, put together a tribute concert for Jeff's
father, Tim Buckley, at St Ann's Church, Brooklyn, New York.
Tim had died of a heroin overdose in 1975, aged 28, but his
early death ignited a slow-burning musical legend. It was
founded on his recorded legacy in which soul, blues and jazz
influences mingled freely, the process stirred by his
arrestingly elastic vocal style.
His son Jeff, born in California during Tim's brief marriage
to Panama-born Mary Guibert, had always been ambivalent
about his father. Tim left Mary when Jeff was six months
old, and his son was brought up by his mother and stepfather
during a peripatetic childhood. "We moved so often I had to
put all my stuff in paper bags," Jeff recalled. "My
childhood was pretty much marijuana and rock 'n' roll."
His decision to participate in Willner's tribute event
launched Buckley Junior as a new phenomenon on the New York
music scene, and simultaneously affirmed his quasi-mythic
credentials, particularly when he performed his father's
song Once I Was. "It bothered me that I hadn't been to his
funeral, that I've never been able to tell him anything,"
said Jeff. "I used that show to pay my last respects."
Thus launched in public, Buckley was rescued from a string
of odd jobs by joining the avant-garde combo Gods &
Monsters, which featured Pere Ubu's ex-bassist Tony Maimone
and Captain Beefheart's erstwhile guitarist Gary Lucas. But
it was more a loose group of individuals than a real band
and Buckley quit in early 1992 to pursue a solo career.
He began performing at small Manhattan clubs, particularly
the Cafe Sin-e, where record company executives and A&R men
were soon arriving by the limo-full, waving chequebooks. "I
went into those cafes because I really felt I had to go to
an impossibly intimate setting where there's no escape,
where there's no hiding yourself," he explained.
Buckley's remarkable voice (his most obvious inheritance
from his father) and movie-star looks left nobody in doubt
that he was a star in the making, though the eclecticism of
his shows confused some listeners. Buckley would pluck songs
out of the air as the mood took him. It might be something
by Van Morrison, the Hollies or Big Star, or a tune made
famous by Nina Simone or Mahalia Jackson.
With a hippie-esque suspicion of large corporations, he
turned down several deals before signing with Columbia at
the end of 1992, apparently because he knew and trusted the
label's A&R man Steve Berkowitz. The company previewed their
new acquisition with a live EP, Live At Sin-e, following
which Buckley travelled upstate to Bearsville to start work
on his debut album, Grace.
The disc was released in 1994 to instant critical adulation.
The sleeve pictured Buckley clutching a microphone and
looking poetically dishevelled, while the music inside was a
cornucopia of rockers, ballads, hymns and even a bold
rendition of Benjamin Britten's Corpus Christi Carol, by no
means standard rock 'n' roll fare. His voice was wild,
passionate and sensual. If his music was hard to describe in
a soundbite, it was bursting with hidden depths and infinite
potential. Grace won Buckley the Best New Artist award from
Rolling Stone magazine in 1995.
Buckley's inquisitiveness and musical ambition earned him
acceptance across a broad spectrum of fellow performers.
Elvis Costello brought him over in 1995 to perform at
London's Meltdown Festival, where he easily held his own
among string quartets and jazz ensembles, and last year he
featured on Patti Smith's comeback album, Gone Again. He was
also a fan of Eastern music, particularly the Islamic
devotional Qawwali songs of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Buckley had been in Memphis since February, recording new
material. He decided to go swimming in the Mississippi,
fully clothed and carrying his guitar, but was apparently
pulled under by the wash from a passing tug.
Jeff Buckley, rock singer, born August 1, 1966; died May 29,
Inherited Torment: Just Like His Dad
FROM: The Observer (June 8th 1997) ~
By Sam Taylor
Jeff Buckley swam out into the Mississippi and never came
back. Did his father drag him under?
'Walking to the bright lights in sorrow,
Oh drink a bit of wine, we both might go tomorrow . . .
And the rain is falling, and I believe my time has come . .
And I feel them drown my name . . .
I'm not afraid to go, but it goes so slow . . .' - Jeff
Buckley, 'Grace', 1994
I have never heard anyone sing with as much emotional force
as Jeff Buckley. When I saw him play in New York in 1994, I
was in tears for almost the entire concert. Why? The truth
is, I don't know. Though the songs he performed (his own and
other people's) were often sad, it was not the lyrics nor
the melodies that were moving, so much as the singer
himself. His voice, though it was often aqueously beautiful,
also had the power to terrorise; he could shift from a
melancholic sigh to a scream of despair or a howl of desire
within the space of a line. He sang as though his life were
flashing before his eyes, as though this might be the last
chance he had to express what he felt inside. He once
declared, about the experience of performing: 'Sometimes
it's like sex, when you transcend the physical and make
something spiritual, when you fly . . .' A Jeff Buckley
concert was a slow-motion petit mort. 'You have to let
yourself go,' he said, 'and it can scar you or destroy you.
It's a bit like dying.'
The man acclaimed by many as the most naturally talented
rock vocalist of his generation gave his final performance
to an audience of one. He was singing and laughing as he
swam out into the Mississippi River on a spring Tennessee
evening, before being pulled beneath the water's surface.
His end, though tragically premature, was as musical and
darkly romantic as his short life.
On Thursday 29 May, around 9pm, Jeff and a friend, Keith
Foti, were sitting on the quay of the Mud Island marina,
where the Mississippi joins downtown Memphis. They had an
acoustic guitar and a ghetto blaster, and they were singing
songs together. Buckley, 'in a playful mood', went swimming
fully clothed; Foti says he tried to dissuade him, as that
stretch of river is known for its dangerous underwater
currents. Buckley swam and waded for 15 minutes before a
passing tug boat created a large wave. Foti turned away
momentarily to move the ghetto blaster so it wouldn't get
wet. When he turned back, his friend had disappeared.
Jeff Buckley was 30 years old. His body wasn't found until
last Wednesday, but the outpouring of grief that followed
the announcement of his disappearance was immediate and
intense. There was a candlelight vigil in New York, at the
site of the Sin-e Cafe in Greenwich Village, where he used
to play, and 125 pages of emotional tributes and poems on
the Internet. 'His music and voice were clearly too
beautiful to be from this humble planet,' said one. Another
said simply: 'This really f-ing hurts a lot.' Though never a
big star in commercial terms, and despite having recorded
only one full-length album (Grace, released in 1994),
Buckley will be remembered as a songwriter of great
potential, a superb guitarist, a charismatic man and one of
the most extraordinary singers in rock history. U2's singer,
Bono, declared: 'Jeff's voice was a pure drop in an ocean of
noise.' He will also be remembered as the son of Tim Buckley
possibly the only other white male pop singer of the past 30
years with a comparable vocal talent. Father and son met
only once in their lives for nine days when Jeff was eight
years old and Buckley Jr hated being compared to a man he
barely knew. But Jeff's premature death means the pair will
be forever linked in people's minds: two months after he met
his son, Tim Buckley died of a heroin overdose. He was 28.
Perhaps inevitably, given his family history and the nature
of his profession, there have been recurrent rumours that
Jeff Buckley's death was a suicide attempt or an accident
caused by drugs or alcohol.
As long as two years ago, there were mutterings that his
record company, Columbia, had been pushing him too hard to
promote Grace. 'People thought the company wanted their
pound of flesh,' said a friend of Buckley's, 'that they'd
put a lot of money into marketing him and were disappointed
by the sales. The last time I saw him, in '95, he looked
really tired it was a gruelling schedule. But I talked to
him more recently and he sounded much happier and more
relaxed. I'm just glad that he had time to enjoy life again
before he died.' Buckley's last message to the world came in
December 1996, when he posted this memo to his fans on his
official Web site: 'I'm in the middle of some wild shit
right now. Please be patient. I'm coming soon to a cardboard
display case near you and I'll come out of my hole and will
make bonfires out of ticket stubs come the summer.' Since
then, the singer had been living in Memphis, working on his
second album with producer Tom Verlaine, but, unhappy with
the results, he had scrapped them and asked his band to
leave town while he wrote new songs. He and the band were
due to start recording again with a new producer last week.
Buckley and Foti were on their way to the studio when they
stopped at the marina.
'Maybe he was depressed about the recordings,' said Chrissie
Hynde, lead singer with the Pretenders and a friend of
Buckley's. 'But all singer-songwriters get depressed it goes
with the job. All I know is that he loved music. The feeling
I got from him was that he was gonna be around for many
years and produce a great body of work, that he was just
starting out.' The speculation now will concern the
recordings that he scrapped. It seems almost inevitable that
Columbia will release them in some form. The music industry
and human nature being what they are, there is every chance
that Jeff Buckley's death will transform him from a cult
singer with huge potential into another rock icon a
sensitive, Keatsian addition to a pantheon of self-destroyed
ghosts that includes Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and, of
course, Tim Buckley.
One remark, made by Jeff Buckley around the time of Kurt
Cobain's suicide, now sounds horribly prophetic. 'You gotta
make your own life,' he said. 'You can't leave it up to
leaders. Jesus, JFK, Kurt Cobain they all got f-ed up. Kurt
didn't feel loved, or maybe he didn't know how to recognise
it. But it won't ever happen with a leader; independence has
to come or you'll die. You'll end up like someone's puppet
and you'll be gone like a chump before you're 30.' Did Jeff
Buckley 'go like a chump'? There are plenty of portents to
suggest he committed suicide, but no evidence. Buckley
himself was always wary of people reading too much into his
life: 'Critics look at the complicated things and try to
simplify them. They think they can nail your whole life down
just by knowing the bare bones of your history and partaking
in 10 minutes of conversation.' One of the most persuasive
arguments not to assume that Jeff's death was
self -inflicted is the death of his father. Tim Buckley died
of a heroin overdose: it looked initially like suicide, but
evidence emerged that he had sniffed the heroin in the
mistaken belief that it was cocaine. According to Buckley's
guitarist, Lee Underwood, it was only because Buckley had
recently given up drugs that the dose was enough to kill
him. Another man was subsequently charged with murder for
supplying him with the heroin.
A charismatic 'troubador' of the late Sixties and early
Seventies, Tim Buckley recorded nine adventurous albums of
wildly varying quality, which mixed the bloodlines of jazz,
folk, rock and soul; at his best, as on the morbidly
beautiful 'Song to the Siren', he was better even than the
young Van Morrison. A free-flowing, inspirational
singer-songwriter, he was never commercially successful, but
his reputation remains extremely high. At 19, when he was
still an unknown, he married a young Panama-born woman named
Mary Guibert. On 17 November 1966, Mary gave birth to a son.
She named him Jeff. Tim left her six months later.
Jeff Buckley spent his childhood moving from town to town
around southern California with his mother and younger
brother (the child of another relationship). He later
recalled that he did not even have any luggage; he
transported his possessions in paper bags. 'We lived in
little white trashville towns overrun by Burger Kings and
malls. It was a dislocated childhood . . . moving from place
to place, grabbing on to people, making fast friends,
letting them go. I'd get a part in a school play and find
out that evening that we had to leave. It made me grow up
more quickly I was the man of the house from a very young
age. I feel I was born old.' Asked why his family was so
nomadic, he replied: 'I guess my mother just always wanted
to know what was round the next corner.' He met his father
briefly in 1975, and his comments about him in interviews
revealed a feeling of bitterness masquerading as
indifference: 'I knew him for nine days. I met him for the
first time when I was eight years old, over Easter, and he
died two months later . . . We were born with the same
parts, but that's all. I'm Mary Guibert's son, not his.'
Those 'parts' included not just his looks (their faces were
strikingly similar), but his soaring, wonderfully expressive
voice. Music was Jeff's life from a very young age. His
mother was a classically trained pianist, and they would
sing together in the car. When he was five, she taught him
one of his father's songs, 'Once I Was'. 'There was my
mother's breast, then there was music,' he once said. 'It's
been my friend, my ally, my teacher, my tormentor. Singing
just took me over.' Jeff left home at 17 and moved to Los
Angeles. He lived there for four years, playing guitar in
bars, but never felt comfortable with the city's
superficiality. At one point, feeling isolated, he tracked
down his father's relatives. 'I talked to the whole cast of
characters, and then I was done with it. It revealed a lot
of ugliness that I can't talk about.' He never did.
And so he moved to New York, a place he had always thought
of as his spiritual home. Ironically, the first time he ever
played in New York was at a Tim Buckley tribute concert in
1991, where he played 'Once I Was'. This seems odd, given
Jeff's comments about his father, but he told Rolling Stone:
'It bothered me that I hadn't been to his funeral, that I'd
never been able to tell him anything. I used that show to
pay my last respects.' Chrissie Hynde thinks that: 'Although
he obviously had unresolved feelings about a man who had
abandoned him, he really knew and loved his father's music.
He never talked about him, but I think he was really proud
of his father.' There is evidence to suggest that, for all
his denials, Jeff was obsessed with his father, and with
other people's identification of the two. In an article
posted on the Internet last week, he was quoted as saying:
'All this stuff about my dad . . . it's so hard to live
with. I'm Jeff, not Tim. Do you think what they say is
true?' In 1992, Jeff began playing dramatic, sometimes
disastrous, solo shows in East Village bars and cafes. His
first record, the independently released EP Live at Sin-e,
reveals Buckley's nascent talent in all its self-indulgent,
International recognition came in 1994, when, having put
together a young three-piece band and signed for Columbia,
Buckley released Grace, an astonishing debut album that he
described as 'an elegy, sort of a child's coffin . . . full
of past ghosts, exorcised in song'. The only solid legacy of
his brilliance, Grace sounds almost unbearably poignant now.
It is dense with memories and prophesies, from the title
track's eerie premonition of death through the delicate
version of Britten's 'Corpus Christi Carol', to the final
track, 'Dream Brother', about his lost father: 'Don't be
like the one who made me so old/ Don't be like the one who
left behind his name/ 'Cause they're waiting for you like I
waited for mine/ And nobody ever came. . .'
It is convenient and romantic to assume that Jeff Buckley's
death was not a freak accident but an act of desperate
self-destruction. But the truth is, until the coroner's
report is released probably this week we will not know
whether the singing swimmer in the Mississippi was waving or