Jeff Buckley documentary
It’s difficult not to fetishize Jeff Buckley.
By those who have heard his album Grace, there is an almost unanimous awe and deeply held affection. In the 90′s, when everything was about brooding, addiction, and the climate in Seattle, Buckley was in New York and Memphis (and touring around the world in between) playing music so emotionally complex, so ineffable but inviting, that first-time listeners—today—still feel a need to mourn his early death.
Amazing Grace, a Buckley documentary seven years in the making, is currently making the rounds of various film festivals. Boston’s was this weekend, and Amazing Grace has its showing at the historic Coolidge Corner Theater. The line for ticket-holders stretched farther than I’d ever seen, snaking past the theater, along a long back sidewalk, and into a neighboring parking lot. Everyone in line looked either to be of the age when Buckley’s life and death would have hit hardest or to be slightly younger, testifying to the strength of his artistry and the public devotion shown it.
I can’t think of any singer or band working the way Jeff Buckley did. As Amazing Grace showed, with a care, intimacy, and discernment you’d hope for from filmmakers who knew him personally, Buckley was an incredible professional as much as he was an incredible talent. A devotion to honing his material in the most private of New York venues resulted in a willingness to exhibit his already raw, often uncomfortably unmasculine emotionality. The range in which he sang and the authenticity of his passion would typically come—and Buckley admitted as much in footage for the documentary—from a woman. It wasn’t that he was effeminate; it was that he found a wellspring from which to sing and play that seemed to be common to both sexes. It reminds me of what a musician used to be, before electric bands, music videos, and international tours. They were more closely related to historians, poets, and soothsayers than to sex icons and fashion brands. And as such, looking at the grunters amongst the men today and the moaners amongst the women, Jeff Buckley remains perhaps the best single rock musician of the last two decades. Amazing Grace, you’ll see, does his life and work justice.