“Your soul is beautiful.” That’s what a listener said to Jeff Buckley at the end of a concert in a New York coffee shop. That young singer was trying to gain experience on the stages of the Big Apple when a dark-haired girl, described by him in an interview with the newspaper The New York Times in 1993, he approached him and, staring at him, so fixed that he thought it was to say something bad, defined his music shocked by what he had felt. Unfortunately for everyone, he barely had time to listen to the recesses of that soul. With only one official record and 30 years old, Buckley left too soon. And yet there is still something overwhelming in his voice, like a resonance that soothes the passage of time and heals the wounds.
There have been few who have said that this musician, born in a California town, has always been overrated. With more commercial success after death than in life, he was raised to the altars by the specialized press after his death in 1997. Fair or unfair, anyone who has entered the depths of Grace, an album that appears in all musical publications as a masterpiece of the nineties, is touched. Appreciate the sensation of vertigo, feel the breath of existence, under a beautiful and ethereal aura. When already in the nineties, as now, many vital values seemed to be translated simply under materialistic terms, alien to human contact, Grace it was like entering an enchanted forest full of fabulous secrets.
Buckley went on to become an extraordinary musician despite his father’s long shadow. Son of the late Tim Buckley, the magnificent singer-songwriter who created an astonishing musical language in the 1960s with his mix of folk and jazz, he spent his childhood and adolescence with his mother and stepfather. The first, a lover of the Beatles, cultivated her artistic concerns. The second, a guy unable to give three notes on a guitar but with an enviable discography, gave him albums by Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Who or Booker T. and The MG’s. When Buckley was just nine years old, it was his stepfather who actually bought him his first rock record, Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. The British band would mark their music since then in that premeditated search for monumentality. His father, on the other hand, he hardly knew. The oldest of the Buckleys left his family shortly after publishing his first album. She only saw him once when Jeff was eight years old. Iconoclast Tim plunged relentlessly into the abyss of drugs and alcohol. At 21 he was a star. At 25 he was having trouble getting record deals due to his dependency. At 28 he died of a heroin overdose.
It was a tribute concert to his father which would allow Jeff to enter the world of music. In 1991, a performance to commemorate Tim Buckley was organized in New York at St. Ann’s, a Brooklyn church known for hosting musical events such as the performance of the Songs for Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale. Jeff, a beginning musician, was invited. His style surprised many. The singer then decided to stay in the city to develop his music. He rented an apartment in the East Village, center of the New York counterculture through which they passed hipsters, beatniks, hippies and punkies, and moved through the artistic orbit of St. Ann’s or the Knitting Factory, a fundamental joint of the New York music scene, close to the legendary CBGB’s, whose programming was based on rock and jazz and was the host of Sonic Youth, Cassandra Wilson, I Have It or Gil Scott Heron.
He was part of the band Gods & Monsters, led by Gary Lucas, former Captain Beefheart guitarist, but did not arrive at the year with a formation that sinned from anarchic and did not allow Buckley to find the key to his music. On his own, he decided that the best thing was to instruct himself in small stages where he could play live and test his experiments. From one place to another in Greenwich Village he finally landed at the Sin-é café, nestled in the St. Marks Place area. Sin-é was a small haven for alternative music and ended up making a name for itself in the bustling atmosphere of the city. Opened by Irish immigrants, they used to play Sinead O’Connor, The Waterboys or Shane McGowan, singer of The Pogues. The day Buckley came in for the first time to ask for a job and, incidentally, sing some night he did it with him. Astral Weeks of Van Morrison under his arm. And, somehow, the echoes of that record would also reach his music.
He claimed to be influenced by Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Louis Amrstrong or Judy Garland, but Buckley also had a Van Morrison-style mystical power, less visceral, more suggestive, but just as evocative. It could sound like a bluesman Mississippi target, like a jazz singer doing acrobatics with his voice or a defiant pop vocalist jumping into the void. But he didn’t sound like the twenty-something he was. It offered a unique, comforting intimacy. Like Morrison himself, romantic ballads were transformed into desperate cries of love while uneasiness of supernatural scope was released. Grace, published in 1994, it was the perfect culmination of this journey that takes you out of the body. Songs like Mojo Pin, Last Goodbye O Lover, You Should’ve Come Over they propel to another dimension.
As the British music critic Seth Jacobson wrote, in a time when the soundtrack of youthful anguish was defined by guitars grunge and Jeff Buckley’s plaid shirts, delicate melodies, and aesthetic sensibilities left him out of the question. It was unusual. With other vital and artistic references such as Nina Simone, Edith Piaf or the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Buckley, who protected by his surname refused to sign with the great label Columbia Records until the executive producer heard his music, said that he listened to Miles Davis say you have to truly love what you do to make it yours forever. According to the artist himself: “Sensitivity is not nonsense. Because a flea landing on a dog sounds like an explosion. “
Seen as time passes, somehow Grace and Buckley represented purity and perfect balance in another state for a decade marked by disenchantment. As the historian Howard Zinn stated in his book The other history of the United States: “In the early 1990s, the American system seemed to be out of control: it was characterized by uncontrolled capitalism, uncontrolled technology, uncontrolled militarism, a divorce between the government and the people it claimed to represent. Crime was out of control, cancer and AIDS were out of control. Prices, taxes, and unemployment were out of control. The deterioration of cities and the breakdown of families were out of control. And people seemed to perceive this situation ”. Grace It was presented as the refuge, where the tender and sad story allowed to rediscover oneself, to look through the mirror.
As in a dramatic fable, Buckley was in Memphis ready to record his second album when with a friend he got lost in the city and they ended up on the banks of the Mississippi. He jumped into the water dressed as he sang. The strong currents of the great river dragged him hopelessly. His lifeless body appeared days later. As a legacy, beyond his performances in the dissident East Village or other venues, a first-time EP and single recording sessions, only the album remained. Grace. Like a craftsman, he molded a melancholy adherent to the times that, through the filter of his voice, for his artistic purpose, radiated light and signaled the epic of life. In Buckley’s own words: “Music is infinite. And although I have fallen in love countless times with all kinds of music, from all over the world … there is always something. I think it is simply called freedom ”. Listening to his version of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, preceded by a sigh, still today, fragility shines with such beauty that it seems that the mystery of life is solved by that free, human and eternal instant.
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Jeff Buckley: The Eternal Beauty of Jeff Buckley | The North American Route | Culture