One of the only few regrets that I have I life is not seeing Jeff Buckley in concert. I had my chance, back during his Mystery White Boy tour of 1995. I was working at a used record store in San Antonio called Apple Records, and one of my cohorts there, Chris, who was like the Barry of our own High Fidelity, always adding another artist/band to his best band ever list to which we had to listen. We had been keeping track behind the counter of his list ever since he started, and we lost count at about a hundred or so of the best artist(s) ever. Jeff Buckley was on his list, and Chris had acquired tickets to one his shows in Austin at the once famous Liberty Lunch venue. Stupidly I declined Chris’ invitation. I can’t recall why but he took one of our aging Buyers Phil instead of me.
When Chris and Phil returned from the show, they were speechless. This was unusual even for him. The one thing Chris told me about was the way Buckley weaved The Smiths “I Know It’s Over” with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” (Later heard on the Mystery White Boy CD) Chris couldn’t even use words to express what he saw. All he could say was, “You missed one of the best shows ever.” As he walked away, shaking his head in disbelief, Phil agreed. Mind you, he was one of those aging hippies always talking about how great the’60s and ’70s were. Phil said, “I will never forget that show for as long as I lived.” And to this day I am still kicking myself. I guess this is why I have been collecting rare Buckley live recordings, trying to compensate for missing his show.
I actually thought I would get a chance to see him live, until the fateful day when they found Buckley’s body in the Mississippi in Memphis. Jeff’s death affected me more than Cobain’s suicide a few years before. I couldn’t believe he was gone. And yet his music lives on. To add his short musical legacy comes a new compilation called So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley. It’s far from being a greatest hits disc because, during his short life, Jeff unfortunately never had any, despite very limited airplay of “Last Goodbye.” Buckley was a man ahead of his time. Even though he only finished one album those songs carry on his name and legacy with every lyric, verse, chorus and riff.
My first introduction to Jeff Buckley was his opening harmonies and faint guitar picking’s from “Mojo Pin.” To me “Pin” sounded like an opening to a séance as if I was being inducted into this new tribe of music that was new, vintage, strange and beautiful all in the same breath. From that first song I was hooked. We, Buckley fans are rabid like a secret sect that not very many people know about. Unlike Elvis fans, we all know that Buckley’s dead, but his music is what we all cling to. The thing about Buckley that we all connect to is his longing for love. His voice is the reflective pain that is the aching of heartbreak. He knows what it is like to feel, fall and lose true love. When he sings, “Born again from the rhythm screaming down from heaven/ Ageless, ageless and I’m there in your arms,” we find it hard not to connect to him. He sings for the passion we yearn for, have felt or are currently experiencing in our own lives.
To pick a favorite song or lyric is for me, or asking any English major, trying to select your favorite play or soliloquy from one of Shakespeare’s many works. And this is from someone who only recorded one true album in his lifetime. This is how influential he was and still remains. Thom Yorke once said that his vocal on “Fake Plastic Trees” was inspired by seeing Jeff Buckley live in concert. Without Jeff would we have heard such an amazing vocal performance from Yorke on The Bends? Probably not.
Anyway, I’ll give in—one of my favorite Buckley lyrics has to be, from one of favorite songs “Lover Should Have Come Over”—”Too young to hold on/ and too old to just break free and run.” This was the way that I used to feel when I was in a relationship. I seemed to be naïve romantic falling for these women who were, in certain instances seemed right for me, but after a short time it was apparent that we were strangers who weren’t meant to be. Now when I hear, “she’s the tear who hangs inside my soul forever,” it reminds me of the boy child desperately searching for love in affairs that seemed rushed and unfulfilling. I knew how Jeff felt when he sang, “Well maybe I’m just too young/to keep good love from going wrong.” As I sang along with Buckley asking “Will I ever learn?“, I hoped one day I would. I finally did.
“Hallelujah” is the coming of two lovers for the first time in the dark, naked and so sweet. “So Real” and his lyric “And remember the smell of the fabric of your simple city dress” speaks simply for the memory of the taste and scent former love. Then there’s “Last Goodbye” the ode to the one that you once fell for, but now must leave behind. “Everybody Here Wants You” is a Memphis soul song that’s pure Buckley as he croons for the amor in his life, “Love can taste like the wine of the ages, oh babe/ And I know they all looks so good from a distance/ But I tell you I’m the one,” as the shy one at the party. But don’t dare think that J.B. is the godfather of the Emo movement, because he could rock like the best of them. When I used to work at Tower Records in New Orleans, I would play Jeff Buckley, and some of the clerks and managers would tease me that I loved playing `sensitive guy music.’ That’s when I would crank up “Eternal Life (Road Version)” and “The Sky is a Landfill” to shut them up. Both songs are featured on So Real to show that Jeff had the power to kick out the jams along with his feminine falsetto side. Buckley was a complex character who didn’t want to get pigeonholed into one sound or song idea this was the reason that he took so long recording his follow-up that he never really finished.
So Real also contains some fine rarities. The alternate take of “Dream Brother” is, I feel, the best version, with its varied lyrics more ethereal and addicting than the original. An acoustic rendition of “So Real,” where we can hear Buckley clearly whisper, “I Love you/but I’m afraid to love you” after the breakdown, is also particularly memorable. “Forget You” is the ghost of a former lover that haunts your thoughts and dreams who will not go away no matter how much time has past. We also shan’t forget the inclusion of the gem, the brilliant cover of The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over.”
I don’t think I could come up with a better track-listing than the one that The Buckley estate selected on So Real. Then again, I would have liked to have heard “Lilac Wine” and “Satisfied Mind” but that’s what playlists and our own personal mix CDs are for. This is fine for an introduction, however. Jeff Buckley once said, “I don’t want to be remembered. I hope the music is remembered.” With the release of Sketches, the Legacy Edition of Grace and now So Real, Jeff may just get his wish. His music will have its own life that we’ll cherish every time we hear his songs over and over again like an eternal lullaby that we hope will always light his name and never fade out.
Jeff Buckley – Grace
Jeff Buckley – (Sketches for) My Sweetheart the Drunk
Jeff Buckley – Mystery White Boy