When Jeff Buckley died at the age of 30, he’d only met his father once. Despite their estrangement, Jeff’s career was haunted by that of Tim Buckley, who had been a cult singer-songwriter in his own right throughout the 1960s and ’70s. In an industry in which the power of myth holds huge commercial value, their relationship became a story of parallel lives separated by time and fate.
At the height of his fame, Buckley resented the constant comparisons to his father. The thing is, he didn’t do much to help himself. After all, he actively drew attention to his lineage by adopting his father’s name. Buckley was certainly a star in his own right, but one wonders if he would have been so successful was it not for the power of his story. I imagine Jeff understood that. Still, you can’t blame him for feeling a little torn about his heritage. Jeff met his father when he was barely ten years old, two months before Tim’s death from a drugs overdose in 1975. “He left my mother when I was six months old,” Jeff told the NME, “So I never really knew him at all. We were born with the same parts but when I sing it’s me. This is my own time and if people expect me to work the same things for them as he did, they’re going to be disappointed.”
He continued: “Critics try to pin so many different inaccuracies on me and my music, they look at the complicated things and try to simplify them. They think they can nail your whole life down just by knowing the bare bones of your history in partaking in 10 minutes of conversation. If you’re going to write, then write a novel with a Haitian woman in it and try and describe her accurately. When you can do that, you can write about people.”
By all accounts, the only thing Buckley believed his father had passed down were his vocal cords. His taste in music and indeed his love of music both resulted from an encouraging, music-loving mother and an uncle with an extensive record collection. Still, in the early days, he clearly felt indebted enough to perform one of his father’s songs during a tribute concert held at St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn on April 26th, 1991. Organised by producer Hall Willner, Greetings From Tim Buckley is believed to have featured Jeff Buckley’s first public appearance in New York. It was also the first time Jeff was paired up with future collaborator Gary Lucas, who would go on to help write some of Buckley’s most successful tracks.
As well as a performance of ‘Jungle Fire’ by Richard Hell, the evening saw Jeff Buckley perform ‘Once I Was’ from Tim’s 1967 album Goodbye and Hello. Introducing the track, Buckely confessed that when his mother played the song to him for the first time, he felt a little bored: “What do you expect from a kid who’s into Sesame Street?” Buckley added, tittering nervously. When addressing the crowd, Buckley’s youth is startlingly obvious. Then, as he starts to sing, that youth is peeled away to reveal a timeless voice, a mellifluous, jazz-infused vibrato that shimmers as if being held up to the light.