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Saturday, May 28, 2011

17. Jeff Buckley: Grace

I have a local record store owner, Tim Cretsinger, to thank for introducing me to Jeff Buckley in 1994. Tim owned Groovacious Platters in Keizer, Oregon (he and his wife have since moved the store to Cedar City, Utah). He pushed and pushed, day after day, until I finally left his store with Jeff Buckley's Grace. He knew I'd like it...but, the truth is, I didn't...not at first.

Why Grace and I didn't connect right away, I don't know, but I know when it did. I remember my one and only Jeff Buckley show at a long-since-gone club called LaLuna, in November, 1994. I was excited, but not to see him...I was excited to catch his opening act. I had come to know the music of Brenda Kahn, and couldn't wait to finally see her perform and meet her (I was 25 and she was cute).

Skip to Buckley approaching the stage: After Brenda Kahn's performance, it was Jeff Buckley's turn. Out walked this little man in a floor length fur coat...sunglasses (I think)...and a fuzzy white hat with a full brim (I swear it could've looked something like this). The venue was considered medium-sized, but this show was in the balcony section only...very intimate. He had to walk through the crowd to reach the stage. What a spectacle it was to see the thick crowd part to let this wee pimp look-alike stroll in nonchalantly with his backing band respectfully two steps behind. I remember thinking the ego was bigger than the man himself.

Once on stage, Buckley was personable, engaging, and genuinely happy to be there performing for us. The show was incredible. I chose to go by myself (try it if you haven't). He began to perform and it was as if I heard the Grace songs again, for the first time. Buckley's voice and the entrancing guitars of Michael Tighe and Buckley himself, and the bass of Mick Grondahl coalesced into a enormous wave of sound and emotion...and I gave in to it. What I originally thought was slow-moving, background music grabbed my attention that night with claws that dug deep. Unbeknownst at the time, I was hooked only to be heartbroken two and a half years later. On this day, May 29, 1997, Jeff Buckley went for a fully-clothed swim in the Wolf River in Tennessee...and slipped away forever.

When he died, Jeff Buckley left behind his only full-length album, incredible legacy. Songs like "Last Goodbye", "Lover, You Should've Come Over", "Grace",  and "Mojo Pin" are potent enough to bring tears. His version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was tabbed, in 2003, as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone. The album, itself, frequently appears on "Greatest" lists compiled by magazines such as Rolling Stone, NME, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, and many others...and it'll be on your list as well if you invest the time to really hear it. Go visit your local record store (Thanks Tim!).

Here's Jeff Buckley performing the title track to Grace on the BBC Late Show in 1995 and his interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (neither of which are the album versions). Finally, my favorite, "Last Goodbye" the only official video from the album. Thank you, and rest in peace, Jeff.

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