Though he was only 31 when he died, Jeff Buckley had during a relatively short career built a loyal following. That following was not limited to just his fans and friends but included a number of major artists such as Patti Smith, Marianne Faithfull and Elvis Costello.
On Thursday evening some of them came to pay respects to the young rock guitarist with the unforgettable voice at a private memorial service, said a personal friend of Buckley.
On that evening, he said, they came with songs, poems and words of support, looking for a way to say good-bye to one of rock's great new voices. Musicians, known and unknown, as well as family and friends, all gathered to pay a final tribute to a young rocker who had touched so many lives in such a short time.
Costello and Faithfull, renowned performers who'd known Buckley even for the briefest of times, felt compelled to offer something of their own to the service held Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church on Montague Street in the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y.
The close friend, who preferred to remain anonymous, said even rock legend Patti Smith sent a poem, "The Wing," which she had written for the occasion, which preceded Friday evening's public ceremony at the same church, a place Buckley had played numerous times during his career.
"He really loved that church,'' the friend said, adding that the church was filled to capacity with several hundred mourners, many still seemingly stunned by the news of his accidental drowning last May in the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tenn.
As a shrine to Buckley, those who coordinated the service placed Buckley's Fender guitar at the altar. "The sanctuary has a performing arts center and they would have shows there all the time that Jeff would play in. This was his place."
A large slide photo of Buckley was projected over the altar throughout the three-hour service and a radio show taping of him singing in his characteristic passionate and dynamic style played. "Jeff didn't do anything halfway," said the friend. "He had an opinion about everything and he would let you know what he felt. But he was also a very private and introspective person."
Joan Wasser, Buckley's girlfriend and a member of the Dambuilders, also performed an instrumental with Buckley's guitarist Michael Tighe and drummer Parker Kindred, for the occasion, the friend said. Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think and solo artists Rebecca Moore and Ketell Keinig performed songs as well.
One of the most emotional moments in the ceremony came when Buckley's bass player played a song he had written based on a dream he had a week before the singer died. "He dreamed that Jeff had come to him that night," the friend said. "And that's what he wrote about. It was really very moving."
While these performances perhaps offered inspiration and hope to the mourners, there was no getting around the sadness that filled the church throughout the evening, he added. "There were a lot of tears, a lot of crying," he said. "This was a guy who had many, many friends and had touched each in a very different way."
Hoping to demonstrate the impression he had made on them, some of the evening's more renowned guests offered music. Marianne Faithfull played a traditional Irish ballad, while Costello, who had met Buckley once before in England, sang with only piano accompaniment a traditional classical piece that he had planned to collaborate on with the young singer. Costello also took the time to tell the story of how he hooked up with Jeff in England, emphasizing how much he always wanted to work with him.
Buckley received worldwide recognition following the release of his stunning 1994 album Grace. Rising out of New York's Greenwich Village folk scene, his first recorded output was a raw performance EP called Live At Sin-E, which deftly showcased his mesmerizing voice and dazzling guitar skills. The disc brought the singer many comparisons to his father, '60s folk-jazz troubadour Tim Buckley, who died young from a heroin overdose in 1975.
The younger Buckley had only seen his father once while he was alive and worked hard to disassociate himself from his legacy. He had, however, attended a 1991 tribute to his father produced by Hal Wilner and held at St. Ann's , and performed the senior Buckley's classic "Once I Was." At Thursday's service, Wilner spoke briefly.
Also in attendance was Buckley's mother Mary Guibret and numerous members of his family. "There were lots of stories of how Jeff effected people's lives and how he was different things to different people," Buckley's friend said. "Everyone had a different relationship with Jeff depending on what he wanted to do and show them."
Yet, through it all, he added, each person left with the common impression of an "eager, passionate musician who loved and wanted to make music above all."
"Not all of me dust. Within my song, safe from the worm, my spirit will survive," was read as part of a prayer to end the service.
And when the final person had spoken, the evening closed with a song, one that his friend said meant a great deal to Buckley through the years. It was a Pakistani piece by Nusrat Fatch Ali Khan, who Buckley greatly admired and had collaborated with on occasion.
It was not a popular song, but those who knew Buckley understood, his friend said.