23 05 2007

Jeff Buckley

By Derek Beres

There’s always an unknowing, nearly laughable head toss that accompanies the question, “So what’s your favorite album of all time?” It’s an odd way to put out, seeing how music hits us the way it does: in situations of love, loss, joy, grief, ecstasy. There’s music to comfort us during a broken heart, and songs to bump driving down summer highways. And while my answer to that question would be equally uncertain, there’s always one that comes to mind: Jeff Buckley’s Grace.

Having been involved with music journalism for over thirteen years now, I’ve garnered enough experience to realize that there is no total objectivity in this craft. You like what you like. This is not to downplay the role, or importance, of criticism. Most music writers simply rehash press releases, or read other reviews and base their work from that. It’s unfortunate, but true. Critical thought in music journalism is rare, as most media outlets are worried more about the advertising revenue coming in from labels and artists, and formulate their content around this, making it a secondary, not primary, occurrence. Like social and political criticism, however, music writing can be just as powerful, just as poignant. Or so we hope.

I can do nothing but express dismay and frustration, then, at the release of So Real: Songs From Jeff Buckley. A few years ago I had the opportunity to befriend former members of Jeff’s band, and his management, and others close to him. They all proved to be amazing people and artists, and held a profound sense of respect for Jeff’s work (and person, something I never had the chance to experience). This is generally the case for most fans of Jeff. He spoke to something personal and primordial in each of us, and his music helped us define a part of ourselves. His small catalog has held up considerably over the decade since his death, and will continue to for some time.

For someone who only released one full album and one four-song EP while alive, there is certainly a large body of work now. Many singles featured killer live B-sides; the release of the two-CD work in progress, which he was working on when he drowned, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk; a live concert and DVD from Chicago, Mystery White Boy; guitarist Gary Lucas’ release of some demos he cut with Jeff pre-Grace, of questionable quality, Songs to No One, 1991-1992; a great bootleg of alternate tracks and live performances, Diamonds From the Pavement; the epic Live A L’Olympia.

Then came the official Sony re-releases in 2003: a re-mastered Grace with one new song and another version of “Dream Brother,” and the expansion of the four-song Live at Sin-e to a two CD masterful set of 34 tracks. Seeing Grace again was fine, it didn’t need another version but it was understandable, given the monumental version of Sin-e now in our hands. It was worth the price just for the cover of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one of his heroes. And hearing his cherubic scatting all over Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do” is unforgettable.

And now comes So Real.

It is well known, given the state of the music industry, that major labels have to rely on their catalog and publishing rights to continue to exist at a level of the corporate domineering that they’re used to. So they will kick, scratch and sue everyone to get their money. But this collection is simply in bad taste. It serves as a “Best Of” collection, which means it comes from one actual album. I remember seeing The Best of the Pharcyde a few years ago and thinking, “for one song???” I know the argument from the Sony camp, all too well: it will “introduce” a whole new audience to the legacy of Jeff Buckley. Translation: we’re going to milk this catalog for all it’s worth.

Jeff was a legacy, brief as it was. His music will continue to exist in the hearts of many of us for the rest of our lives, and as we pass that down to our children, so will the process continue. Great art is like that – it lasts. Shame on Sony for once again doing the only thing they really know how to do, in exploiting something they were lucky enough to have the rights to in the first place. The man and his music will be remembered; the only thing you’re commemorating at this point is your own greed, mutating the work of a beautiful soul into your own device. If you listened to even one of his lyrics – perhaps “Eternal Life” will do – you would know the ministers he was addressing his sermons to:

Eternal Life is now on my trail / Got my red glitter coffin, man, just need one last nail / While all these ugly gentlemen play out their foolish games / There’s a flaming red horizon that screams our names / And as your fantasies are broken in two / Did you really think this bloody road would pave the way for you? / You better turn around and blow your kiss hello to life eternal, angel

RIP Jeff.




One response

23 05 2007


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