May 28, 2007

Ten years gone: Jeff Buckley


“So I wait for you
And I burn
Will I ever see your
sweet return?

Oh, will I ever learn?”

Ten years ago tomorrow (May 29, 1997) Jeff Buckley decided to go for a swim in the Wolf River, laid on his back and began floating while he sang “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. Quickly, stealthily, and tragically the currents sucked him in and pulled him under.

Ten years.

Ten years ago Wednesday I was sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ house in California reading the morning newspaper and probably having coffee, getting ready for one of my last few weeks of my senior year before graduating high school. Stuck at the very bottom of a sidebar with mundane news briefs of the day was this short blurb saying that folk-rock singer Jeff Buckley had been reported missing following a swim.

Such a small news bit; such a huge crashing sound in my ears. I remember exclaiming out loud, and calling my mom over; I had been deeply in love with his music for a year or so at that point, and felt this crazy urge to get on a plane and help the search efforts, or at the very least I wanted more information, something more to go on that just “he’s missing.” Today I could probably clickety-click to a live streaming news feed from the muddy banks, but then all I had to go on was a half-inch of sterile newsprint.

My answers came a few days later when his beautiful body showed up bloated and bruised in the waters at the foot of historic Beale Street in Memphis.


The story was over. The one finished album, the masterpiece, would have to be enough.

I wonder what ground he would have travelled, and what he would have created had he lived. By all accounts, Jeff’s musical creativity was unbounded, and I’ve heard for myself the joy in his voice when he was doing what he was manically driven to do: create, perform, create.

In retrospect, Jeff is not the kind of artist I would have thought to fall in love with. At that time in my life, I was all about brooding, rocking, loud music. I guess Grace had enough of that to entice me in (through songs like “Eternal Life”) and then, like the nectar at the bottom of a venus flytrap, I was ensnared, but happily.

In searching through my old news clippings for this post, I found an old press release with a listing of tour dates from 1994. He came through San Francisco on November 20. I wonder what else I was doing that night, my sophomore year of high school. Maybe I just place him higher on a pedestal than I should because I’ve built up in my mind what it would have been like to see him live, breathless, glowing. But maybe not.

Jeff is quoted in that press release as saying, “I’m really into flying. I don’t care about being a gospel singer or a blues singer per se, but elements of that music are keys to my subconscious. When I sing something like that–if I do it right–it’s like a weird snake that will get in you and unlock something. If I wasn’t able to do this, I think I would really lay down and die.

“Music comes from a very primal, twisted place. When a person sings, their body, their mouth, their eyes, their words, their voice says all these unspeakable things that you really can’t explain but that mean something anyway. People are completely transformed when they sing; people look like that when they sing or when they make love. But it’s a weird thing–at the end of the night I feel strange, because I feel I’ve told everybody all my secrets.”

Those ‘secrets’ of his still affect me more powerfully than almost any other artist with that soaring, gorgeous, fearless, devastating voice.

I miss you, Jeff.

Lover You Should Have Come Over (alternate version)
From the Eternal Life single

I Know It’s Over (Smiths cover) – Jeff Buckley
from the so-called “Garbage Can Tape,” circa 1993

I Shall Be Released – Jeff Buckley
collaborative Dylan cover, live over the phone with WFMU radio. Arresting, gorgeous – NOW ON CD: please see this post to buy it for a good cause!

Satisfied Mind – Jeff Buckley

TRIBUTES: There are a wide variety of tribute events taking place for Jeff. His website lists ones upcoming in Hollywood, London, Louisiana, Iceland, Georgia, Macedonia, Boston, Dublin, Melbourne, and Paris. The Uncommon Grounds Chicago event is scheduled for November. I went to one in San Francisco at Noe Valley Ministry several years back, and it was surprisingly transcendent.

Related posts (all links reupped where needed):
The story behind Jeff covering Dylan
Tribute songs penned about Jeff
Jeff Buckley and Aimee Mann
Rarities from NYC
Jeff channels his father
Video: Jeff singing Satisfied Mind
Some live covers from Jeff

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25 Comments »

  • Heather,
    Could you please post the mp3 of Jeff singing All Tomorrow’s Parties so I could download it? That would be amazing. I’m so glad I found someone else who likes Jeff Buckley because for some reason no one else I know does. Anyway, thanks

    Anonymous — May 28, 2007 @ 8:12 pm

  • Hi, Heather. I love Jeff Buckley but had no idea tomorrow marked ten years…how is that possible???

    I met Jeff once in Atlanta in a small club where he was playing. It was about 1993, I guess. I wrote a small tribute to him on my blog a few weeks ago…go read it if you’d like.

    He was an amazing man, and seeing him perform live is something I now realize was a gift to me from the heavens.

    Julie — May 28, 2007 @ 9:21 pm

  • Great post… I had never heard that Dylan cover before… Buckley had so much talent that was lost at such a young age.

    Jeremy Thomas — May 28, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  • Heather, thanks!
    How can I download “I know it’s over”? It’s not working.

    Anonymous — May 29, 2007 @ 12:34 am

  • I just started reading “Dream Brothers: The Life and Times of Jeff & Tim Buckley” by David Browne. Your post of “I Shall Be Released” reawakened that fascination and appreciation of Jeff Buckley. Although I just started reading it, it gives great insight into Jeff’s genius and struggles.

    Anonymous — May 29, 2007 @ 8:19 am

  • Thank you for so much stuff on and about Jeff. I love him, but am too young to have been part of the buzz when he was still alive. That version of ‘I Shall Be Released’ is fantastic; did I read a while back that there was going to be a cleaned up version of it?

    Brendan — May 29, 2007 @ 10:07 am

  • Thanks Brendan, I added the link up there in the original post to that CD compilation featuring the fantastic Dylan cover – definitely one to buy.

    heather — May 29, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  • What is this “Garbage Can Tape” and how can I get a copy?

    myselfixion — May 29, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  • myselfixion, I have only been able to locate that one track, although there are several dead torrents out there. It’s allegedly a tape that was found in the trash in NYC, and I myself would like to hear the whole thing as well.

    heather — May 29, 2007 @ 10:42 am

  • Hey Jeff, I know you read this blog. We really miss you. Thanks for all that you were and continue to be in the hearts of your fans. Your music and spirit live on (in this blog and in song). Peace to you Jeff.

    michael v. — May 29, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  • Heather, thanks for the fantastic tribute. I can’t believe he’s been gone 10 years. I was lucky enough to see him in concert twice in 1995–there will never be another like him, period. RIP, JB.

    Jeff K — May 29, 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  • the supposed setlist of the garbage can tape is
    Parchman Farm ; If you see her, say hello ; I know it’s over ; Hallelujah ; Let time stand still ; Madame george ; Killing time!

    at least that’s all I’ve got!
    Madame George is amazing! 10 beautiful minutes!

    Hugo — May 29, 2007 @ 6:53 pm

  • Thanks for writing this. It’s moving. I had the special priviledge of meeting Jeff a few times and not only was he a genuinely nice, friendly person, he had a beautiful spirit. I remember the first time I saw him play live in Philly – it was right before his first album came out. He played for a bunch of industry folks and our jaws dropped within seconds of his first song. And I remember crying after that very first song. Little has moved me since. Great post.

    Bruce — May 29, 2007 @ 8:29 pm

  • I always kick myself for not checking out Jeff’s music sooner when I first started hearing his name some years ago. But then I stop and count myself among the lucky for having been able to know his music at all. There are too many people who still have not had the privilege of hearing that voice and that music.

    Thanks for the post, Heather.

    Callie — May 29, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

  • I’m so entranced by Buckley’s legend that I am referring to him in the novel I’m now writing. Thanks for this post, and the downloads.

    Lee — May 30, 2007 @ 4:53 am

  • Thanks for this, Jeff Buckley’s music is so incredibly moving. I always wonder what he would have gone on to create if he had not died tragically young.
    I’ve been enjoying all the covers and rarities you’ve posted. I remember reading somewhere that Jeff recorded a version of Creep for radio, but it was never played because it was deemed too depressing – do you know anything about this?

    Bailey — May 30, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  • Bailey, no, I’d never heard that before…seems a bit out of character to me, but…???

    heather — May 30, 2007 @ 2:49 pm

  • The list of people I never got to see perform live is tragically long, and Buckley heads it. Thank you for some links to stuff I never heard before and filling in some gaps.

    myron — May 30, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

  • Has anyone else heard that Jeff and Eddie once sang Indifference together? I’m pretty sure it was never recorded, which is a shame, but I read that Eddie said he was blown away by what Jeff did with the song. What a duet that would have been!

    Anonymous — May 31, 2007 @ 8:09 am

  • yeah.. there’s quote from Eddie in which he says that but I think it was only Jeff singing and playing his guitar to Eddie.. that quote is on Merri Cyr’s book Wished-for Song: A Portrait of Jeff Buckley

    Hugo — May 31, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  • I was 14 in 1994, Grace was the first CD I’d bought on my own. I’m 27 now, and every day still haunted by this artist. I don’t think a rawer, more pure, emotive voice and personality ever existed before him or after. That’s my take on maybe my favorite artist of all time. That one album heavily influenced the music I started getting into and am still finding today. Thanks Jeff. We miss you.

    Laurie C. — June 1, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  • I cried..

    Anonymous — June 4, 2007 @ 9:15 am

  • I was in band at Loara High School with Jeff. I remember him well. Jeff was the class clown in stage band but he got away with quite a bit because he was truley a child prodigy. I remember thinking it was like he was born with a guitar in his hands. I feel honored even now to think that I performed with Jeff, even if it was 24 years ago. Jeff, you will always be missed.

    Anonymous — July 14, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  • Hi Heather,
    SOMFATMTYLM from Sydney here. See http://thepiratebay.org/tor/4045884/ for Jeff & Tim Buckley JJJ Special. Please see my comment re bittorrents derived from your ZIP file of Eddie’s recent performance. Hmmm, 6 degrees of separation! I am a great Jeff Buckley and I was also a big Tim Buckley enthusiast when he was performing. The first albums that really highlighted Tim’s work were Greetings from L.A. and Sefronia. In those days Australia suffered from limited releases and Greetings was voted the “best bonking” album for many years here in Oz.
    I have 2 reviews that I typed in 1996, the last was the day after Jeff’s final official band performance at Selinas when Matt quit the band. Would you like me to post them?
    Peace
    SOMFAT

    Anonymous — April 21, 2008 @ 11:47 pm

  • Thanks for such a beautiful post and such a great blog.

    In late summer/early fall 1994 a friend and I walked into a music store on Haight Street and heard Hallelujah playing. “Who IS that?” My friend immediately bought the CD and we raced back to his apartment to listen… and that was that. We were just blown away by that voice, by those songs, by those arrangements. Such an incredible, soulful talent.

    I’m happy to say my then-girlfriend now-wife and I saw the Noe Valley Ministry show in November ’94. It was magical — we already adored him — but I wish I’d known to pay more attention.

    Now, nearly 14 years’ later, living on the other side of the country, our nine-year-old boy plays Hallelujah on the piano and listens to Grace all the time. And I am newly obsessed.

    David — July 30, 2008 @ 8:55 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
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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