May 29, 2013

everybody here thinks he needs you


Sixteen years ago today, Jeff Buckley went swimming in a tributary of the Mississippi River, and was pulled under. Back then I was a few weeks away from graduating high school, and can still remember reading the snippet of printed news in the paper that morning. I can still hear the blood rushing in my ears at that moment.

I’ve probably written more about Jeff than any other artist on this blog, and the purity and power in his music still flies straight and true into the best parts of me. Hyperbole aside, the more music I listen to and the more years that calcify around me, the more I realize what a startling light he was. When I recognized the anniversary today it felt like a punch to the gut.

I’d never seen this documentary, but you can (and should) watch the whole hour-long thing online today:

I’ve also gone through all my archives here and pulled out a few noteworthy posts (with working mp3s) of all sorts of Jeff goodness that you may have missed. Recommended listening today:

Jeff’s first live performance ever at the legendary tribute to his father

A bevy of songs written about Jeff or inspired by Jeff, from other musicians. One of my first posts ever on this blog back in 2005.

Full show from 1995 in Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza

An absolutely blissful cover of “I Shall Be Released,” with my favorite laugh of his at the end.

I miss you, Jeff.

[photo by Merri Cyr, of course]

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July 23, 2010

Interview: The minds behind the new Jeff Buckley/Shakespeare musical


In a few weeks, the new theatre production of The Last Goodbye will make its highly anticipated world debut at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (August 5th – 20th). As I wrote back in April, this new creation takes Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” and weaves fifteen songs from my beloved Jeff Buckley throughout it.

Under the summer stars, young actors and a rock band will put their hearts into letting Jeff’s music speak into the story of the ill-fated lovers we know so well. It’s also down the road from that Wilco-curated Solid Sound Festival. So yeah, why aren’t you going?

Even though I babble incoherently from lack of experience when talking about theatre, I was fortunate to talk to both the director Michael Kimmel, who first conceived of this pairing and worked with Jeff’s mom Mary Guibert to make it happen, and Kris Kukul, who is the musical director and actually wove the songs into the completed creation. It was fascinating to talk to them both, and I even got tears in my eyes at one point as Michael talked about why this play makes sense with this musician, this man. I think they get it. I’m excited to see where this production goes.



Fuel/Friends: I understand that the genesis for this whole melding of Shakespeare and Jeff Buckley occurred in your mind. Tell me about that.

Michael Kimmel: A little over three years ago I had this idea. I’ve always been a fan of Jeff’s music, I’ve had Grace for years and years. I was directing a reading of Othello and I was on my way to a rehearsal, and “Forget Her” came on my iPod. I started to hear this conversation while the song was playing, “She was heartache from the moment that you met her.” I heard these two voices in Jeff’s voice, a back and forth in his lyrics, seeming to really be fighting. I had this moment where I said, “Wow, that really sounds like Romeo and Benvolio talking about Rosaline.”

Forget Her – Jeff Buckley

It was a buzzing in my head, so I went back and found the play and opened it up and Benvolio says to Romeo, “Be ruled by me, forget to think of her.” And it wasn’t just that amorphous connection, more importantly that conversation I heard was an active process — and what we ended up with was the songs taking their place in the scenes in a very interesting and cool way.

F/F: So it started with that song, and went from there?

MK: Well once that happened I went through that whole doubt process of, “Well there’s no way this would work with the rest of his music!” I spent three months combing through everything that I had access to, Sin-é, Mystery White Boy, My Sweetheart The Drunk, all the stuff that’s readily available, and came up with a first pass of songs that I thought really fit well. At that point, I pursued getting in touch with Sony Music to see if this was even going to be possible before I got too far down the road. They came back to me and said “Mary Guibert [Jeff's mom, who owns all the rights to his music] really wants to talk to you about this.” We ended up having a phone conversation where I told her what the idea was. She was really interested, and I think a little skeptical.

A few months later in mid-2008, she ended up being in New York, and I took her down to a theatre in downtown New York, and I sat on the stage with a copy of Romeo and Juliet and I just had a friend on an iPod, and I took her through the whole story and how the music fit, and then we went out for a three hour dinner, and she was really really interested. We left that night with her wanting to see more, and we decided that I would put up a concert reading so that she could get a sense of the whole thing.

Lauren Fitzgerald from Williamstown introduced me to Kris and we endeavored to put this concert reading together for Mary to see it, and we only opened it up to the Jeff Buckley fan club and a couple of industry people. We came out of there and she saw it laid out and she completely got behind us. At the same time, the person who programs this venue called Joe’s Pub, the cabaret space of the public theatre, ended up seeing our reading and wanted to program us on their stage. So we also ended up doing three concert readings at Joe’s Pub last May, and that was our first true public presentation of the show. I describe those readings as basically a rock concert with a little bit of a play thrown in, you know, no costumes, no sets, just a cast of fourteen and a live band.

F/F: Is there a clear time period in your version? Modern times? Shakespearean times?

MK: It’s definitely set in modern times, in a modern version of “Verona,” and by Verona I mean a landscape that takes its cues from downtown New York of now. The actors are mostly in their 20s.

F/F: Do you find that most of the actors come to it knowing Jeff Buckley better or Shakespeare better? Or both?

Casting is tricky, because it’s not musical-theatre music, and we’re not going to make his music something that it’s not – the rawness and the passion of it has got to stay for this to make sense. So finding people who can connect in that way is always a challenge, because it’s a different kind of performer than you would necessarily find in a typical “musical.” Sure, a lot of the people we’ve been working with are huge Jeff devotees – our Romeo is like a Jeff historian and has been hugely influenced by Jeff’s music. But that’s not to say that it’s not also equally great to find someone who is just being introduced to his music. I mean, the first time I heard Grace I said, “Wow, someone actually put a voice to that!” Seeing that in someone else is really gratifying.

F/F: How did it come to premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival?

MK: Well, the Joe’s Pub shows sold out well in advance and there were a lot of industry folks there. We spent a lot of time after those performances meeting with people and trying to look for the RIGHT path for it to take. It’s always been at the forefront for me, and I know for the others as well – getting this right.

F/F: What does that look like for you, this “getting it right”?

MK: It’s always constantly evolving and changing, from our first concert reading to Joe’s Pub, to now, it looks different. Now with the addition of choreography and getting it up on its feet, I think the way that it’s done right is that you walk out of the performance feeling re-invested in a story that’s been known for hundreds of years, and the music is the way in for that. And not only being invested in it, but seeing it in a different way. And you’ll probably appreciate this more than most, but I always say that there aren’t any halfway Jeff Buckley fans – they are a committed group.

F/F: It must be a good feeling for you to have the fans so strongly behind this, understanding what you are trying to do.

MK: I hear they are endeavoring to make a movie of his life, but where I feel that people can get behind us is that I am not interested in telling the story of Jeff’s life. What I am interested in is telling the story that I think he was trying to tell, and I think there is a big difference. It is a Herculean task. When I was able to start piecing all this music together, you really see a narrative, and it mirrors a lot of the narrative of Romeo and Juliet. I’m not the person to tell the story of his life. I am better suited to tell the story that I think he wanted to tell, the one that is suited to the stage.

What I learned from talking to fans after the readings is that people have a profound attachment to Jeff’s music that can be traced back to a very specific moment, whether it’s heartbreak or first love, and people have been sharing all their stories with me. That attachment and identification with his music, the intensity, I think is what makes it work so well. It connects those pieces to the story of these two kids, and attaches a sound to it that restores something I think the story has lost.

F/F: Right, because I think to a lot of people, Shakespeare just evokes high school English class, and that’s about it.

MK: Yeah! And I teach too at Fordham University in New York, and I teach it from a theatre perspective, not a literary perspective, and everyone’s impression is often just, “eh.” When you go back to the play, one thing that is always really interesting about Romeo and Juliet is that at the beginning of the play, Shakespeare ruined the ending. He tells you exactly how it is going to end. But what really appeals to me is that the ending is an afterthought, and it’s really the journey there that’s important – which also mirrors Jeff’s life to me.

Whenever anyone mentions Jeff now, it’s always, “died tragically. Died tragically.” For me, the death is an afterthought. It’s about the journey and this body of music that he left us and his evolution as an artist that matters. That’s the important part of it.

So when I say re-investing in the story, the idea is that if we do our job right, this time you hope that somehow it works out differently. And of course, after seeing umpteen productions of this play, there’s a sense of tragedy that pervades the whole play from the beginning – God, the weight of what happens at the end kind of carries through. For us though, it’s funny, and it’s messy, and it’s intense, and gritty and dirty and fumbling and insecure, but it’s never sad. It’s hopeful, you know?



Fuel/Friends: So were you a fan of Jeff Buckley’s music before this production? What’s been your connection with him?

Kris Kukul: I knew him a little bit. My previous roommate was a huge fan of his, she was the manager of the Club Fez in New York, and she would listen to him all the time. I knew some of his songs, but nothing like her – I got really familiar with him actually because of the show.

F/F: So has she seen the show?

KK: She’s obsessed with it. It’s amazing. She actually did know Jeff Buckley when he would play in New York. Folks like her are some of our biggest supporters. There’s always that hesitation before they see it, you know, like – “Wait a minute… is this going to sound like Cats??” I’m pleased with the way we are able to honor the music in this production, and tell the story with different voices.

F/F: Did you think it to be a daunting project, or exciting? Or both? I’m sure you became aware pretty quickly of the cult of Jeff Buckley fans.

KK: I wasn’t so much worried about how people were going to take it, it was more just trying to take a body of work and adapt it from the voice of one person who sings these fifteen songs. And to make it work for men, for women, for groups, for characters in this story. I think because of the strength of his lyrics, it just worked so well, and it wasn’t that difficult. From the very beginning, it was just so clear how well it worked together.

F/F: Explain to me what a music director does. I know that’s a dumb question, but help the non-theatre girl.

KK: For this production, I’ve done the orchestration and arrangements, and adapting the music, as well as the other side — teaching the singers the music, teaching the band the music. I conduct the band, and we don’t have any keyboards yet but if we put some in I might play that.

Jeff’s songs in the production aren’t exactly the same as they are on the album in terms of structure, there are a couple where songs are weaved together. Like “Lover, You Should Have Come Over” and “I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby” is turned into a duet, with Juliet singing the former and Romeo the latter. There’s a lot of group singing, the ensemble plays a big part so there is a lot of harmony added in that regard, added vocal arrangements. And I just had to make the songs fit the scenes, the dialogue gets weaved in and out.

F/F: So your job was taking the songs from the way Jeff recorded them, and not changing them drastically, but weaving them into the Shakespeare.

KK: Yeah – there are some of his songs that are like eight, twelve, fifteen minutes long, so we didn’t always use the whole songs, that would be a decision of mine and Michael’s, if we left out a verse, or chose to repeat something. Like “Dream Brother,” for example, is used in the dance where Romeo meets Juliet, and Mercutio sings the song as the scene progresses. So Mercutio sings a verse in a scene with Romeo and Juliet, then there’s another verse in a scene with Tybalt, and then everyone shows up at the party and the whole group sings together: “Don’t be like the one who made me so old, don’t be like the one who left behind his name…”

Then we weave in the line from “I Woke Up In A Strange Place” about “fate is gonna find your love” gets weaved throughout the whole play. So in the midst of the dance, then that line will come back in.

F/F: Ooh, that gave me chills.

KK: Yeah! I mean, it’s weird and uncanny how well the lyrics fit. Also in “Eternal Life,” which is the big song at the end of Act One where Mercutio dies, there’s the line about “there’s a flaming red horizon that screams our names.” That line is also used throughout the entire play, it’s in there like fifteen times. That one line sums up what these young people are heading towards.

spring-awakening-logo-1F/F: The only other theatre adaptation like this that I’ve ever written about on Fuel/Friends is Spring Awakening, when I went to an interview roundtable with Duncan Sheik who penned all those songs. Now, that seems like a similar idea of taking a very old play and trying to set it to contemporary music. Do you see any connections with what you are doing here?

KK: I think by definition they actually are similar, although I haven’t seen Spring Awakening, sadly! I know lots of the songs and like them actually, but I think with Spring Awakening is much more of a concept, in terms of there’s the play and then the songs are actually in a separate universe where they are internal thoughts, as opposed to a traditional musical where the songs are actually part of the story, which is what The Last Goodbye is using the songs for. In Spring Awakening, they had this device where every time people would sing they would pull out a handheld microphone, so that the singing became part of a different, expressionistic universe. That play is about sexual repression, so they would sing about all the things they couldn’t talk about in life. So that actually lends itself to that concept very well. Ours is just kids in love.

Jeff’s lyrics are also incredibly poetic, so Shakespeare meshes well with this highly beautiful, poetic lyricism. He’s much more of a poet than just a lyricist.

We’re not beholden to the original Shakespeare text either, a lot of things are moved around. In the play, as in all Shakespeare, there are these big soliloquies, and so in this production those soliloquies are what have become the songs and where we’ve placed them.

F/F: What kind of band do you have playing with this show?

KK: There is drums, bass, two guitars, and a violin and cello. Possibly some keys, if we decide to put piano in the songs – but that might tip it too much into musical theatre land, which we don’t want to do. Jeff rarely used piano in his songs, there’s only a few, like, “Everybody Here Wants You” where he uses just those two accent bars. I don’t want this to be American Idiot, I don’t want this to be Spring Awakening.

F/F: “Everybody Here Wants You” is among my favorite Jeff Buckley songs, so damn sexy. How does that appear in the play?

KK: Oh, that’s in that scene after the party on the balcony song, and Romeo sings it to Juliet, and then she joins in. Everyone is looking for her and she’s out making googly eyes with Romeo. But yeah, it’s such a great song, it’s like R&B!

F/F: How involved was Jeff’s mom in the process?

KK: She’s been at every performance, she holds the rights so she had a lot of say in everything, but she’s been totally supportive from the beginning. I mean — she suggested a viola once, but that’s been the extent, she’s been happy with the choices we’ve made and how the songs sound.

F/F: How does the choreography work with the music?

KK: We have Sonya Tayeh [editor’s note: the one choreographer I have actually heard of!]. She’s a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, the one with the mohawk, and she is an amazing choreographer. We tried very hard to have non-conventional choreography, we didn’t want a lot of Broadway in it, we wanted weird, organic, avant garde work, and she absolutely did that. She’s incredible and crazy and amazing, but that’s what we wanted. Really young, hip movement.

F/F: So a lot of people without a background in theatre, like me, experience a kind of a disconnect when they go to musicals, because all of a sudden everyone is doing jazz hands and bursting out into song [reference]. Do you think non-theatre audiences will feel that way at all with The Last Goodbye?

KK: We’ve economized it, and the actors are young and sexy and rockstars, and it just makes sense. I don’t think people will have that disconnect, at all. But that being said, my mom is probably not going to like it. It’s loud. But it’s not a vaudeville play or a waltz scene. At the end of the day, it’s Jeff’s songs.

April 7, 2010

Jeff Buckley’s music + Shakespeare this summer?


A new theatrical adaptation that combines Jeff Buckley‘s music with Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet will premiere this summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, August 5-20. Under the direction of Michael Kimmel, with music direction and orchestration by Kris Kukul, The Last Goodbye weaves a dozen of Jeff’s songs into the ill-fated love story we all know so well.

Stage readings of its early incarnation sold out in New York last year. Now that the adaptation is completely fleshed out and ready to hit the stage, I’ll admit an intense curiosity to see his songs yearn and take flight inside this story, live on a stage in the open air once again — but it seems a daunting undertaking. Certainly, you can clearly see the story arc that this fits into – “Lover, You Should Have Come Over” during the pining, “Last Goodbye” in the tragic final moments, even “Everybody Here Wants You” or “Forget Her,” all seem almost tailor-made for a story like Will Shakespeare’s. But…it’s Jeff, and that still holds a sacrosanct place in my musical heart.

I am reassured by fans who saw the readings last year at Joe’s Pub; the Music Slut wrote of a fear that the tunes would be butchered, but “the ninety minute show was stunning from start to finish. In fact, I’m still reeling from it, twelve hours later.” “My mind is blown,” wrote another Jeff fan. So yeah — this could be magical. I’d at least give it a shot, in the August twilight in the Berkshires.

One of my favorite quotes of Jeff’s, and one that makes me curious to see how his songs will tell secrets in this adaptation, is where he says:

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.”

The Last Goodbye runs August 5-20.

Lover, You Should Have Come Over (acoustic) – Jeff Buckley [from the Eternal Life single]

And, oh: Wilco also is curating and headlining the new Solid Sound Festival down the road during the same chunk of August: Friday the 13th – Sunday the 15th, in North Adams, Mass. It’ll be Wilco’s only East Coast summer tour dates, and the Buckley show may soon head off to Broadway, never again to hit such intimate spaces. Summer vacation? My birthday on the 19th? YES, please.

[photo credit Merri Cyr]

November 16, 2009

Jeff Buckley in Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, midday acoustic show (5/5/95)

sproul 3

May of 1995 was the end of my sophomore year of high school down in San Jose, and while I studied on a Thursday afternoon for Mr. Pimentel’s science final or Señora Navarro’s Spanish class, somewhere not too far up 880 Jeff Buckley was tuning up his acoustic guitar for a solo midday set on the college campus of UC Berkeley.

Jeff had been touring in support of Grace for nearly a year, currently with Juliana Hatfield, and was preparing to leave for Scotland in a few weeks. He would play San Francisco’s beautiful old Great American Music Hall that night in a sold-out show.

According to David Browne’s excellent Dream Brother book, Jeff had just been named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People In The World” this month, and was “mortified.” Yet here Jeff is in fine, chatty form – his lightly joking, sometimes sardonic banter (imitating Scott Weiland, among other things) counterbalanced by the gorgeous weight of his songs, inducing chills even in the warm afternoon sun. Just listen to that intro to “Mojo Pin”; it’s near mystical.

I never did see Jeff live, but I delight in finding these recordings of shows that were happening all around me. I can listen to them now, and sorta, you know — pretend.

Jeff Buckley in Sproul Plaza, Berkeley (5/5/95)

1 – Last Goodbye
2 – Lover You Should Have Come Over
3 – So Real
4 – Mojo Pin
5 – Grace

November 17th was his birthday — he would have been 43 tomorrow.

[Photo by Jan Richards]

June 4, 2009

New contest: Jeff Buckley goodness


Back in 2005, a film festival came to San Jose where I grew up and was living still. Five minutes down the road from the college where I was working, Amazing Grace screened in a theater I’d visited dozens of times. This Jeff Buckley documentary is lauded by fans who have seen it as a gorgeous, heartfelt work about Jeff Buckley and his life.

I remember that as a particularly distracted Spring, and I completely missed the screening — and have spent the next four years compulsively checking the website every couple of months to see when I can watch it on DVD.

The day is finally here.

jb-grace-around-the-worldIn honor of the 15th anniversary of the release of Jeff’s masterpiece album Grace, earlier this week the Grace Around the World CD/DVD of previously unreleased live performances hit the shelves. The deluxe edition also includes the Amazing Grace documentary, available for the first time.

The Grace Around The World performances were culled together and produced by Mary Guibert, Jeff’s mom. They are gorgeous renditions of Jeff’s songs taken mostly from his TV performances all over Europe and Asia from 1994-1995. It also comes with a CD of the audio from these performances. There are a couple of renditions of all the songs on Grace, and also a live version of “Vancouver,” which didn’t make it on the album but surfaced on Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk.

Rolling Stone has been doing a series of podcasts on this release and the anniversary. This episode lets you hear some of the audio from Grace Around The World, and features commentary from Duncan Sheik, who had worked with Jeff, and wrote the tribute song “A Body Goes Down” for him.

Jeff Buckley Grace Around The World podcast

FUEL/FRIENDS CONTEST: One reader gets the limited-edition deluxe Grace Around The World prize pack which includes –

1) The Grace Around The World DVD featuring previously unreleased TV performances from U.S., UK, Germany, Japan and France
2) Grace Around The World CD featuring audio versions of all the tracks on the DVD, plus two additional previously unreleased tracks
3) A pretty sweet t-shirt.

If you’d like to win, leave me a comment, please, and let’s talk about something you love in Jeff Buckley’s music or live performance. Make me smile this week (or make me cry, or give me shivers, something good). Talk about a lyric, a melody, a song, a performance, a quote, a laugh. For me, it’s still absolutely the ebullient joy in this laugh that is my favorite moment ever of Jeff’s. What’s yours?



[top photo credit Merri Cyr]

April 19, 2009

Jeff Buckley covers Joni Mitchell


In the early Nineties, some musician/taper was playing New York’s Sin-é club at the same time as a young rising star named Jeff Buckley. Unnamed fella was taping Buckley’s Monday night sets, and has recently put together a compilation of these live tracks, largely covers. Thanks to a tip from a reader in Brooklyn named Adam, I have been listening to these chill-inducing recordings all morning.

People’s Parties (Joni Mitchell) – Jeff Buckley

People’s Parties (original) – Joni Mitchell

Check the Love Live! Bootlegs From Bucklberry blog for this and other tracks, including:

Two versions of “Hallelujah” (Cohen), “Funk 49″ (James Gang), “The Way Young Lovers Do” and “Sweet Thing” (Van Morrison), “In A Different Place” (Ride), “May The Circle Be Unbroken” (traditional gospel), “Twelfth Of Never” (Johnny Mathis?), “Calling You” (Bob Telson), “Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday), “Julia” (The Beatles), “Lost Highway” (Hank Williams), “Dink’s Song” (traditional), “I Shall Be Released”, “If You See Her, Say Hello” and “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind” (Dylan).

I haven’t even heard many of these covers. What a gift.

November 17, 2008

Jeff Buckley, Glen Hansard “Neath The Beeches”

Today, November 17th, is Jeff Buckley‘s birthday, and a reader sent me this interview clip with Glen Hansard (Once, The Frames, The Commitments) discussing the months when his guitar tech/roadie was this young guy named Jeff.

Listen to Hansard tell the story of Jeff first playing “an Irish club in the East Village ” with him (of course, the famous Sin-é) and the reaction of the audience when this unknown kid started to sing. As he discusses their relationship in this wonderfully unguarded interview, he also recounts the story of playing the Tim Buckley song “Once I Was” in the hotel room for Jeff, and being stunned when Jeff casually mentioned, oh yeah, he was my father.

It closes with a gorgeous version of the song “Neath The Beeches,” which Hansard says fell fully formed from his mind, and that “I was thinking about (Jeff) when I was doing it, so it became his song in my head.”

Glen Hansard discusses Jeff Buckley / plays “Neath The Beeches”

Here is also the album version, from the 1999 Frames album Dance The Devil:

Neath The Beeches – The Frames

July 2, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

So I learned how to play the game of Cornhole this weekend.

Seriously, don’t ask.
(I don’t know if it was more fun playing the game or just making endless jokes about the name of it).

The End Of The World

Irish band Ash has opened for bands like U2 and Weezer, and collaborated with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, but chances are really good that you’ve not heard of them if you aren’t British. Well, listen up. This is my new favorite song today, a soaring tune that I want to sing along with and be listening to if it is, indeed, the end of the world. Tinglingly good, I love the epic feel of the key changes (I am a sucker for those); for some reason this line gets me: “Can’t hardly see the stars, there’s too much light pollution . . . That’s the catch, it’s such a beautiful confusion.” Their 5th studio album Twilight Of The Innocents is out in the UK this week, and they say it shall be their last proper album (then moving to what Mason Jennings considered, and releasing only singles). Ash plays at London’s KOKO for a run this entire week, and then they hit the festival circuit this summer, including Asia, then Reading and Leeds festivals.

Dream Brother (alternate take)
Jeff Buckley

Reading a recent review by a friend of mine, I realized that I never weighed in on the new So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley collection, which was released in May to commemorate ten years of his absence. While it’s a bit disorienting to hear a rearranged Grace (no Mojo Pin starter? No Lilac Wine following Last Goodbye?), I like the overall effect here, and would recommend this addition for any Buckley fan who already loves his studio debut album front to back, as I do. The compilation adds some excellent songs of Jeff’s that surfaced after Grace (such as the sexy swooner Everybody Here Wants You, or The Sky Is A Landfill), as well as alternate takes on favorites. These new versions are interesting in the different vantage points they offer (Eternal Life slays like the best Zeppelin tune, there are some new lyrics here in Dream Brother), and while I wouldn’t say that I prefer any of the new versions more than the originals, this collection offers an apt and different take on the talent we lost.

The Night Starts Here

The new album from Montreal, Canada’s Stars isn’t even out until September, three long months away, but this newly released mp3 is already burning through the blogs (thanks Arts & Crafts!). In Our Bedroom After The War will be the newest album from this melodic, dreamlike, deftly-harmonizing band that I quite enjoy, and the first single continues where 2005′s Set Yourself On Fire left off – lots of turntaking in the verses between honey-voiced Amy Millan and incisive Torquil Campbell, over a backbeat of synths and layered orchestral pop.

Apeman (Kinks cover)
The Format
In honor of the one year anniversary of the release of Dog Problems, charismatic Arizona pop band The Format is offering that entire album free for download on their website, no catches, until July 16th. That’s a whole lot of goodness, gratis. The Format remains one of the most exciting live shows I’ve seen (very high on the list) and I recommend catching them on this current tour if you can. They love covers like I do, and have put their unique stamp on everything from Harry Nilsson to Bruce Springsteen. Here they take on the Kinks’ Apeman very faithfully — but it’s fun.

Come And Get It (demo)
Paul McCartney

Last week I got an email from my friend Tony wondering, hypothetically, if I might have enough frequent flyer miles to be his accomplice in the Paul McCartney private show at Amoeba Records in LA. On less than 24 hours notice, I could not swing it, but oh, how I need a private jet. This demo recording of the McCartney-penned Badfinger megahit (Paul laid this down one day at Abbey Road when he arrived early for a recording session) is something I’ve been listening to a lot recently. Posting it today is just an enjoyable excuse to link to Tony’s review of his ultimate fanboy experience. (Oh, and I think we can call Lefsetz a fanboy too).

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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April 2, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

Spring is finally on the verge of … springing here in Colorado. There are new layers of green outside my front door everytime I look, and I think my tulips (which I didn’t plant myself, but remain an annual treat from the previous green-thumbed owner) are poised to bloom any day. There’s also a gorgeous bush covered in breathtaking yellow flowers right outside my kitchen window, so I don’t even mind doing the dishes lately. Hooray for Spring, I’ve been color-starved and sunshine-starved, even though I try to make the best of it.

Side note: there is a fantastic/rotten new entry over at that I ain’t gonna post here but just made laugh for a solid minute or so…

But let’s just move it along, people. Here’s the music, with an appropriate first track for the revelling in the Spring sunshine.

Laissez Briller Le Soleil (“Let the sun shine”?)
Les Boots
Every once in a while on the music blogs that I regularly read, someone throws out a curveball that just catches you offgaurd in the most marvelous way. Aquarium Drunkard has a “French Freakbeat” series up now (parts one and two) of fuzzy, garage harmonies from Gallic groups of the Sixties. Info is scant, but apparently this is “a rare bootleg collection that explores mid 1960s mod-influenced psychedelia of French bands that were paying strict attention to their British brethren, most notably The Small Faces.” I love the way this sounds — it’s as if your little transistor radio suddenly picks up a station across the Atlantic with sounds that are vaguely familiar but altogether fresh. Grab the whole set. Soooo good, right up my alley.

No Pussy Blues
Following my post referencing the great Nick Cave tune (and the Pearl Jam cover of) “The Ship Song,” reader Joe recommended that I check out Cave’s new band with 3 of his Bad Seeds — Grinderman, saying it was “raw, dirty, superb!” Any song titled No Pussy Blues definitely tends towards the raw and fairly dirty; it’s also humorous as he details his efforts in vain to get the unnamed female to acquiesce in his growling, pointed storytelling. This is off their forthcoming 2007 self-titled release on Anti Records (US). Blistering.

The National

Speaking of Nick Cave, the voice of Matt Berninger always reminds me a bit of Cave in its deep and dramatic resonation. The forthcoming 4th album from Brooklyn’s The National, Boxer (May 22, Beggars Banquet label) leaked its way onto the interwebby this weekend and I’ve been truly enjoying feeling my way through it. It’s a rich, melodic, gorgeous album with lyrics aching of romantic disillusionment and raw desire — I had a hard time picking just one track to share. This is an album that I really look forward to delving into and relishing on repeat; first impressions are very solid.

Never Learn Not To Love
Beach Boys/Charles Manson
So you all know that I enjoy enriching my brain with backstories and random little snippets of musical history that fall through the cracks. The Spinner blog has a fascinating little story on how the Golden State’s finest exports ended up recording the music of a psychotic murderer. Although the original writing credits of this song, which was first released as a b-side to cheery “Bluebirds Over The Mountain,” list only Dennis Wilson as the author, the truth would include a credit for the wild-eyed Chuck Manson as well for his earlier version — creepily entitled “Cease To Resist.” Who knew that underneath all that sunshine and chiming harmonies there was a secret more sinister.

Strawberry Street
Jeff Buckley
Oooh, and finally how about a b-side from my beloved Jeff Buckley? This is one that I’d never heard before, unearthed by the superb Sweet Oblivion blog and ripped directly from the vinyl single of the great song “Forget Her.” It was also a hidden track on the Australian edition of Grace. This song was written by Jeff before he moved to NYC in 1993, and it is Jeff at his most waily, electric, Led-Zeppelin-loving best.

And holy goodness (!!), I’ve been waiting for this news for a long time: The critically-acclaimed film festival favorite Jeff Buckley documentary Amazing Grace will finally be released by Columbia/Legacy on May 22 for purchase. I’ve heard nothing but revelatory raves about it but missed all screenings ever near me; add your name here to be updated on purchase information. I cannot wait to settle in to watch that one.

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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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