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Tuesday, October 2, 2007


It is nearly impossible for me to separate the music on Jeff Buckley’s album Grace from the incredibly potent experiences I had getting high in college. In fact, since then, I actually haven’t been able to listen to the CD all the way through, but it was specifically requested that I review it this week; I figured I’d be able to finally listen to it critically. I think the conclusion is I failed miserably, considering I nearly burst into tears on the subway. So this might not be a review, so much as a trip down memory lane…or something.

The fact of the matter is that Buckley’s life was way too short—he drowned when he was 30—and I’m just not convinced his posthumous success has outshone the success he might have had if he had lived a longer life, even though that’s what everyone always says about posthumous success. His voice has been described as “ethereal,” and I couldn’t think of a better word. It’s ghostly at times, strong and striking when he wails, and his falsetto rules the CD. The way it soars from one part of his range to the other is part of his remarkable talent.

Like I mentioned, these songs are kind of engrained in me and they’re honestly hard to separate as distinct from each other. In “Mojo Pin,” Buckley starts with an echoing “ooh,” whispers about how he loves her so, and then screams about his “black beauty.” It’s a stirring song to listen to while sober, let alone…um…not. In “Grace,” he eerily sings about his mortality: “Drink a bit of wine, we both might go tomorrow.” In all the times I’ve heard the album, it wasn’t until this listen that I heard the clock ticking in the background. Creepy.

“Last Goodbye” was always a particularly sentimental track in our house, if for nothing but the lyrics “Kiss me, please kiss me. Kiss me out of desire, baby, not consolation.” I can’t quite recall why that hurt us all so much, but I remember a lot of swooning. The bridge of this song is Buckley basically screaming perpetually higher until he explodes into singing. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

The covers on this album, Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallejulah” and the hymn “Corpus Christi Carol” are, in my opinion, what make the album. (I guess it can be mentioned here that when I was introduced to this music, I had no idea what era Buckley had lived. I assumed he had been famous during the 60s.) Buckley’s version of “Lilac Wine” is sung in his ridiculous falsetto. His version of “Hallejulah,” probably his most famous track, is a revelation. It’s beautifully sung and played, so sad, and the crazy note he holds at the end never ceases to amaze me. And “Corpus Christi Carol” seriously stuns me every time because he sings so high through the whole song; he sounds like a woman, but I mean that in a good way.

On the track “So Real,” there’s a break in the song that always made us impressionable girls die a little, when Buckley growls, “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you.” That line always struck us as so a propos in those days. Ah, youth.

The track that always struck me as a buzzkill was “Eternal Life,” but listening to it now, I’m not sure why I didn’t like it then. Maybe because the hard-driving beat was a contrast to all the melancholia of the rest of the album and I was always forced out of my reverie. Or maybe it just sobered me up a little. I suppose both were equally boring to me then. I’d never even heard the strings in this song before today.

The thing is, this album is one of those that will just always vividly remind me of a certain time in my life. There’s no way around it. The other thing, though, is that this may be one of the best albums in my collection. Too bad I can’t listen to it anymore.

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