how the world sees america

Remembering Singer Jeff Buckley

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Sure, Elvis, Madonna, and Puff Daddy influence world melodies, but don’t forget the musician’s musician whose haunting voice inspires far-flung others. For Paul McCartney, Chris Martin, Bono, Elton John and many others, American folk singer Jeff Buckley was that voice.

I first heard Jeff Buckley in a friend’s basement at the age of thirteen, about to succumb to teenage angst. His voice embodied the pain and delight I’d experience through the coming years. From my first kiss to my worst fights, Jeff Buckley was there, though I never dared sing.

So when I heard Karima Francis perform his song "So Real" outside Manchester’s infamous Canal Street bar scene, you can only imagine my astonishment. In this 20-year-old I heard the mystery of Jeff Buckley’s voice, just days before the tenth anniversary of the singer's death.

Karima and I talked about Buckley’s influence on us. Like Buckley, Karima had never known her father. The man named her at birth and then vanished. She connected in more ways than one with this lonely, independent American.

And as a wanderer myself, I admired him for touring America anonymously, making music, learning from performing, and embracing the “irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender.” That’s courage I’d love to have.

Jeff Buckley drowned at age thirty, just as his fame was rising. But in his brief years he left enough to influence thousands of budding artists around the world. I encountered one on Canal Street without intending it, and I wonder where else I will find the legend of Jeff Buckley lurking, reawakening.

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Comments (27)

Walter Phillips:

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American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky
http://www.genealogy.com/genealogy/users/j/a/c/Jacqueline-Jack/

Edith Howell:

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Club Marena
http://dir.salon.com/topics/world_trade_center_pentagon_attacks/index.html

Anonymous:

It's funny that Jeff Buckley has become such an international hero. I knew him in his Boston days and he was just a normal guy. He used to bob around town hoping he would soon be taken as a singer and performer in the local music scene. He had a lot of over-the-top bad shows, but when he was on he was really great. I always got the sense that he worried a little too much about his hair. I hope he doesn't get fully converted into some silly Jim Morrison-like mythical character. Because there are no special secrets about the universe that only he could see. There's a lot of great singers and performers out there to be discovered. He definately drew a lot of his energy from them.

kate:

this forum keeps f**ing up and saying it can't recognise my replies when it has just processed them - meltdown meltdown!!!!

kate:

i'm sorry but i'm having a computer malfunction here

kate:

i'm sorry but i'm having a computer malfunction here

kate:

I'm sorry Mike, I don't understand what is petty about your work speaking for itself without the support of others.

kate:

I'm sorry, Mike, but I don't understand what is petty about saying Karima doens't need America. Doesn't this mean her work is capable of speaking for itself regardless of who chooses to support it?

kate:

I'm sorry Mike, can you explain what is petty about saying Karima doesn't need America? Doesn't that mean she can hold her own without anyone's support?

kate:

I'm sorry Mike, can you explain what is petty about saying Karima doesn't need America? Doesn't that mean she can hold her own without anyone's support?

wurd:

wuurd. i love this man and think this cover is off the wall good.

Andrew :

jeff buckley come once in a life time, rare indeed.

Drewo:

Was fortunate to see him 3 times, once solo at one of the Knitting Factory side rooms, and with his group at CB's Gallery and St. Anne's in Bklyn Heights. All moving and memorable shows. No, no false modesty there, but his music was heartfelt and his performances genuine. He was a rare breed.

Harlem:

Yes! Way to go.

Steve:

I've seen Karima play and sing several times, and have been able to speak to her at length about her music, album to come and influences. She's just such a wonderful, unaffected person who is passionate about music. Really in the tradition of Jeff Buckley and other song-writers who feel things deeply.

I've also been lucky enough to see another (American) singer/song-writer, Terra Naomi perform on the same stage as Karima (and will so again later this year). Whilst their backgrounds couldn't be more different, both are deeply emotive writers and stunning performers.

So roll on the revived era of emotional, connected writers and performers. I have a good feeling that as the stranglehold of the record industry loosens it will create room for performers such as these.

makubo:

he was, and still is, the only one who could (and did) get away with a cover version of Peter Gabriel/Genesis "Back in New York city" and elevating it to a level unheard of since the breakup of Genesis. The very choice of that song spoke of a fearlessness and abundant confidence in his abilities to pull it of...we still miss him dearly.

JRRichard:

Yes, Jeff, the sky is a landfill.

Mike:

You are right, Margaret. However, many people do need America when the feel need to insult somebody to inflate their feeling of self-worth.

Thanks for sharing your pettiness with us, my dear.

A guy in Baltimore:

I'm a musician myself, I think Jeff Buckley was one of the best vocalists in rock. There's a lot of soul in his albums. I heard him first at the end of an indie film called 'The Edukators' which was a really nice little film too.

Jesse:

Jeff Buckley is a musical hero of mine -- one of a handful of influences that's direct and obvious in my own music. Thank you, Amar and Karima, for honoring him.

Scott in PacNW:

I saw Jeff Buckley play solo acoustic -- for free -- and I'm glad I did. I never cared for his CD, though. It's a shame he died young like his dad.

Kara:

He's a legend for me too. An important day to remember. And his influence is indeed spread around the world. He is quite influential in Pakistan too I've been told because he was close with nusrat ali khan

Josh:

Thank you for the post. Nice to know some people out there still remember him.

Richard Godwin, UK:

Drowning in the Mississippi has proved less of an impediment to Jeff Buckley's career than you might think. Wrote about it here:

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/america/2007/05/jeff_buckley_memorial.html#comments

Red:

Tennessee Williams writes a lot about the "sensitives" of the world - The too-alive people, the people with no protective armor. The Blanche duBois-es of the world - He was one of those people himself. I felt like Jeff Buckley was too - he was trying to stay still and strong and open in the middle of the coming maestrom of fame - only very very well-adjusted people can handle such a loss of privacy with grace and ease ...

but the best part of seeing him perform was how TOTALLY he would lose himself in the performance.

When he DIDN'T lose himself is when he would stop and say "let's start again".

There was something in him that would not allow him to phone it in, or be phony, or whatever - even if we, in the audience, might not have known the difference. HE would have and he couldn't bear it.

It was thrilling to watch.

Jacob, LA:

thanks for this very moving post

Margaret, UK:

What an absolutely beautiful voice! Buckley would be proud. And you don't need America to be a star my dear.

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