The Tim Buckley Archives


God Bless the Child
Part Two

By Sue Peters

There is an eerie poignancy to the arrival of Jeff Buckley on the rock music landscape, at the very age which his experimental folk-rock cult-hero father, Tim Buckley, died of a heroin overdose. That was in 1975. Jeff was only eight.

Like the affluent son who's just found out that the significant job he thought he'd gotten on his own merits was actually "arranged," he's deeply suspicious of some kind of cosmic nepotism. He shouldn't be surprised. Buckley inherited from his father an amazingly supple voice -- and pretty nice bone structure.

"When I was born, my grandfather looked at me and said, 'Yeah, he looks just like a son of a bitch.'" He smiles with a glimmer of wickedness; his Panamanian grandpa isn't the only one who disapproved of the Buckley marriage. "No one did," he says. "They both were young, 17 and 19." By the time Jeff was born in November of 1967, the brief marriage was already dissolving. "I'm a bastard child," Buckley says. "I think I was born after they were divorced."

That same year, Tim released Goodbye And Hello, the second of his ten albums. Once I Was, an overwhelmingly pretty and melancholy folk ballad (used as the suicide soundtrack for the film Coming Home), is one of only two songs by his father that Jeff has performed. It contains the haunting refrain, "Will you ever remember me?" At a tribute to his father in New York where he played unbilled, he barely made it through the song.

Buckley's unresolved relationship with his father haunts his life; it's as integral to his music as it is seemingly irreconcilable. "You can't exorcise what's a part of you," he says. "It's just an opening of a reserve that is endless. Maybe it's an exorcism of unhappiness."

Buckley was raised in Southern California by his mother, Mary, and briefly a stepfather, Ron Moorehead, whose surname Jeff assumed as a child. After finishing high school at 17, he moved out and began taking guitar lessons. When his mother and stepfather divorced, Buckley returned to his birthname, assuming all the blessings and curses that came with it.

Jeff met his father only once, a few months before the elder Buckley died. "All my anger has been towards the press, not towards his ghost," Buckley insists. "I grew up without him. I have the press thinking I feel one way, but now it's over."

Maybe so, but it's not the press that comes to mind when Buckley screams lines like, "Father do you hear me? Do you know it hurts" What will you say when you've seen my face?" or implores to his "dream brother," "Don't be like the one who left behind his name." This unresolved relationship gives an angry and anguished edge to his music.

Like his father's, Buckley's honeyed voice is particularly well suited to the perambulations and idiosyncrasies of jazz, as he demonstrates on Jolly Street, a breezy jaunt on last year's Jazz Passenger's album, In Love.

It's clear, however, that Buckley has a talent and vision of his own. After toying in various bands in L.A., he moved to New York in 1990, where he tested himself as a solo performer in small venues as "the soundtrack to people's evenings. I never looked to be signed anywhere."

The proverbial buzz started to happen, specifically around the Sin-e' cafe in the East Village where the young singer/songwriter's solo performances had begun to draw crowds. Eventually Buckley signed with Columbia, where fittingly, his first release was an EP recorded live at Sin-e'. Last year Buckley released the full-blown Grace, on which his vocal dexterity comes fully alive in a studio setting; he also plays guitar, organ, dulcimer and tabla on the album, complemented by bassist Mick Grondahl, guitarist Michael Tighe and drummer Matt Johnson.

Buckley's lyrics are plaintive, at times bitter, laments. Grace combines a faint sensuality with a vaguely religious sensibility. Although he wasn't formally raised in any religion, Catholicism is part of Buckley's background. "You can't help the residue of Catholicism," he says. "Catholicism and voodoo."






"Father?" "Yes, son?"
Part Two

By Mark Kemp

Underwood criticizes Jeff for pilfering his father's style, particularly from the Starsailor period. "If Jeff respectfully acknowledged the source, Tim's music would be an influence; as it is, Jeff is a plagiarist. He has gotten from Tim his good looks, his intelligence, his voice and his insight -- and yet he says Tim gave him nothing. He could learn a lot from Hank Williams, Jr. and Natalie Cole."

Yet Underwood insists he likes, and feels compassion for, the younger Buckley.

"Any rebel worth his salt begins by kicking his father's ass, and Jeff is no exception. This is Jeff's time, and it's appropriate that he kills the previous generation, sends it up in flames, and goes his own way. I wish him well."







Sue Peters' Letter to Option:

Sonic Options Network
1522-B Cloverfield Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
July 4, 1995

Dear Option,

As the ostensible author of the article on Jeff Buckley in the Jul/Aug issue of Option, I object to the final edit (cutting 400 words from my article altered the original intent), and I find Mark Kemp's accompanying sidebar, which effectively attacks Buckley, bizarrely mean-spirited. The angry and irrational claims made in the sidebar by Lee Underwood deserve a response.

Underwood trivializes the fact that Tim Buckley - however talented, beautiful and visionary he was - walked out on his son. And to claim that Jeff would have preferred his father keep his day job and not pursue music is ludicrous. My understanding is that Jeff's regret is not that Tim was a musician, but that he never got a chance to know his father.

Underwood's take on Tim Buckley's paternal generosity is also peculiar. To say that Jeff owes his looks, intelligence, voice and insight to his father doesn't acknowledge any of Jeff's own talent and musical training, and completely overlooks the fact that Jeff's mother also contributed to the gene pool. And as the one who raised him, she deserves the most credit for guiding his insight and intelligence.

Of course Jeff is influenced by his father. How could-and why should-he not be? But to imply that Tim's music is his only influence and to say that Jeff has "plagiarized" him is grossly unfair. Underwood doesn't acknowledge the influence of other artists (from Nina Simone to Van Morrison), or the 20 years of music that's happened since Tim Buckley's death, or Jeff's own musical vision.

I tried to convey my sense that Jeff Buckley's anger is a protective facade. But unfortunately, much of that was edited out, beginning with the minor detail that his second comment about the People story was said not in anger, but "quietly" (and not "with a pout"-which was entirely an editorial invention).

Tim Buckley is a hard act to follow and Jeff most certainly knows it. "I think it's over," Jeff said to me regarding comparisons between the two. But apparently that was wishful thinking. There will always be those who say he is not as good as or better than his father. Hopefully one day such comparisons won't bother Jeff anymore. But until then, how he comes to terms with his father is really no one's business but his own.

All of this detracts from the real and unique talents of both Jeff and Tim Buckley, and fuels a feud that really doesn't exist.


Sue Peters


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