I was listening to Jeff Buckley in the car the other day and was struck (as I always am when I hear him) by the extraordinary beauty of his singing, which seems to transcend genres and styles in a way which few other artists, classical or popular, ever really manage to do.
“It has become apparent to me that my son will not be walking out of the river.” With these words Mary Guibert, the mother of singer Jeff Buckley, finally acknowledged the dreadful reality of her son’s drowning during an impromptu swim in the Mississippi in 1997. Buckley’s tragically early death occurred a few years after the release of his only studio album in 1994, and since that time both it and he have assumed an almost mystical aura amongst an ever-growing fan base. The range of his musical tastes was seemingly as wide as his vocal range (which is said to have been in the area of four octaves!) and the album includes his own songs as well as those by people such as Leonard Cohen, Benjamin Britten and a ravishingly beautiful rendition of James Shelton’s “Lilac Wine”, a song previously sung by performers such as Nina Simone and Eartha Kitt. A remarkable achievement.
Considering that he died so young and with only a single studio album completed, Buckley infact left quite a few documents of his performing career, which took him all around the world including to Australia. This complete concert from Chicago in 1995 gives a good idea of just how riveting his performances could be, and whilst he often seems to almost lose himself in the midst of certain songs he also had a real knack for connecting in a more relaxed manner with his audience.
Much is made of the association (or lack of it) between Jeff and his biological father Tim Buckley, one of the great singer-songwriters of the late 1960s’/70s, and indeed the elder Buckley had a similar voice with a similar astonishing range. He also died tragically young (although through an accidental drug overdose) leaving behind an array of albums that saw him move from modern folk through a variety of genres into an avant-garde idiom that some say successfully alienated him from his fan base, and which remains hotly contested to this day! This dual biography charts two very separate lives that managed to unintentionally mirror themselves in the best and worst ways.
Unfortunately our copy of this book doesn’t have this cover, but I couldn’t resist! Anyway, beyond the creepy cover this volume of fascinating essays does a remarkable job of investigating the many ways masculinity is represented and performed across a range of popular music genres. Obvious suspects such as Freddie Mercury and Elvis Presley are put under the microscope; although The King might have taken issue with his chapter: Don’t cry, daddy : the degeneration of Elvis Presley’s musical masculinity! More offbeat approaches examine examples of Indonesian pop and Yolngu rock bands from Arnhem Land, while others address the rise of American Emo rock, and the “masculine mayhem” of the moshpit. Jeff Buckley is the subject of a terrific essay which discusses how such a decidely heterosexual man can have been so willing to present himself in such a “transgendered” way, both through his choice of cover songs (everything from “The Man That Got Away” to “Dido’s Lament” by Purcell) and the ethereal manner of his singing itself.