I like my heroes to be somewhat human. I’d like to be sitting courtside at a Rockets game one day and hear Steve Francis belch at the foul line. I’d like to see J.D. Salinger renting a Police Academy movie. I’d like to imagine John Coltrane had as many stupid in-jokes with his friends as I do with mine. Jeff Buckley walked a precarious line artistically. He dared to become amazingly talented on so many levels as a musician, to take his abilities into forms and expressions into sonic areas that most mortals can’t navigate without falling into cliché, parody, irony, or just plain wankery.
Does this mean the man never hit a bum note? Hell no. That’s hardly the point. The point is that he could rock heavy metal in one song (playing the parts of a classic hardcore screamer and speedy fingered shredder, all at once, in “Eternal Life”) and then follow it up with a kraut-ed up, repetitious rumination on Big Star’s classic “Kanga Roo.” He could do all this, probably smile at the same time, and realize just how corny some of the “things” he was doing would be if anyone else was doing them and not kicking the amount of ass that he was.
One had better be able to pull off the whole superhuman-extended range/male soprano Thing like it’s second nature if they’re going to try it at all. You better be coming from a headspace that’s more Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan than Robert Plant or Brett Anderson, and Jeff Buckley most definitely was. And that whole angular-busy-yet-ethereal-fingerpicking-turning-into-powerchords Thing… many an indie band has ventured out into those waters and come back with nothing so potent as “Mojo Pin” or “Grace.”
The whole catholic-listening-tastes-indulged-broadly Thing, well, who evoked the hardest of rocks alongside George Gershwin next to the twangingest and droningest of third world flourishes, with Nina Simone, with Leonard Cohen, with the Smiths… besides Jeff Buckley? And who did it live? He was the mystery white boy, indeed. He didn’t belong in anything so small as a rock band. Perhaps the Trilateral Commission, maybe the Justice League of America, or he should’ve at least had his own weekly “Live At The 10 Spot.”
Written by Pearson Greer.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.