Bless the Child :
Jeff Buckley's Search for Salvation
do you feel about this?" asks
Cheryl, of Columbia Records, holding up a copy of People
magazine's annual "50 Most Beautiful People" issue.
Number twelve on the list is "dishy" young musician
looks away from the magazine. "Get it out of here,"
he declares. "It doesn't mean anything."
quickly puts it away, but the damage is done. Sitting on the
floor in a pair of boots, jeans rolled above his knees, with
matted, dyed black hair and a pout on his face, the twelfth
Most Beautiful Person in the World seems indifferent about
his looks and hostile towards the temptations of vanity.
He's equally disturbed to hear about a brief exchange that
occurred outside his previous night's show in Los Angeles,
in which a young woman told a man, "What are you doing
here? This is a chick concert!"
frowns. "A *chick concert*. It does make me self-conscious,"
Buckley says. "Is it something I'm doing? My first tendency
is to blame myself."
is something he's doing. The 28-year-old singer/guitarist
has a voice that sounds as if it comes from a different era.
One minute he extracts a writhing serpent of a chord from
his throat, the next he delicately mimics an Edith Piaf vibrato,
then sinks into a Presley croon or launches into a shriek
worthy of Robert Plant. On his cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah,
Buckley peels back the husk of Cohen's voice to reveal the
latent sensuality in the words he gently croons : "But
remember when I moved in you, the holy dove was moving too,
and every breath we drew was hallelujah."
Buckley puts himself at risk with spiraling vocal gyrations
and weird contortions that make it seem as though he may not
be able to reach the notes. Watching him deftly ply the strings
of his guitar, lost in the deep focus of his singing, you
feel like a voyeur in some private domain. That intimacy,
though, is fair game: you're invited. "The rules,"
Buckley says, "are that if we're together, then anything
can be said."
find Buckley's raw display off-putting or pretentious; others
find it utterly entrancing. But what does he want people to
get from his performances? "Anything," he says. "Even
angry and disappointed. I like to be transported, penetrated
and changed by music. What I want is for people to stay still
for a while and let something that they have no power over wash
over them, gladly, and be a little better for it."
my anger has been towards the press, not towards his
ghost. I grew up without him. I have the press thinking
I feel one way, but now it's over..."
is in San Francisco for two gigs, still on tour in support
of his 1994 full-length debut, Grace. Waiting to record
a few songs at KFOG, the station where his song Last Goodbye
shares the playlist with Boz Scaggs, U2 and King Crimson,
he looks up, quizzically, to the ceiling where the "adult
alternative" roster is streaming through a pair of speakers.
How his songs fit in here, he's not sure.
the fuck is this -- John Cougar Jackson Browne Mellencrow?"
he asks, leaning forward, intently, sensing a conspiracy.
"Do I really belong here" Is it because of my fucking
"I want to kill you."
1966, a handsome, fresh-faced, and gifted singer/songwriter
27-year-old guitarist and former school teacher Lee Underwood
in Greenwich Village, and asked him if he wanted to form a
Buckley, then 19, had just quit his job at the Taco Bell in
Anaheim, California, and left his pregnant wife, Mary, to
embark on a musical odyssey that nine years later would take
him to his grave.
of the first things I noticed about Tim was his charm; he
could charm just about anybody," Underwood recalls today,
from his home outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. "He was
a very funny, insightful, energetic fellow. He was also angry,
tormented and enormously creative."
the next five years, Underwood served as Buckley's bandmate,
best friend and mentor, turning him on to the jazz of Miles
Davis, Roland Kirk and Bill Evans, the music of composer Olivier
Messiaen, and the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Federico Garcia
absorbed Underwood's wellspring of knowledge like a plant;
what blossomed was some of the most eclectic folk music of
the period. Over the course of six albums -- including Goodbye
and Hello (1967), Happy/Sad (1969), Blue Afternoon
(1970) and Starsailor (1971) -- Buckley's style veered
from folk-rock to jazz to avant-garde, with romanticized lyrics
that have been compared to the verse of Leonard Cohen, Wallace
Stevens, and even Samuel Coleridge.
was very expressive; some times witty, always obnoxious,"
says Underwood. "He had no patience for pomposity or
stupidity, and as a result he made lots of friends among rebellious
people, and lots of enemies within the media. He called people
on their bullshit without ever looking back."
moved on after Starsailor, but remained close to Buckley until
the songwriter's death in 1975 of a heroin overdose. Together,
the two experienced spiritual journeys and battled with their
self-destructive impulses. "We were soul mates on many
levels, including drugs and alcohol."
Tim's long-lost son, Jeff, began making his own name in music
last year, Underwood was disturbed to find the younger Buckley
bad-mouthing a father he never knew.
was very expressive; some times witty, always obnoxious.
He had no patience for pomposity or stupidity, and as
a result he made lots of friends among rebellious people,
and lots of enemies within the media..."
think the whole situation between Tim and Jeff is very sad,"
says Underwood, who barely conceals his own anger towards
both Jeff and Jeff's mother, Mary. Underwood believes that
Tim needed to leave his past behind in 1966, and he feels
that Jeff should come to terms with it.
is enraged at Tim for abandoning him," Underwood says.
"Apparently Jeff would have had Tim remain at Taco Bell
and climb up the management ladder rather than become what
he was. Jeff's rage is like smoke around his mind. He can't
see either Tim or himself clearly at all."