that was intense. I just finished reading Dream Brother:
The Lives & Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley
this afternoon and I feel a bit more in love with the music,
somewhat eviscerated by the sad details of untimely deaths,
and pensive over all the history that I didn't know. I highly
recommend the book to fans of Jeff or Tim Buckley, or even
to just your average music lover (which, clearly, you are,
because you are here on my site).
book seems about 20% thicker now that I am finished with it
because of all the corners I folded down to mark a version
of a song I wanted to look up, a location I wanted to Google
(!), a piece of this familial musical history that I want
to learn more about. I have several ideas for posts that spring
from David Browne's eloquently written prose along with some
unreleased songs that I have which are worth sharing.
came into the book as a Jeff Buckley fan. While I understand
more now about the legacy his father left, I've not been able
to personally get into Tim's late-'60s/early-'70s experimental
musical vision, in all of its many formats and versions. So
the first personal connection that I have with the book comes
when Jeff begins to unfold as a musician in his early stages.
true "introduction" to the music world, if you will,
and the single appearance that created the buzz in New York
which helped fuel his meteoric rise and signing by Sony Records,
happened the night of April 26, 1991 (and is pictured at the
top of this post). Janine Nichols had organized an annual
musical benefit evening in the halls of the gothic-revival
St. Ann's Cathedral for the past several years as part of
their "Arts at St. Ann's" series. In 1991, one of
the concerts to be offered was "Greetings From Tim Buckley,"
in which mostly unknown local NYC musicians would perform
versions of Tim's work.
Nichols' concert research, she came across the name of his
son, whom Tim had more or less abandoned when Jeff was just
a baby. Jeff only met his father a few times and still had
ambivalent feelings about being linked with him, so when Nichols
called the 24-year-old Jeff to see if he would be interested
in attending, he was unsure. But after some thought and discussion,
he decided to come. "I always missed not going to [his]
funeral," Jeff said as part of his reasoning.
Jeff had attended the Musician's Institute in Southern California
and played in several punk/rock/experimental/goth/reggae bands
throughout the L.A. area, he usually felt most comfortable
behind a guitar and not in front of a microphone. Many of
his friends from this period didn't even know he could sing.
When Jeff arrived in New York, the concert producers were
still unsure if he would actually be performing in the tribute;
they had listened to the demo tape he sent ahead and found
when Jeff took the stage that April night, the crowd (which
was full of those who had known and worked with his father)
was, by all accounts, completely blown away by the power and
beauty of this vocal talent. As Browne (the other Browne)
an instrumental interlude, a new group of musicians took the
stage. One of them was a long-haired kid wearing a black t-shirt.
Danny Fields, Tim's onetime publicist, was in the audience,
keeping an eye out for the supposed son. Though Jeff had his
back to the audience as he tuned his guitar, the spotlight
caught his profile and one cheekbone. 'And I said, 'Whoa--there
he is,' Field recalls. 'I didn't have to wonder too hard.
It could take your breath away.'
who had billed himself as Jeff Scott Buckley, began strumming
rigorously as [Gary] Lucas surrounded him with waves of soaring-seagull
guitar swoops. It was I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain,'Tim's
song to [ex-wife] Mary and her son [Jeff]. The audience suddenly
stopped glancing at their watches. After an hour of esoteric
music, here was one of Tim's most recognizable songs, emanating
from a very recognizable face and sung in a familiar (if slightly
through the performance, a light behind the stage suddenly
flashed on, throwing Jeff's silhouette against the back wall;
it was, as [concert promotor Hal] Willner says, 'like Christ
had arrived.' ('My God,' Jeff said to a friend on the phone
after the show, 'I stepped onstage and they backlit it and
it was like the fucking Second Coming.')
before he went onstage, Jeff had finished writing his own
verse for the song: 'My love is the flower that
lies among the graves,' it began, ending with a plea to 'spread
my ash along the way.' Anyone familiar with the subject matter
of the song knew this performance was more than a faithful
rendition of a '60s oldie. It was a tribute, retort, and catharsis
all in one, and as soon as Jeff left the stage, the audience
was literally abuzz with chatter: So that was the son."
came back to perform two other songs in the middle portion
of the set, Sefronia - The King's Chain and Phantasmagoria
in Two with Gary Lucas accompanying him. For the finale
however, Jeff took the stage once more, this time alone. After
a nervous intro in which he talks about hearing his father
sing this very song on a record player when he was only six
(and comically, how he was bored), Jeff exhales and starts
in with Once I Was, a wistful song his father may have
written about his mother, Mary, and their fated love affair.
Browne writes (and you can hear this in the recording):
before the last chorus, a string broke on his acoustic guitar,
and Jeff sang the lines, 'Sometimes, I wonder for a while/Do
you ever remember me?' unaccompanied. If that weren't dramatic
enough, his voice spiraled up on the last word --'me'-- like
a thin plume of smoke, holding on for a moment before drifting
up to the ceiling. He took a quick bow, said 'thanks,' and
trotted offstage, and the concert ended. It would not have
been a more perfect finale if he had planned it.
he cried and accepted sundry congratulations and compliments,
as well as a few business cards passed to him. He couldn't
believe he'd been allowed to sing so many songs, and was overwhelmed.
Danny Fields brought him a note from Linda McCartney, and
Jeff told him that her photo of Tim in Central Park was his
favorite of his father.
the country, in the living room of her Orange County apartment,
[Jeff's mother] Mary Guibert watched the clock, knowing when
the concert would start and finish. She says she knew Tim
was in the church listening, and in her mind was a mental
picture of 'this huge vortex of light forming over the cathedral.
I knew this moment in time was going to change our lives forever
-- his life forever.'"
is the set that Jeff performed that night. I find it significant
for the unveiling, the coming of age, the taking the stage
that occurred that night, and how it would transform Jeff's
life in the years to come. It is the first blip on the public
radar of a voice that would change so many lives -- maybe
even including mine.
2006 Heather Browne
Heather Browne blogs about music at fuelfriendsblog.com