Saturday, August 9, 2014

Twenty Years of Grace

Grace cover photo by Merri Cyr Brooklyn 1993
Grace is basically a death prayer. Not something of sorrow but just casting away any fear of death. No relief will come, you'll really just have to stew in your life until it's time to go. But sometimes, somebody else's faith in you can do wonders. ~Jeff Buckley  

There are not many musicians that I can say " I remember the first time I heard them." In a gym on a June Thursday morning in Sydney Australia, I heard a voice that would forever change my life. As I ran on the treadmill, Hallelujah played on the TV. A voice has never affected my soul as much as Jeff Buckley's.
Within two hours, I was listening to Grace. While it was released on August 23, 1994, it was only mainstream in Australia at the time. Grace wouldn't achieve its crowning glory until, sadly, Jeff died in 1997. However, Grace was not his first album. The four song EP Live from Sin-e was the catalyst that put him into the minds of the music executives.  
But why is Grace being placed into one of the most influential and best albums of our time? Was it the music? Was it the mysterious Jeff with his storied father? Or was it simply a combination of both? His voice and intricacies of each song have been lauded by many including Bono and Jimmy Page: Technically, he was the best singer that had appeared probably in - I'm not being too liberal about this - if I say, in two decades.
So let's break down this album
Mojo Pin
It's a story about addiction - to a woman or drugs - not sure. Jeff's voice, almost at a whisper welcomes us to this song, tangled with background anonymous sounds and a silent cymbal, before we are hit with heavy guitar riffs. Possibly, this could symbolize the ups and downs of said addiction. 
Jeff once said of the song: Sometimes if somebody you feel you need... the whole universe tells you that you have to have her, you start watching her favorite TV shows all night, you start buying her the things she needs, you start drinking her drinks, you start smoking her bad cigarettes, you start picking up her nuances in her voice, you sleep in safe sometimes the most dangerous thing... this is called Mojo Pin." (Astoria, London, UK, 18/01/95).
The welts of your scorn, my love, give me more
Send whips of opinion down my back, give me more
Well it's you I've waited my life to see
It's you I've searched so hard for...
And the rain is falling and i believe
My time has come
It reminds me of the pain
I might leave
Leave behind
Someone once asked me if I had to chose one more song to hear before I leave this plain, what would it be? I answered Grace. They were assuming I would say Stairway, Brokedown Palace, or something else profound, but Grace is my song. It shows readiness and, ironically enough, Grace to face the destiny that we all have and the journey we take to reach it.

I will let Jeff explain:
It's about not fearing death, or fearing any of those countless slings and arrows that you suffer sometimes on this earth, because somebody loves you. You're not afraid to go, you're not afraid to withstand what you need to withstand because there's a tremendous fuel that you feel regenerating inside because of someone else's love for you. That's what Grace is about. And it's just about life sometimes being so long. At the time I was anticipating leaving Los Angeles for New York. So I was waiting to go. I'm not afraid to go, I'm not afraid to die, I'm not afraid to go away from this place or from any place but it just goes so slow. And I had somebody who loved me in New York. A lot. And it was amazing. It still is.  
This song has so many layers, clocks, rhythms, acoustic guitars. It is also very eerie how Jeff seemingly accepts his mortality in this song.    
Last Goodbye
A sadly sweet breakup song. It's the negotiation and pleading just before the final goodbye kiss.
Sad, desperate breakup song
This is our last embrace
Must I dream and always see your face?
Why can't we overcome this wall?
Baby, maybe its just because you didn't know you at all

Lilac Wine
Jeff loved Nina Simone. His cover of this song demonstrates his ability to transcend the rock genre. He would also cover her songs I Loves You Porgy, and Be Your Husband.
So Real
This song has that eerie foreshadowing of water. It also gave us a goofy Jeff video that includes gorilla suits, a pre-hipster bike ride through Brooklyn, and a diner scene.
And I couldn't awake from the nightmare that sucked me in and pulled me under
Pulled me under
Oh... that was so real
I love you, but I'm afraid to love you
No doubt, Jeff's biggest hit. I have explained my sentiment on the song previously here (see link)
Lover, You Should've Come Over
Incredible accordion, harpiscordish beginning, a guilty afterthought to a love lost, possibly due to his own doing.
Lonely is the room, the bed is made, the open window lets the rain in
Burning in the corner is the only one who dreams he had you with him
My body turns and yearns for a sleep that will never come
Corpus Christi Carol
Jeff's beautiful take on a medieval song about Christ and his Knight.
Eternal Life
This song is definitely one of the few "political" songs that shows Jeff's passion for peace and love and his rebuttal of traditional religion.
There's no time for hatred, only questions
What is love, where is happiness, what is life, where is peace?
When will I find the strength to bring me release?
Tell me where is the love in what your prophet has said?
Man, it sounds to me just like a prison for the walking dead
I've got a message for you and your twisted hell
You better turn around and blow your kiss goodbye to life eternal

Dream Brother
Very haunting and you can feel the influence of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Jeff's spiritual sufi singer influence. It is a song to Jeff's friend, his dream brother, about leaving his pregnant girlfriend. It is one of the first songs where Jeff seemingly references his absent father, singer Tim Buckley.
Don't be like the one who made me so old
Don't be like the one who left behind his name
'Cause they're waiting for you like I waited for mine
And nobody ever came
Songs added in re-release
Forget Her
Such a heartbreaking song, even more so the story behind it. Jeff never wanted this song released. It is about his relationship with another singer. Sadly, she heard it. It is one of my favorites (although it could use some more organ and Hammond B3).
Well my tears falling down as I try to forget,
Her love was a joke from the day that we met.
All of the words, all of her men,
All of my pain when I think back to when.
Lost Highway
Cover of Leon Payne song done simply with Jeff and guitar ... and a twang.
I was just a lad, nearly twenty two
Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you
But now I'm lost, too late to pray
Lord, I paid the cost, on the lost highway
Parchman Farm
A Bukka White American blues song about doing time in the Mississippi State Penitentiary
 In a way, Jeff's short life and music career is exactly what he wanted. I believe the music industry would have destroyed his fragile shell. At one point, after Grace became popular, Jeff would play under other names at small venues.
There was a time in my life not too long ago when I could show up in a cafe and simply do what I do, make music, learn from performing my music, explore what it means to me, i.e., have fun while I irritate and/or entertain an audience who don't know me or what I am about. In this situation I have that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender. I worked very hard to get this kind of thing together, this work forum. I loved it and then I missed it when it disappeared. All I am doing is reclaiming it
Jeff was once asked how he wanted to be remembered. Besides being a good friend, his only wish was that his music was remembered. Jeff, your wish is our command.

He was Plant and Page in one, on a technical level. ~Brad
Pitt on Jeff Buckley
Please check out Jeff's friend and photographer, Merri Cyr in her book A Wished for Song: A Portrait of Jeff Buckley

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