Goodbye And Hello: Sketches Of Jeff Buckley

I feel very fortunate that I got to see Jeff Buckley three times during

his

short but brilliant career. The first was live in a small Toronto blues

club only a short time after he'd put together the band that would

eventually record his only "proper" studio album, Grace.

This was

long before the pressures of "sudden stardom" had found him (the

reality

was that he was already in his late 20s and had been busking

around NYC for

some time), a time when he and the band were thinking of nothing

but the

music and getting it all down right -- the performance, from the time

Jeff

opened his mouth to commence the long, ululating opening to

"Mojo Pin"

onwards, was one of the most intense and amazing shows I've

ever seen, the

kind that stays with you long after the impressions of so much

other

mediocre dreck you foolishly had hopes for has faded away. I've

often

likened that experience of mine to what others must have felt when

seeing

geniuses like Miles Davis or Marvin Gaye or Jeff's father, Tim

Buckley, at

the outset of their careers: the effect was totally electrifying,

going far beyond the realm of mere "entertainment."

The next two times I saw Jeff he was never less than excellent, but

it

already seemed as if the pressures on him -- with an album that

started

slow but that soon began to gather a major head of sales steam --

were beginning

to take their toll. Amazingly enough, though, he managed to

continue to orchestrate his own unique brand of magic -- as when

he transformed an in-store appearance at HMV Records

into nirvana, and again when he played a show in a local church.

At the church he

appeared ragged and liquored-up, both tired and energized from

doing battle with the audience's expectations, which, in the end,

he ended up satisfying. Still, he was struggling with the ghost of a

long-dead father who, although he'd abandoned his son, also

bequeathed him an amazing set of multi-octave

pipes. Jeff seemed resentful, and slightly suspicious that the

now-much-larger audience was there in part to hear him conjure

Tim, when the

fact of the matter was that he was already far more popular than

his obscure father had ever been.

I started to have premonitions at

that show -- the last time I ever saw Jeff -- that the singer was

somehow

too fragile to last in the garish world of popular culture. He'd also

inherited his father's tendency to deep, dark depression, as well

as Tim's

existential attitude of the artist at war with a crass bourgeois

society.

Grace was in fact a black album that contained allusions to

the

singer's ultimate underwater demise (in "Dream Brother"). And

although he

often professed to hate them (even though Jeff was a great deal

more

familiar with his father's back catalogue than he'd ever been able

to admit

in public), the only valid artistic comparisons one can make to the

work of

a singular artist such as Jeff Buckley is to the only other "rock"

singer

who possessed such an amazing voice: Tim Buckley. This too is

Jeff's fate.

Of course, by the time he died of an overdose, Tim Buckley had

managed a

whole career in slightly less time than it would take for Jeff to

release an album

and EP (Live At Sin-e), and drown in the Mississippi river.

Throughout his career, Tim was known for artistic restlessness.

The aptly-titled Sketches (For My Sweetheart, The Drunk)

highlights

that same dilemma in the work of his son -- if the Apollonian,

pristine

sound of Grace was Jeff's version of Tim's similar

Goodbye &

Hello, then it seems that Jeff had now jumped a few Buckley

albums ahead to

offer an amalgamated version of the old man's challenging avant-

jazz

Starsailor and his raunchy funk-rocking Greetings From

L.A..

Jeff, of course, growing up in a different age, filters his artistic

sensibility through Led Zeppelin and '80s gloom-rock stalwarts

like The

Cure and The Smiths, rather than the more jazz- and folk-oriented

'60s

influences of his father.

So never mind Evander Holyfield: disc one here is the real

deal.

Stemming from sessions with Television guitarist Tom Verlaine,

these tracks

are pretty much completed, and hold together well as an album.

The first

song, "The Sky Is A Landfill," is a careening Zeppelin-by-way-of-

Killing

Joke riff-rocker, which is arguably Buckley's finest moment both

musically

and lyrically, featuring many a riveting image as Jeff posits

Dionysian

rebellion as the final refutation to a soul-crushing corporate world

where

lives are bought and sold like so much "product." A striking

apocalyptic

millennial vision of "a garbage dump of souls that will now black

the sky"

is conjured; "We'll share our bodies in disdain for the system"

Buckley

spits in defiance. Added chills are provided by the singer's overt

reference to himself in the past tense: "I had no fear of this

machine" he

screams, just before offering up a blistering guitar break that

underscores the sentiment.

The rest of the first disc lives up to the promise of this instant

classic. "Everybody Here Wants You" sees Jeff moving into the

white-soul

genre of latter-day Tim; the former Buckley, however, is more

comfortable

in the higher registers, and here offers up a truly convincing

approximation of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye Motown

with a falsetto

that would make Mick Jagger turn green with envy. Again, we

have what now

sound like foreshadowings of Jeff's fate: "I'm only here for this

moment,"

he coos to the object of his affections with an eerie certainty.

"Witches

Rave," meanwhile,

swings with a breezy, jazzy gait, yet maintains a rock edge, while

"Morning

Theft" returns to the fragile emotive terrain of Grace, as

Buckley,

in his sweetest voice, mourns the end of a relationship, cynically

wondering if his ex-partner views him as "some fool drama queen

whose

chances were few." The hallucinatory "New Year's Prayer" is part

reggae,

part Persian snake-charmer music, with Buckley's slithery voice

appropriately winding in and out of the proceedings.

The second half of the first disc is where the set's surprises really

lie: "Vancouver" and the Cure-ish "Nightmares By The Sea," with

its

hauntingly premonitory line "stay with me under these waves

tonight"

-- feature chiming guitars and neo-gothic atmospheres, betraying

Buckley's

aforementioned love for '80s alt-rock. "Yard Of Blonde Girls,"

meanwhile,

sounds like a glam-trashy amalgam of T. Rex and Smashing

Pumpkins, while

"You & I" is JB stripped to the bone, his forlorn, ululating voice

melodically drifting against a funereal, medieval-ish background.

Along

with the more standard emotive Buckley ballad, "Opened Once,"

these tracks

combine to broaden the

scope of who Jeff Buckley was musically. There are no record

company-picked tracks like classical composer Benjamin Britten's

"Corpus

Christi Carol" (from Grace) here to highlight Jeff's "angelic"

voice; instead, we have Buckley the rocker getting his hands --

among other

appendages -- dirty, revelling in his "low," Dionysian influences

a

la Dad on Greetings From L.A.

Disc 2 of this set is more problematic, as much of it consists of

more

experimental work Buckley was messing with in the studio, much

of which I'm

sure was never intended for public consumption. Some tracks, like

"Murder

Suicide Meteor Slave" and "Back In New York City" (a Genesis

cover!) show

JB's heretofore submerged penchant for Starsailor's avant

far-outness, while the last tracks he'd worked on alone in the

studio, such

as "Demon John" and "Your Flesh Is So Nice," alternatively find

him moving in an even more extreme direction toward stripped

down 'n'

dirty, unabashedly carnal rock, i.e. Papa Tim on "Honeyman." The

set's

closer, a placid blues cover of "Satisfied Mind," however, is a nice

touch:

just Jeff on guitar and voice, singing the blues with a feel few white

boys

have ever possessed, voicing a sentiment that we can now only

hope he found

authentic.

A more accurate rating of Sketches would be: five stars for

disc one; three stars for disc two; judged strictly on its own merits,

disc

one is album-of-the-year material. In contrast to Grace --

which, while a fine debut, is also a bit too clean, too polished, too

Apollonian -- Sketches ...' raw edges and more wholly

human feel

should hold up to the test of time, just as Greetings From

L.A. still sounds hot today. Goodbye & Hello is

more like an admirable period piece.

Jeff Buckley fans now await the promised release

of in-concert material that might more fully flesh out the oeuvre of

this artist

whose time was so long in coming, and so terribly short in

duration.