November 26, 2005

Jeff Buckley

In belated honor of what would have been Jeff Buckley’s 39th (!!!) birthday on November 17th, I want to do a little featurette for the man who has brought more beauty to my ears and to my life than any other artist in my collection.

Buckley was a beautiful and talented singer-songwriter with a haunting voice, who was hailed by many as the most promising artist of his generation. I remember first hearing Eternal Life on a cassette tape sampler that came with my SPIN Magazine my freshman year of high school (1994). It grew on me and I found the full Grace album in the bargain bin at the Wherehouse (is that how they spelled it? and why was it in the bargain bin?!).

Soon I was in audio love. I remember many nights in high school falling asleep listening to Grace, especially Mojo Pin, which begins with the lyrics, “I’m lyin’ in my bed, blanket is warm, this body will never be safe from harm…” which seemed terribly deep and tragic and meaningful to a 14 year old. There is such immense and almost untouchable beauty in every track on Grace. It is one of The masterpiece albums.

Jeff Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River in May of 1997, right before I graduated high school. I still clearly remember reading the tiny blurb in the newspaper that he was missing after a night swim. He and a friend were listening to a radio on the beach of the river and waded in to cool off, during those nascent days of studio recording for his follow-up to Grace (to be called My Sweetheart The Drunk). Jeff was floating on his back, singing. A boat went by and the wake caused small waves to wash up on shore. His friend was worried about the radio getting wet and he went to move it further up the beach. When he turned back around, Jeff was gone. No sound, no splash. Just pulled under. Part of me has always wondered what he was singing [edit: Whole Lotta Love, Led Zep]. It gives me chills.

His body was recovered a week later at the foot of historic Beale Street, birthplace of the Blues. I remember being so sad that they had to identify his beautiful body by his piercings.

(edit: David Browne tells the story so much better than I do)

I was heartened to find out about the wonderful variety of songs penned by the musical community as tributes to Jeff after his death. I would think that the highest form of compliment that a musician could receive would be to see how he impacted so many others, and how he lives on via their music.


A Body Goes Down – Duncan Sheik
This is just beautiful poetry: Once in a while / A man comes along / Even his failures were favorite songs / Oh to have made something so unsurpassed / As certain things fall away / So certain things may last . . . Of course there is grace / And those halos of pain / Maybe he sang what he came here to sing . . . A body goes down /In the Mississippi waters /Weighted by a beauty /Afraid of its light / Notify your holy men / Console your sons and daughters / And tell me one more time / What is just / What is right . . .

And I think that one of the most amazing things about this song is the fact that the music *IS* the Mississippi River. Listen to the dark way it swirls, with an undercurrent. If you close your eyes, you can see water sliding by in the moonlight. It is amazing.

Trying Not to Think About It – Juliana Hatfield
Juliana’s sweet singsong voice pays tribute to her reactions immediately after she heard the news. The two artists were friends, and she once opened for him on tour. The song says, “I want to close my eyes / and sleep for a year / Tell me that it’s only a dream / That it’s a nightmare.” Melodramatic though it is, I felt the same way.

Memphis Skyline – Rufus Wainwright
A lush, piano-based tune with lyrics to give me chills (recurrent theme): “Always hated him for the way he looked / In the gaslight of the morning / Then came hallelujah sounding like Ophelia / for me in my room living…” Such honesty, and I love how for Wainwright the pivotal point was that hearing of Buckley’s ethereal rendition of Hallelujah. From the exhalation that starts the song, the whole recording is spellbinding magic.

Grey Ghost – Mike Doughty
This turn of style for the former frontman of Soul Coughing (“Super Bon Bon” anyone?) is a bit uptempo for the subject matter, I think, but I like the way he hauntingly constructs the night Buckley died. “On the docks in Memphis / with the boombox, nodding out, singing . . . In the trail of the barge and the light upon the brine / He has staked these thoughts and the force is undivided . . . Sleepy-eyed, the man is wading out into the night, singing . . .”

Bandstand in the Sky – Pete Yorn
I’ve updated this from the original version I posted, the Live From New Jersey “good times” rendition. Yorn finally did a nice studio treatment of this song for his newest album Nightcrawler, and it’s more serious and dense than the last. “Come with me to a river I have seen . . .on the way, we can wash off in the stream. Time is waiting for the lightning to arrive, you can take my life but I’ll never die.” I have to say, though, every time he sings the line, “We just made a bad decision, that’s alright,” I wanna yell “No it’s not!”

Valley of Sound – Heather Nova
Nova wrote this after going to a Jeff Buckley show that she says, “moved [her] to tears.” I never did get to see Jeff Buckley live. I did attend a fan gathering at Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco (a spartan church-type building) after his death, and they showed a live performance DVD. Buckley had played that venue when he was alive, and seeing him projected onto a big screen at the front of the room, it was almost like seeing him live if you pretended a bit. I remember the heaviness in the air and the way you could almost feel him, especially during the line in Hallelujah, “Baby I’ve been here before, I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor…”

Wave Goodbye – Chris Cornell
Showing how far-reaching Buckley’s influence was, here we have THE set of pipes from Soundgarden, a quite hard-rockin’ mofo in their day, penning a tune about Jeff. Apparently they were good friends and Cornell wrote this in ’97 after Jeff’s death. This track was on Cornell’s 1999 solo album Euphoria Morning. Cornell says, “Yeah, the lyrics are about Jeff, but obviously it’s also about a death and loss and I was a little scared of that. It’s so straight forward; it’s one of the most straight forward songs I’ve ever written. But there was no other way to do it.”

Memphis – PJ Harvey
Ms. Polly Jean Harvey was friends with Jeff Buckley, and penned this abstract, simple song for him with the refrain, “Oh, what a way to go – you’re peaceful, you’re smiling.” And apparently singing “A Whole Lotta Love,” as I learned from a comment posted to this blog. Thank you to ‘Splean’ for emailing me this track, which appeared as the b-side to the November 2000 single “Good Fortune.”

You Were Right – Badly Drawn Boy
This song isn’t really about Buckley, more of a mention (“And I remember doing nothing on the night Jeff Buckley died”), so it is on the list by generous extension of the rules. It is a great song, though, containing one of my favorite other lyrics, “And songs are never quite the answer, just a soundtrack to a life, that is over all too soon . . .” That is actually an excellent note to end this post on.

Update March 2007 – Since I posted this back in ’05, several of you have written me with additional suggestions for tunes to add to this post. I have not been able to verify directly that all of these songs were intended to relate to Jeff, but they all certainly seem to:

Live In Blue Sparks – Rebecca Moore (Jeff’s love and muse)

Blind River Boy – Amy Correia

Gracing Wolf River – Flecton

To The Sea – Mark Eitzel

Neath the Beeches – The Frames
(UPDATE: the fascinating story of Glen Hansard and Jeff Buckley here)

In A Flash – Ron Sexsmith

Except For The Ghosts – Lisa Germano

…and I have the feeling we’re not done.

Tagged with .


  • Hey sweet stuff. Great writing, great info. You have channeled your heart and soul – a true calling!

    heidiwhitey — November 28, 2005 @ 4:02 pm

  • To read this blogg is like a reflection upon myself. I also experienced the late nights during my teenage angst engulfed in nothing but the sounds of Grace. JB filled a void then and still goes on to make me feel things that no other artist can make me feel, no matter how hard I search. You represent alot of us and I thank you.

    wonderingsta — December 17, 2005 @ 2:27 am

  • Your blog is really interesting, and this is an absolutely beautiful post. Thankyou. x

    Janine — February 7, 2006 @ 7:30 am

  • Most excellent post and a great blog! I just today stumbled onto this via Hype Machine, hence the very belated discovery of the very fine Jeff Buckley tribute. I WILL be back often.

    Greg — April 13, 2006 @ 1:24 pm

  • Don’t forget Ron Sexsmith’s “in a flash”

    Anonymous — May 21, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

  • Just heard the Hallelujah for the first time and bought tears to my eyes – beautifully sung…

    Anonymous — November 18, 2006 @ 5:02 am

  • Any chance of getting these songs about Jeff reposted? I’d really appreciate it and I’m sure there are others that would too.

    MLH — November 25, 2006 @ 4:18 am

  • I second that request….You picked some great songs that pay tribute to Jeff Buckley.
    I remember thinking what a loss when I heard of his drowning.I am a lot older than you and am sure his music meant different things to me but we both loved it and miss it and him.
    Please repost….I having found your blog will be checking it regularily.

    Mark — December 31, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

  • Wow. That’s a fantastic tribute to Jeff. I too am a big fan, and theres no doubt in my mind that he has the most amazing voice that I’ve heard in my entire life. Just simply, breathtaking. Please, I really want the song “A body goes down” do you know of any way i could get it? Thanks. By the way, i wish i had a badge like that.
    Miss you forever Jeff :(

    Anonymous — January 22, 2007 @ 4:13 am

  • Hi, I just wanted to say I really love you blog.. especially since we both share a love for Jeff. Anyway, I came across this guy’s music today, and jesus, it sounds like it could have fit on Live at Sin-e with the rest of Buckley’s songs. I would never say that of anyone, but this guy’s voice is eerily similar:

    Sorry if this seems like spam, but really..this kid is something

    Anonymous — February 3, 2007 @ 1:33 am

  • For what it’s worth, when I saw U2 in Chicago in ’97 they dedicated ONE, the last song of the main set, to Jeff.

    Another brilliant musician, Willy Porter, dedicated a song called Sowelu to Jeff when I saw him live in ’99.

    Jnr — March 4, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  • There’s an outstanding song from the belgian band Zita Swoon called “Song For a Dead Singer” about Jeff. Great song, great lyrics, great band.
    I posted it on my blog when i did a special tribute to Jeff, Nov, 17.
    Here’s the link, if you’re interested:

    By the way, love your blog!
    Greetings from Portugal.

    Olavo Lüpia — March 23, 2007 @ 7:08 pm

  • There’s also a great little Aimee Mann song called “Just Like Anyone” from Bachelor No. 2.

    Jenna — April 28, 2007 @ 1:02 am

  • Hi, cant believe I found a site that provides these awesome tracks for people to enjoy without making a bunch of money. Thankyou. I’ve played jeff buckleys tunes with my mate viiga with my dogs as the audience here in australia in the bush since grace was released in the earlyish nineties. I could’nt help but learn all his songs. He always gave me something to strive for..And to play for. Its may 28 2007, 1 day prior his death 10 years ago. I always missed his anniversary ever since his death due to being busy having no life. This year I will recognise who he was and what he gave to my life – A reason to live and something to listen to and give me strength. take care mate.

    Mish — May 27, 2007 @ 11:04 pm

  • You’ve helped me before, and now again! Many, many thanks for collating these… quite a few I was unaware of.

    There’s also the wonderful Willie Nile track “On The Road To Calvary (for Jeff Buckley)” from his “Beautiful Wreck Of The World” album from 1999. “The Man Who Used To Be” from the same album also rings true for me.


    Regards from Kent, UK

    Joe — May 30, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  • Not all were fans of Buckley’s. The arguably greatest living music critic Robert Christgau wrote this review of ‘Grace’ in his monthly column:

    Grace [Columbia, 1994]
    Although Tim’s vocal traces are in his genes as surely as John’s are in Julian’s, it’s wrong to peg him as the unwelcome ghost of his overwrought dad. Young Jeff is a syncretic asshole, beholden to Zeppelin and Nina Simone and Chris Whitley and the Cocteau Twins and his mama–your mama too if you don’t watch out. “Sensitivity isn’t being wimpy,” he avers. “It’s about being so painfully aware that a flea landing on a dog is like a sonic boom.” So let us pray the force of hype blows him all the way to Uranus. Grade: C

    Anonymous — June 24, 2007 @ 10:31 am

  • Hi there :)
    Don’t u think this song of Rebecca’s is more obviously inspired by Jeff’s passing?

    Stellan Blu — June 25, 2007 @ 6:31 am

  • hey i thought i would write you a list of all the songs i had heard or was informed were either about or dedicated to jeff Buckley so here we go they are a lot and i know some you might already have but i just thought ill write them all up :)

    1. Bleed – Ours
    2. As I Wander – Ours
    3. Song for a dead singer – Zita Swoon
    4. From Grace – Thomas Dybdahl
    5. Memphis skyline – Rufus Wainright
    6. Memphis – Pj Harvey
    7. Bandstand in the sky – Pete Yorn
    8. Feel The Quiet River Rage – Live
    9. Gorgeous – Kashmir
    10. Tring not to think about it – Juliana Hatfield
    11. Eternal flame – Joan as police woman
    12. Flushed Chest – Joan as Police Woman
    13. Boys on The Radio – Hole
    14. Valley of Sound – Heather Nova
    15. Tides of the Soul – Elysian Fields
    16. Half- gifts – Elizabeth Fraser
    17. Rilkean Heart – Elizabeth Fraser
    18. Teardrop – Elizabeth Fraser/ Massive Attack
    19. A Body Goes Down – duncan sheik
    20. Somebody Leave a Light On – Dayna Kurtz
    21. Shiver – Coldplay
    22. Wave Goodbye – Chris Cornell
    23. Sidestep the Bullet – Brenda Kahn
    24. You Were Right – Badly Drawn Boy
    25. Where All Roses go – Anuna
    26. Blind River Boy – Amy correia
    27. Messiah – Brenda Kahn
    28. Light – Brenda Kahn
    29. Hunger – Brenda Kahn

    well those are some of the ones that i managed to get my hands on there are still plenty of others, i also believe there are other tracks by these artists that are very jeff influenced or include references but eince these one’s aren’t really ‘official’ i won’t include them:)

    Anonymous — July 13, 2007 @ 6:20 am

  • Easy Tiger has a tribute song called “Jeff Buckley”.

    And Joanna James has a song called “Echoes of you” dedicated to him as well.

    Just thought I’d let you know.. great blog by the way!

    Anonymous — August 12, 2007 @ 6:26 pm

  • where do i get one of those buttons? :)

    jamie — November 5, 2007 @ 12:57 am

  • great post!!!
    love the songs and jeff buckley…

    Lea — November 11, 2007 @ 6:04 am

  • Beautiful tribute! Almost cried a little here… (A bit too sentimental.) Jeff Buckley’s songs mean so much to me. My stomach seemed to jump when I read that Chris Cornell’s “Wave goodbye” actually was a tribute to Jeff. The two of them are my absolute favorite artists.

    johanne101 — May 18, 2008 @ 8:53 am

  • The Bob Dylan song “Mississippi” off his 2001 record Love and Theft is about Buckly.

    Also, soul singer John Legend wrote a song about him but i cant remember the name

    Anonymous — July 24, 2008 @ 10:37 am

  • I just discovered this blog today and have been pouring through past posts. There is great stuff here, especially all the Jeff Buckley songs and essays. I’m not sure if you’re heard him yet or if someone else has mentioned him to you, but you might really enjoy Bon Iver ( He’s folksy but has some soul, it’s all I’ve been listening to the last couple days.

    Max — September 18, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

  • MICK HART (from Sydney, Australia) has a song on his second album called "Face In The Water" which is about Jeff. Beautiful song…check it out!

    Mick has played many Jeff Buckley tribute shows over the years & had a track on an Australian tribute CD.

    Andrew — December 9, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
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