Jeff Buckley

May 29, 2009

For several years, the position of main buyer at a large record store in a major music city afforded me opportunities that would make most music fans delirious. I took advantage, but, at times, it was overwhelming.

So, when a friend who worked for a label called me on a rainy Sunday night, I had no intent of trekking out into the gloom. However, as this friend was not prone to hyperbole and he made his case that this show was a must, I reconsidered.

Fortunately, my then-girlfriend’s apartment was two blocks from the club. It was eight o’clock. I think that I told her that I’d be back by nine.

The club was small, housed in a building in which one half was a candlelit café with a decidedly bohemian slant. The club occupied the other half. It was filled to maybe half capacity – no more than a hundred people.

I found my friend at a table with several other of our usual group, likely ordered a glass of red, and watched as a slight kid with a mop of unkempt black hair took the small stage. A large statue of an angel – a noted feature of this club – hung behind the band, high above, seeming to levitate against the dark, theatre-style draperies.

The artist was Jeff Buckley.

Jeff was the son of folk singer Tim Buckley, who had died of an overdose in the mid-‘70s. It was March of ’94 and Jeff’s debut album, Grace, wouldn’t arrive in stores until late summer.

Buckley’s voice was one of the most compelling I’d ever heard. It was primal. It soared and swooped like some beautiful, yet fragile, bird of prey.

When he sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, the clinking of glasses, the idle conversations all stopped.

(and I’d argue that the version that appeared on Grace is the definitive take on that modern classic)

Afterwards, he hung out with us for a bit. The details are hazy (I was drinking on my label friend’s expense account), but I remember him having a gentleness about him. He seemed down-to-earth, quiet, and to have a vibe of restless calm about him.

I didn’t make it back to my girlfriend’s apartment until well after two.

Six months later, Grace was released to critical raves and (everyone say it together) public indifference.

But the album didn’t merely fade away. The acclaim was so strong and listeners who had found it had the need to reach converts. Though it didn’t become a mammoth commercial smash, Grace sold well and did so steadily for the next year or so.

Praise came from legends such as Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Lou Reed.

During the late winter of ’97, Buckley had relocated from Manhattan to Memphis to work on his second album. He had already recorded an album’s worth of songs but was dissatisfied with them.

On May 29, the day his band had arrived in town to continue work on the record; Buckley waded out into a channel of the Mississippi River, taking a late night swim. According to a roadie, who was onshore, he was singing the chorus to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

That night, I was with the same label friend, out with most of the same friends from that show, having drinks, when he received a phone call that Buckley was missing. Word of the incident seemed to spread quickly.

Our group ended up at the house where I lived. We sat around watching a compilation of live and video footage my friend had, as mesmerized as we had been three years earlier. It was an unexpected, impromptu wake.

Buckley’s body was found six days later and – as he was sober at the time – his death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Jeff Buckley – Lover, You Should Have Come Over
from Grace

Jeff Buckley – Last Goodbye
from Grace

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
from Grace

Jeff Buckley – Everybody Here Wants You
from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk

Jeff Buckley – Yard Of Blonde Girls
from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk

Jeff Buckley – New Year’s Day Prayer
from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk

Let’s Have John Madden Make Kim Jong Il An Offer He Can’t Refuse

May 27, 2009

So, Kim Jong Il is engaging in shenanigans again. I can’t help but think that it’s a damned shame that there’s the whole threat of an isolated, paranoid, totalitarian regime possessing nuclear toys overshadowing the amazing comedic potential of the little fellow.

The crazy hair, the diminutive stature, the dubious stylistic decisions – Dear Leader is a craze waiting to happen. With the proper marketing campaign, there wouldn’t be a car in this country without a facsimile of him hanging from the rear view mirror or a puppy without a Kim Jong Il chew toy.

Unfortunately, there is that whole nuclear weapon thing.

Kim actually is not so dissimilar from an icon in the American sports world – Al Davis.

Davis, of course, is the owner of the Oakland Raiders, once one of the premier franchises in the National Football League; now, the organization is an isolated, paranoid, totalitarian regime.

Like Kim, Al has crazy hair, though he opts for an oily, slicked-back coif as opposed to Kim’s towering wall of hair.

Sartorially speaking, Al has his infamous white jumpsuit and granny glasses on a chain. Kim, too, also favors jumpsuits, albeit of a more drab variety, and shades.

Both are also obsessed with the vertical game – in Kim’s case, its intercontinental rocketry; for Al, its rocket-armed quarterbacks and track-star wideouts.

Al even once had a quarterback nicknamed The Mad Bomber.

(I must consult with my intelligence expert – don’t laugh, I have one – and I hope to find that Kim has a rocket expert nicknamed Darryl Lamonica)

Now, as both North Korea and the Oakland Raiders are failed, rogue states, isn’t it possible that the solution to the angst caused by both men is connected to the uncanny similarities between this dynamic, diminutive duo?

Before he became a video game inventor, John Madden proved adroit at working with Al, managing to coach the Raiders to a Super Bowl win. Madden is now retired.

Bring him into the mix, have him broker some kind of treaty between the two figureheads. Maybe it’s as simple as having Kim own the Raiders and Al lead North Korea.

Both would still receive the attention they so desperately crave.

Al’s good at rattling the cages of the powers that be and thumbing his nose at popular opinion. Kim has managed to drive an entire country into despair and destitution.

(ask any of the demented, psych hospital escapees that make up Raider Nation if that doesn’t sound familiar)

Maybe the two are too alike. Maybe the result of a swap would be status quo.

But consider the hilarity as draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. bursts a blood vessel in his eye as he goes all apoplectic if Kim uses the sixth pick in next year’s talent hunt to select some unknown receiver from Southern Idaho State named Ray Ray Gorgonzola simply because he ran a 4.22 40 at the Combine

Tell me that wouldn’t be preferable to where things stand now.

Kim and Al might not have the market cornered on inexplicable behavior, but, when it comes to crazy, they certainly have the makings of a good cartel. So, here are a few songs for them…

Francis Dunnery – Crazy Is A Pitstop
from Let’s Go Do What Happens

I posted a track from Dunnery’s solo debut, Fearless, awhile back. This trippy little number comes from his second album and both are worth seeking out – very talented fellow.

Crazy might, indeed, be a pit stop, but it seems like an awful lot of folks treat it as a parking lot.

Nazareth – Crazy (A Suitable Case For Treatment)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack

As a teenager, Heavy Metal was among the favorites for movie rentals with me and my friends. The movie’s soundtrack was far more diverse than its title implied, ranging from Devo and Stevie Nicks to Donald Fagen and Blue Oyster Cult.

As for Nazareth, my best friend in our neighborhood as a kid had an older brother who we all held in awe. He had sideburns, sunglasses and a Camaro. And usually blaring from that Camaro was Nazareth’s Hair Of The Dog (on eight track, no less).

Paul Davis – I Go Crazy
from Singer of Songs: Teller of Tales

If Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald is the light rock Stairway To Heaven of the ’70s, then I Go Crazy is…what? I do remember when this was a hit in ’77 and it was inescapable. It seemed to always be playing over the loudspeakers at our town’s public pool that summer (and on the radio of our bus returning from swim meets).

Bob Marley & The Wailers- Crazy Baldhead
from Rastaman Vibration

To Rastifarians, a baldhead is someone without dreadlocks, a non-believer. I have no idea what Kim Jong Il or Al Davis believe and, whatever it is, it’s likely mentally inscrutable to the sane.

However, I have no doubt that the two could benefit from throwing on some Bob Marley albums and blazing away. As hilarious as Harold And& Kumar Go To White Castle was, someone needs to draft Kim & Al Make A Taco Bell Run. It simply must be done.

I Could Grow A Beard, I Could Be A Champion

May 24, 2009

I’m ever vigilant for opportunities to add to my list of accomplishments. You know, new feathers for my cap and such.

Opportunity presented itself the other day as I read of some kid who, mere days ago, was declared a winner at the World Beard & Moustache Championships.

This seemed to be the kind of thing that is the calling of a select few – like climbing Everest or finding the image of Jesus in a grease spot on a pizza box.

And, best of all, unlike those feats, growing a beard requires absolutely no effort, focus, or even consciousness from me. Even ordering a pizza demands some expenditure of energy.

However, in the time it takes to order, receive, and eat a pizza, my beard would grow…well, it would be an imperceptible amount, but it’s still doing its thing at, I’ve read, the rate of one half inch a month.

There are numerous, intriguing categories in which to compete. In the partial beard division alone there is the Musketeer, Imperial, and the Alaskan Whaler.

These championships are held every two years so I have time to become a follicular force.

(Paloma has promised her full support)

For the moment, I’m leaning toward the Fu Manchu. Some fellow named Ted Sedman took the title at the 2007 championships in Brighton, England and I have already penciled him in as my latest arch-nemesis.

I figure that the Fu Manchu balances a sinister, malevolent vibe with a quiet, sinister dignity. I can imagine responding to the knock of the pizza delivery guy, throwing open the door, muttering something in an unintelligible growl, and pausing for a split second to offer a threatening scowl.

He would certainly flee in terror, unconcerned with payment, leaving me and my Fu Manchu to enjoy our free pie.

In the meantime, some acts that might be formidable bearded and/or mustachioed competition…

Bee Gees- You Should Be Dancin’
from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

I was nine when Saturday Night Fever ruled the world. At the time, I couldn’t have cared less and was indifferent when I received the double album as a gift. I imagine that soundtrack was probably the default gift for a lot of folks that Christmas.

As for the movie – I didn’t see it until twenty years later. It was on late night television one night in a hotel in Stratford-On-Avon. I was trekking through the UK with two friends and had just returned to the room. I decided it was a good time to check it off the list.

I also knew that the aunt of another friend had worked on the lighting and appeared in the nightclub scenes. I immediately recognized her the moment she appeared on screen (though I’d never met her).

She resembled an older version of my friend in drag.

(and, as either gender, this friend wasn’t as dashing or as bearded as Barry Gibb)

The Call – Let The Day Begin
from Let The Day Begin

I can’t picture The Call’s lead singer Michael Been and not think of him as the apostle John in the movie version of The Last Temptation Of Christ. Of course, the few pictures that I’ve seen of the band always find him bearded, too.

As for the underrated The Call, the band had a strong following on college rock when I was smack dab in that format’s demographic. Let The Day Begin was probably their best-known song and the rousing anthem featured actor Harry Dean Stanton (who also appeared in The Last Temptation Of Christ) playing harmonica.

George Michael – Cowboys And Angels
from Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1

I’m not sure if there’s a stubble division among the beard and moustache aficionados, but the most famous facial scruff of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s had to have belonged to George Michael (toppling Miami Vice’s Don Johnson from his pedestal).

The dreamy Cowboys And Angels appeared on Listen Without Prejudice, Michael’s follow-up to the mammothly successful Faith. I was rather ambivalent to the latter, but I thought that the more downbeat Listen Without Prejudice was glorious and near perfect.

Kenny Loggins – This Is It
from Keep The Fire

I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of Kenny Loggins, but This Is It served as the theme of the 1979 NCAA basketball championship when the hoops world was formally introduced to Bird and Magic. So, that is certainly noteworthy.

Also, the bearded Loggins was accompanied on the song by Michael McDonald on background vocals, making This Is It a two-for-one in the musicians’ pantheon of facial hair.