Monday, February 02, 2009
Book Recommendation: "Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley"
Sometime last year, one of my customers at the restaurant was reading David Browne's book "Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley," and I took note of it. I had known of Tim Buckley for years, and had loved Jeff Buckley's 1994 album "Grace." The fact that both father and son, who had had little contact in life, were both very talented-- and came to early ends-- was very haunting to me.
Tim Buckley was a sixties and seventies artist who was pretty much the textbook definition of a cult artist. He never sold a lot of records, but songs like Morning Glory and Pleasant Street brought about the classic "small but devoted" following. As the sixties rolled over into the seventies, Buckley seemed hellbent on decreasing his commercial viability, veering into jazz-influenced extended jams. As his record company threatened to end its relationship with him, he knuckled down and tried to produce some commercially viable music, to no avail. He was able, though, to make a pretty good living through touring.
Ironically, it was while touring that he actually took it easy on the drugs and alcohol that were to lead to his death in 1975 at the age of 28.
Jeff Buckley was the product of Tim's marriage to his high school sweetheart. The marriage soured around the time the Buckley's wife became pregnant with Jeff (known in his childhood as Scott) and Tim's career began taking off. Browne does a nice job examining the dynamics of the relationship between Tim Buckley and his ex-wife, who remarried twice. Buckley and his ex-wife both lived in the Los Angeles area, but it wasn't until Jeff was 7 or 8-- around the time of Tim's death-- that Tim started establishing a relationship with Jeff.
Jeff's childhood was tumultous. There was an island of stability, when Jeff's mother married a really good guy who stepped up to bat and raised Jeff like his own child. That marriage and then another foundered, and Jeff's life was mostly filled with economic difficulties and frequent moves. He finally ended up going to school at the same Orange County high school that his father had gone to-- a school filled with jocks, and none too friendly to a shy, sensitive artistic kid.
Jeff took an early interest in music, and spent years trying to avoid comparison to his father. This was difficult; as you can see from the book cover, he looked astonishingly like his father. If you've ever heard their records, they also had very similar beautiful high-pitched voices. They shared both astonishing vocal ranges and a high degree of musical intelligence.
Tim's demise came at the end of a tour; before he even went home, he stopped and drank and did drugs with friends. He made it home and died in his bed. Ironically, when he was on tour, he avoided drugs and alcohol, pointing out that his voice was his way of making a living. Jeff, on the other hand, who friends said avoided drugs and alcohol as a youth, experimented with them while on tour. The book cites an infamous show here in Chicago at the legendary Green Mill (a nightclub once owned by Al Capone), where Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot mentioned how intoxicated Jeff appeared to be (he was, according to the book).
Jeff's demise, though, had nothing to do with drugs or alchohol, but an impulsive act. He was living in Memphis in 1997, preparing to record his followup to Grace, when he jumped into the Wolf River, near Memphis, fully clothed, to swim. Had he asked locals about it, they would have warned him that the river had dangerous currents. While a friend/roadie stood nearby, a barge passed by Buckley and he went under. His body was found several days later.
Afterward, there was a fight over his remaining music. He'd started to record with Tom Verlaine (of the legendary group Television), but was unsatisfied with the results. Some of the sessions made it onto a record, Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, and are wonderful, though some were from preliminary recordings, and not perfect sound-wise.
If you have any interest in the art of either Jeff or Tim Buckley, I highly recommend Dream Brother. It's well-written and fascinating. And do yourself a favor-- get ahold of some of both Jeff and Tim's music. You'll be glad you did.