In the 20 years since his tragic end, jeff buckley has become synonymous with class and grace.
Despite having only released a limited amount of material while living, Buckley’s posthumous legacy is a testament to a unique talent, one lost before his time. Marking the 20th anniversary of his death especially poignant for fans of his work; This is because Buckley’s legacy is indeed due to his unrepentant and ethereal talent. Whilst his father tim buckley is rightly hailed as a poet of the acid generation, for good or ill, his son’s works are as equally complex and nuanced. 20 years ago, on May 29, 1997, Jeff Buckley drowned during an early evening swim, fully clothed, in the Mississippi River when he was trapped in the wake of a passing river-craft.
The archetypal doomed romantic singer-poet, Buckley is often cast as a modern day shelley or Byron in his untimely yet profound passing. Indeed, he had the talent to match any of these great figures of times gone by. For instance, on the fragile yet emotive Lilac Wine, Buckley’s sensuous melodies and expert guitar stylings are a profound reminder of the untimely loss of such a talent. Vocally, the man was and is still, to a large extent unsurpassed by many modern day acoustic songwriters. his full, four-octave tenor vocal was operatic and capable of reaching a range of different pitches; i.e. switching from a delicate heroic tenor to a high-pitched falsetto with ease. The transcendental nature of Buckley’s writing has not been lost, the avant-garde jazz rock which he was so accomplished in often took the form of rambling yet spiritually cleansing works such as (and my personal favourite) ‘everybody here wants you’ and the operatic and elegant Leonard cohen cover, ‘hallelujah’.
Undeniably, however, there is a sense of deep loss that still permeates the air when people discuss buckley. The legacy of his father left a deep impression on his vocal musings and ars musica. The legacy he leaves behind is one of technical mastery and vocal excellence. Simply listen to the ascending and descending crescendos on ‘grace’, the eponymous track from his debut album. Unfortunately, however, there is something to be said for the depletion of his estate. Numerous publishing deals dented the fortunes of this songwriter and ensue that the slough of posthumous releases will continue into the near future. This was due to poor financial management by buckley and his team yet, for the fan, the more releases the better.
In essence, jeff buckley holds a special place in the pantheon of singer-songwriters. Courageous in form and experimentation, the rhythm of his guitar propelling simple progressions into operatic heights, jeff buckley, especially for people in Australia and France, holds a legacy which is immutable and strong.
He is sorely missed and 20 years after his tragic death at 30, he is still playing that secret chord that pleaseth the lord.
Words by James Hill