“I don’t really need to be remembered. I hope the music’s remembered.” – Jeff Buckley
It’s not often when an angelic-like star graces us with their presence and hypnotises even the most cynical of sorts. It is unfortunate to believe that a star as bright as Jeff Buckley had to die, that someone who seemed to be a descendant of the likes of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix (both of who were taken from us far too early) couldn’t grow old and live a happy life.
Does destiny exist? Was it written in the stars that Buckley would burn bright in his short career only to be mysteriously swept away by the swell of the Mississippi River?
Logic and reason would tell us otherwise. It was a tragic accident; Jeff Buckley was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time for the first time in his life – right up to then, it seemed Buckley had fate in his favour.
How did Jeff Buckley die?
On the night of May 29th, 1997, when Jeff Buckley was in Memphis, Tennessee, while waiting for the arrival of the rest of his band to do some work on his anticipated second record, Buckley decided to go for a swim in the Mississippi River. As a boat went by, Buckley got caught up in the wake of the passing boat and after the water calmed down, his body did not come back up.
It wasn’t until June 4th, some six days later, when passengers on board the American Queen riverboat found his body.
An autopsy revealed that there were no drugs or alcohol in his system, ruling out any cause to believe that it was suicide.
Was there any cause to believe Jeff Buckley committed suicide?
According to Lydia Hutchinson writing for Performing Songwriter, Jeff Buckley did tend to disappear for days at a time. The night of Buckley’s death was preceded by his disappearance for a few days after he went for a swim in Wolf River, a tributary to the Mississippi River. Buckley was with a friend, Keith Foti, and the two were driving to the rented rehearsal space when they got lost.
According to Buckley’s manager, Dave Lory, Buckley had been acting especially “erratic” in the couple of weeks leading up to his death. “He was trying to buy a house that wasn’t for sale,” Lory said according to the NME. “He was trying to buy a car that wasn’t for sale. He proposed to Joan [Wasser, Buckley’s girlfriend]. He even applied for a job to be a butterfly keeper at Memphis Zoo – a lot of weird stuff that was uncharacteristic for him. I think it was a yearning to settle down. He wanted a normal life.”
Buckley’s life was far from normal. Before releasing his debut record, Grace, Buckley worked as a session guitar player before he moved to New York City where he had a few residencies including at the Sin-é. After shifting his focus to more original material, he eventually signed with Colombia Records and released Grace in 1994. The album includes his brilliant rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, in which he popularised this particular version of it (the original is considerably different). For the next three years, Buckley toured the world with his band to promote the record.
Buckley then moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1997 to record his anticipated follow-up, My Sweetheart The Drunk.
While there was some inkling of hope that Buckley may have been alive after the accident, Dave Lory said he knew right away that “he was dead,” according to NME.
In the interview, Lory also explained that he went to see a psychic six years after Buckley’s death. Lory recalls the memory: “Towards the end, she said, ‘Is this is his bracelet?’ and I said, ‘Yes’. She said, ‘Well, I don’t know if this makes sense, but he didn’t mean for it to happen, but he didn’t fight it. It’s not your fault. It’s okay to let go’.”