Friday, November 16, 2007

[026] Grace

Album: Grace
Artist: Jeff Buckley
Release Date: August 1994
Label: Columbia
Producer: Andy Wallace

"And what do I want people to get from the music? Whatever they want...ya know, whatever you like. Somebody asked me what I wanted to do, and I just said I wanted to...just to give back to it what it's given me."
- from the Grace EPK - see 'Interview, Part 2' below

Jeff Buckley was right; it really is all about what you personally want to take from his music. Grace is such a unique experience that whatever I say about it now doesn’t really mean a thing to how you’re going to hear it. At times, I feel it’s lyrically very much in the hippie mindset, but he tempers it with the fire of 80’s hardcore; it adds up to his own brand of outward romanticism, and anyway, Jeff was against any connection to the past unless it was strictly in the music. Example: every writer under the sun wanted to compare Jeff to Led Zeppelin and Van Morrison and his father Tim, but all those scribes are stuck in the 60’s so that’s what they want to hear; besides the fact that almost every write-up for this album makes a Zeppelin reference, no one can agree on which of these songs actually sounds like the Rock Gods. Like I said – it’s different for everyone. Look, I’ve listened to this album thousands of times, and ditto for all the Zeppelin albums save for In Through The Out Door, and so just because when I listen to “So Real” I hear Sonic Youth, does that mean the critic that hears Led Zep in the same song is wrong? Nope. And I’ve never heard anyone describe “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” as Zeppelinesque, but when I listen to it, I sometimes hear hints of “The Rain Song”, so that’s one thing I personally find amongst Jeff’s stories. I’m too old now to be playing music hipster police patrol, especially with one of my favorite albums, and so I leave everyone to their own interpretations and reactions, because with an album as rewarding as Grace, anything you feel will be pure and genuine and true for you, unmarred by media spin. Grace is a gateway to a new world of music that was never finished because the creator died too soon.

Jeff Buckley was a bard, a nomad; I don’t mean that he literally wandered from place to place like Caine in Kung-Fu, but more that his musical soul was a restless one. His songs were his journeys through new lands, singing his tales of romance and strength of will. He searched for then devoured all styles of music from all countries of the world to feed his voracious appetite, a love for music that was pretty much second to none; I obviously didn’t know the man, but it always seemed like the emotion of music shook him down to the bone, and his performances on record and on stage were spectacles of abandon. Well then, you may ask, why didn’t this translate to the public at large, and I would answer that Jeff Buckley simply didn’t belong. He was a man out of time and out of place. His one official studio album, Grace missed the commercial mark by not throwing itself on the Grunge funeral pyre, but one listen to its perplexing brew explained why. It made the critical rounds, labeled as a throwback to the halcyon days of the late 60’s and early 70’s, but I have a problem with that though, because that sells Jeff so very short. He could sit himself down and sing you some Nina Simone or some Edith Piaf, or maybe go back to the future on some Smiths or Bad Brains shit. He wasn’t the next Kurt that some might have been looking for; he was more the next Morrissey, referring to himself as a chanteuse, alternately fey but masculine with a soaring vocal range that could be dialed back to a coo and a whisper. More accurately, and this is so cliché but true, he wasn’t the next anyone, he was the one and only Jeff Buckley, a Rock & Roll anomaly so odd that you couldn’t be sure it was Rock anymore.

Jeff Buckley was a mysterious inventor. No one knew what this music was, hazy creations drifting from the woods of a studio in upstate New York. The mood of Grace is both varied and cohesive in the same way that The Velvet Underground & Nico can house the disparate likes of “Sunday Morning”, “Run Run Run” and “European Son”. A song like “Last Goodbye” can go down easy, sugar-coated with universal longing and an unflinching bass hook by Mick Grondhal, while the discord of “So Real”, especially its meltdown detour, can be shocking following Nina Simone’s traditional standard, “Lilac Wine”. Buckley plays “Goodbye” straight, knowing he had a winner on his hands – there’s no doubt why it’s one of the songs that hung around from his 1991 demo tape, filled out here by a string section brilliantly arranged by Karl Berger. “So Real” spins with uneven momentum, like wet clay being molded into a new form; Jeff’s admission of “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you” cuts through the abstract poetry of the verses to echo the album’s theme of hesitant romance. He pulled the bluesy skeleton of “Eternal Life” out of his solo arrangement, and built a grungy cyborg, running on the power of drummer Matt Johnson and Grondahl’s choke-on-it low end attack instead of the expected distorted guitars; each progression of the song got harder and angrier, with the “road version” that he played live letting loose, growling about “their rape is the white noise of the world”.

Jeff Buckley was a magnetic shaman; he cast a spell on anyone that heard his voice, attracting one dumbfounded devotee after another. The second you hear “Mojo Pin” for the first time, his voice sliding in through midnight fog, Gary Lucas kicking up early morning dew with his glistening guitar figures, waking the neighbors with startling bursts of ruckus, and you realize that nothing you’ve ever heard sounds like that, you are immediately addicted, trying to figure out how you’ve ever lived without Buckley’s music. When he recorded the caterwauling vocals to the title track, he famously flashed a boyish smile at the end, knowing he had just broken all the molds – even the mad genius has to have a moment to soak in their own greatness every once in a while. He never let his natural blessings carry his ego too high though, down to earth in every interview, on every stage, playing the joker, oozing charisma, taking life as it came. After all the questions he had to endure about the influence his father’s music had on him, which was barely any, and all the Robert Plant comparisons hurled like insults when they rarely sound alike, Buckley was awarded the highest award any musician can ever get: the respect of your heroes. Famous fans like Paul McCartney, U2, Chrissie Hynde, Elvis Costello, Chris Cornell, PJ Harvey, Elton John, and Thom Yorke packed his shows and spoke his praises. Lou Reed wanted to work with him, and David Bowie named Grace one of his 10 ‘desert island discs’. His childhood idols, Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, were fans, with Page saying the album was one of his favorites of the decade, while Bob Dylan called Buckley “one of the great songwriters of this decade.” But all the praise came after he had made Grace; his magic didn’t need help. Only he could imagine a heavenly creature such as “Dream Brother”, a song that manages to crash The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan into each other, closing the album on the same enchanting note that it began with.

Jeff Buckley was a lover, a beautiful man who loved music more than anything else, maybe more than himself. There were always rumors, the white horses and mojo pins, legends of trips down alleyways with a certain Rock & Roll succubus; and who goes swimming with their Doc Martens on, really?? We all have our demons, and for Jeff, he knew that music was his exorcism. He gave himself completely to it, with a look in his eye that part of his brain was always obsessing about the sound of everything, the traffic, the nature, stray conversations. He was receiving information and filing it away for better use later. The tone of his voice could change from second to second, if you listened hard enough with your eyes closed you could see his nostrils flaring, his throat muscles tensing and releasing, his stomach pushing the diaphragm to its limits, mouth wide open or teeth gnashed. He loved and lusted; he felt everything with extra-sensitive sense of existing, and it spreads to the listener. I’d love to know how many mixtapes and CDs that the gorgeous “Lover” has been a centerpiece to over the last 13 years; it must add up to millions, because you can put me down for at least a few dozen. If Jeff’s sense of adventure didn’t let him know where he was going, he definitely knew where he was at in the moment, just being, a channel for the sound of the universe to be broadcast through.

In the end though, Jeff Buckley was just a man with a guitar. His cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has become his most known performance, a 7-minute snapshot of the peak of a human life, and one of the greatest vocal summonings ever put on 2-inch tape. If someone told you that the first time you listened to it, that it was the best moment of that person’s life, whether they knew or not, how would you feel? What did you feel when you heard it for the first time? Did you cry? Did you struggle to pick up your jaw from the ground, trying to figure out how someone could hold a note that long? Did you realize in that moment the true extent of the possibilities of the human race? I did. I held onto the audition headphones in the vinyl room of my college radio station, sitting in the dark, dubbing it onto a cassette tape. I wasn’t listening to Jeff Buckley. No one listens to Jeff Buckley. We all experience Grace.

01. "Mojo Pin"
02. "Grace"
03. "Last Goodbye"
04. "Lilac Wine"
05. "So Real"
06. "Hallelujah"
07. "Lover, You Should've Come Over"
08. "Corpus Christi Carol"
09. "Eternal Life"
10. "Dream Brother"

NOTE: All the Chicago videos come from the indispensable Live In Chicago DVD. As far as I'm concerned, it contains the definitive versions of a few of these songs.

"Grace" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

"Last Goodbye" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

"Hallelujah" [alternate version - video]

"Lover, You Should've Come Over" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

- BONUS: Grace Interview, Part 1
- BONUS: Grace Interview, Part 2
- BONUS: "Mojo Pin" [like in Tokyo, 01.95]
- BONUS: "Mojo Pin" [live in Chicago, 05.95]
- BONUS: "Mojo Pin" [live at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival]
- BONUS: "Grace" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Grace" [live in France, 1995]
- BONUS: "Grace" [live on 120 Minutes, 01.95]
- BONUS: "Last Goodbye" [video]
- BONUS: "Lilac Wine" [live in Frankfurt, 02.95]
- BONUS: "So Real" [video]
- BONUS: "So Real" [live in Chicago, 05.95]
- BONUS: "Hallelujah" [like in Tokyo, 01.95]
- BONUS: "Hallelujah" [live in Chicago, 05.95]
- BONUS: "Hallelujah" [audio]
- BONUS: "Corpus Christi Carol" [audio]
- BONUS: "Eternal Life" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

- SUPER RARE BONUS: "Dream #1"/"Dream Brother" [short film]
- SUPER RARE BONUS: Velvet Jungle Concert [live, 1995?]
featuring "Dream Brother", "So Real" & "Last Goodbye" [17 minutes]
- SUPER RARE BONUS: 1994 Tour Diary

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