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Jeff Buckley: Grieving His Life and His Future

Image courtesy of Juliana Tobon Via Flickr (Under License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Within a world surrounded by timeless art, there lies this idea of human mortality and art immortality. As I listen to the music of Jeff Buckley, I cannot help but get lost in the inevitable current of loss that swims through his music. Though I am grateful listeners continue to breathe life into Buckley’s masterful Grace and posthumous Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk’ there is an overwhelming sense of grief that comes along with the listening experience. His music continues to be discovered today by music-lovers all over the world, constantly breaking hearts (mine included), as one realises there is a limit to said discovery. It begs the question why do I, and so many others, feel such an exceptionally deep connection with Buckley; someone who’s untimely death took place 6 years before I even existed?

Grace guides us through a world of genres all conducted exquisitely through the powerful and yearning voice of Buckley, from hard rock to psychedelic indie-folk, he wasn’t afraid to tackle a single note. His love-drugged passion and lyricism undeniably inspired many other musicians; most notably, Radiohead’s lead singer Thom Yorke.

The famous tale goes as follows: whilst the band was struggling with the completion of their track ‘Fake Plastic Trees, they decided on distracting themselves by seeing Buckley perform live one night with just his guitar, and a voice that could resurrect the dead. After hearing Buckley’s words and devastating falsetto, Yorke went back into the studio. He sang Fake Plastic Trees only twice, and instantly broke down into Grace-induced tears, finally finishing the song as we hear it today. Without Buckley and the concert which transfixed the band, I believe we’d have a vastly different Radiohead, one likely more apprehensive to externalise an ache that Buckley so naturally conveyed.

This continual connection felt so strongly with Buckley must lie not only in his own music, but in the way he shaped so many other fantastic artists we hear: from Lana Del Rey to Muse. As wonderful as it may be to hear his legacy so alive within the crevices of music today, my heart still breaks for his inability to contribute to a music scene which he changed so drastically. Something about his music feels so tangible, like if you tried hard enough you could just reach out and grab it. Yet in reality we are simply holding onto old memories, a love passed too soon.

As a lover of dextrous lyricism, I cannot help but be astounded by the beautiful words poured into Buckley’s songs. Although there are many aspects of his music that makes it so spectacular, it is the lyrics that initially infatuated me. In a world of Yeah, you got that yummy-yum/that yummy-yum, that yummy-yummy” (Justin Bieber, ‘Yummy’), I think we deserve a little more “All my blood for the sweetness of her laughter/she’s a tear that hangs inside my soul forever” (Jeff Buckley, ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’). I am exaggerating; of course there are many artists today who are unafraid to shy away from powerful lyrics such as Buckley’s, but there are few artists whose lyrics have provoked such a strong reaction within me. His words show a profound understanding of the intricacies of relationships and what it means to be in love and/or to fall out of love.

We see Buckley comparing himself to an ocean enamoured with the moon within tracks ‘Grace: “There’s the moon asking to stay, long enough for the clouds to fly me away,” and ‘Opened Once’: “Just like the ocean, always in love with the moon,” as a metaphor for the inescapable gravitational pull he feels towards a lover. He often takes an idea/concept we have heard described over and over again, and turns it into something entirely fresh, guiding us on a visual journey with his sound.

Buckley had music coursing through his veins, his mother being a classically trained Cellist and Pianist and his father, Tim Buckley, being a relatively established Jazz and Folk Musician. Buckley only met his father once before his passing at 28 of drug overdose and was determined not to meet the same fate. Unfortunately as we now know Buckley also died young, not of a drug overdose, but from accidental drowning in Memphis, Tennessee. With the accident taking place only 3 years after the release of his renowned Grace, Buckley was on track to take on the world with his music. He was close to completing his second studio album Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, and so it feels as if we lost him on the precipice of an album that could’ve been just as influential.

Although his soon-to-be Sophomore album was released posthumously, it is certainly incomplete. Some of the tracks contain extensive repetition, sort of feeling like unfulfilled ideas. Despite this, it is still a brilliant album which carries a Buckley-sized glass of potential. I guess this must be one of the reasons his music carries so much grief for me; Buckley had so much more left to give. From his soulful Everybody Here Wants Youto his more rock-fuelled ‘Witches’ Rave, it is clear there was no limit to where Buckley would go.

Of course over the years we have lost many distinguished musicians such as Bowie, Prince, Tina Turner etc, but I feel that with Buckley especially, we mourn not only his life, but the music that never came to fruition. But in some ways, it is almost hopeful to know how vibrant and current his presence on the music scene remains. I encourage all of you to treat yourself to a large glass of wine, candlelight, and Buckley’s entire discography. I am infinitely jealous if you have not already done so, for there are many things I would do to listen to his music for the first time all over again.

Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor


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