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(Credit: Roy Tee)

Music

25 years on from Jeff Buckley's tragic death

Jeff Buckley was truly one of a kind. His work has a celestial quality, powered by authenticity and the kind of once-in-a-generational talent that leaves everything else in its wake. 

While his music may have a palpable sense of cynicism running through it, there’s also optimism that runs parallel, as the artist grappled with his past, trying to make sense of it and forge his own path. The two opposing forces tussle with each other, creating this enchanting mystique that has remained so captivating since he first burst onto the scene with his masterpiece, Grace, in 1994. 

Heartbreakingly, Buckley passed away on May 29th ,1997, and he joined that long list of tragic heroes that were taken before their time. Taking up a place amongst the likes of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in the stars, he’s in some esteemed company, and we can be safe in the knowledge that the genius work he left us continues to inspire.

When Jeff Buckley played his father’s music for the first time

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Buckley’s work is relentlessly unique. An artist born out of his childhood environment, Buckley felt he would never escape the spectre of his father, folk icon, Tim Buckley. The dreadful irony is that he did, and it’s no coincidence that we tend to celebrate Jeff more than his old man, who we must note was also incredibly gifted. I just hope he was starting to realise this around the time of his death, as the demand for his sophomore album grew. 

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Jeff Buckley’s disappearance and death, and for it to have been a quarter of a century is simply astounding. So much time has passed since that fateful day, and the world has changed markedly, but that does not halt the feeling that it was only yesterday. If anything, the extent of how much the world has changed makes Buckley’s passing that bit harder to comprehend. 

The story is a well-known one. On the night of May 29th, 1997, when Buckley was in Memphis, Tennessee, awaiting the arrival of the rest of his band who were flying in to work on the follow-up to Grace, he went swimming fully dressed in Wolf River Harbor, a slack water channel of the Mississippi River, piping the chorus of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by his favourite band, Led Zeppelin.

However, as a boat went by, Buckley was caught in the wake of a passing current and was swept away from shore and underwater. When the water calmed, he did not resurface. Keith Foti, Buckley’s roadie, who had remained on shore, could not find the musician. 

It wasn’t until June 4th, six days later, when passengers on board the American Queen riverboat eventually found his body. The autopsy revealed that there were no alcohol or drugs in his system, ruling out any theories that it was suicide. Regardless of the fact that Buckley did have a penchant for disappearing for days at a time, this was a horrific accident, plain and simple. 

It would be unfair to the legacy of Jeff Buckley to remember him solely for his death. He was so much more. He was a genius songwriter, vocalist and guitar hero, but most importantly, a kind soul, who never used his platform for ill, just as an attempt to walk off into the sunlight smiling, escaping the shadow of his formative years. Just take ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Fraser’s account of him, for example, he was lighting in a bottle personified, and we mustn’t forget that.

Watch Fraser remember Buckley below.