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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Durga Chew-Bose
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Brittany Julious
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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in kara vanderbijl (78)

Friday
Jun132014

In Which This Was Before We Knew We Should Hate Kerouac

Three Times a Permit

by KARA VANDERBIJL

I have two party tricks: the first is that after two glasses of wine I fall asleep in the middle of the floor or on the couch during a conversation. The second is that I admit to not having a driver’s license at the ripe old age of twenty-six.

While the first trick paints me as an endearing lightweight, the second makes me look pathetic, something I did not realize until I became the butt of others’ jokes instead of the punchline in my own. It was winter, the worst in anyone’s memory. I couldn’t imagine executing the tire-squealing left turns that are necessary in Chicago on streets slick with black ice and pockmarked with potholes. By March 5th, winter hadn’t subsided, but I had been twenty-six for a full twenty-four hours. I had already missed a full decade of road trips, so I took two buses and tramped a mile through the snow to the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles, certain that this meant I wouldn’t live to see twenty-seven.

At the counter in front of me, a Middle Eastern gentleman and his wife smiled at a blonde who looked like she had turned away more hopefuls than the immigration officers at Ellis Island. She thumbed through their three pieces of mail and yawned, “Does your wife speak English?” The gentleman shook his head. I wondered how his wife — a small, veiled woman — planned to take the test since translators, like cell phones, were certainly prohibited, but the blonde handed them a number and they took a seat in the waiting area, where at least half of Chicago’s population sat scratching their chins or swiping screens or screaming at toddlers. A lone teenager, white male, flipped through the driver’s handbook with a nonchalant look. He was wearing board shorts and didn’t seem appropriately nervous at the prospect that he was about to be handed the keys to a compact bomb with great gas mileage.

It has never made sense to me why you’re allowed to learn how to drive before you’re allowed to go to war or to start drinking. There you are, sixteen years old, and you are legally permitted to strap yourself to an explosive from which only your underdeveloped motor skills and questionable common sense can protect you. One wrong turn and it could be the end of you. It occurred to me, as Board Shorts pulled his iPhone out of his pocket and let the driver’s handbook drop to the floor, that youth is the only reason anybody would ever start driving in the first place. You believe yourself to be physically invincible, something that a few fender-benders and later, tequila, take away from you all too quickly. A belief that I’d never had in the first place. I slumped further into my seat and tried to determine which of the desk attendants was least likely to laugh in my face.

“Hi Kara, how can I help you today?” they’d say. “Or should I call you ‘Grandma’?”

I ended up with a young man who, with his long black ponytail and wispy mustache, looked like he was barely legal to drive himself. He smiled — dawn breaking over braced teeth.

“So, Miss VanderBijl,” he said slowly, looking at my forms, “this will be your third time taking the written test?”

“Yes,” I mumbled, ducking my head.

“And you’re sure you don’t have a driver’s license?” He stamped a form. He smelled like the sidewalk just outside a suburban Abercrombie & Fitch.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that on my first try, I didn’t even make it to the learner’s permit. It was Valentine’s Day, freshman year of college, the sort of warm February day that makes you glad to live in Southern California. Cole, the boy I liked, had offered to take me to the DMV. He was from Texas and drove an old Buick, and we had met in the haphazard way you do when you go to a small liberal-arts school and you’re both English majors: over a chance three-hour discussion about books. One night, early on in our friendship, I was walking back to the dorm from the science building at dusk when he drove up. Pavarotti spilled out of his window as he rolled it down. The streetlights glinted off his glasses.

“I like your trench coat,” he said. “Want a ride?”

He’d been drinking Dr. Pepper (there was a half-empty can in the cupholder) and I had to move a dog-eared copy of Kerouac’s On the Road before I could slide into the passenger seat. He grinned when I held onto it for a moment before throwing it in the backseat.

“I haven’t finished it yet,” he said, “but I already know it’s going to be one of my favorites. There’s this part that reminds me of you.”

This was long before I knew I was supposed to hate Kerouac. I was hooked. Over the next week, I waited impatiently for him to finish the book, wondering if he’d reread the lines about me until the page was soft and creased. He found me shelving books during one of my shifts in the campus library, and held Kerouac in front of him at 10 and 2 with a grin.

“I can’t wait,” I whispered.

“No return date on this one,” he said. “Tell me what you think.”

I thought it was pretty lucky of Kerouac that endless roads unspooled before him as he chased meaning or women or whatever it was that he wanted across the amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties. I also thought it was pretty lucky of me to have found a cute Texan who found me enchanting, even though my idea of fun was sitting on his kitchen floor reading French poetry out loud and drinking tea. Those were my college party tricks.

Cole could have had his pick of any girl, that was certain; he was charming, and his eyes had a way of crinkling behind his glasses while he smiled that made you feel like you’d just performed serious magic. I considered myself magical only to the extent that I no longer wore braces, and had lived in France. These were good hooks, but I had no idea what I was going to do with him once I reeled him in. Surely this was something we could figure out as the carpool lane unspooled before us on the 405.

I snuck a few glances at him as we waited in the tiny Santa Clarita Department of Motor Vehicles. He’d brought a book, and was quietly reading while I thought about what I weighed (it had been several months since I’d even seen a scale) and the color of my eyes. I wondered what he thought of me, and for the first time I allowed myself to believe that he liked me back. I was about to start driving, after all, and the only thing more perilous than seatbelting yourself to a bomb is tying yourself to another person. It was a day for embracing danger.

“Have you ever committed a felony in California or any other state?” asked the woman behind the desk. Her glasses hung from a gold chain around her neck. “Step up to the line for your eye exam, please, and read the third line.”

The lights flickered momentarily, and then with an electronic sigh, all the computers in the DMV went blank.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Our computer system is down,” she said. “It’s too bad. You can wait, but it might be better to come back and finish the process another time.”

“What if this is some sort of sign?” I asked Cole as we left the building. Relief washed over me in waves. “Maybe I’m not supposed to drive.”

He laughed and slid his arm through mine. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

That night, he took me on a walk down a deserted road and asked me to be his girlfriend. Maybe I wasn’t ready to drive, but this, whatever this was, I could figure out. Cole took me back to the DMV two weeks later and, when I passed with flying colors, we left the city limits for brushy back hills, where the roads curved around old cattle ranches and classic Western movie sets. On the shoulder, we switched places. The car felt soft under me  all rubber and leather, wide. It was a car for the elderly. I took my foot off the brake. We rolled forward, slowly, then gaining momentum. Cole touched my arm.

“Penny for your thoughts,” he said.

“I’m not thinking about anything important,” I said, hands gripping onto the steering wheel like a lifeline.

It felt unnatural to be driving, after sitting in the backseat for so long. I hadn’t chosen a passive life (it had been given to me) and I was just starting to understand the ways in which I was allowed to take control. But this frightened me, watching the speedometer creep up past 20, then past 30, to hover at a limit that someone had once decided was safe for such a road. Sitting here with Cole felt strange, wanting to be with him felt strange, when I knew better than anyone else that it is never long before life takes you down different roads. I had wanted to be ready for this, and would readily pretend to be ready, if it meant finding some sort of meaning, even a meaning to work off of, like a wrong turn that brings you back within the confines of a map.

“What are you doing?” Cole cried.

I’d turned sharply into the brush on the side of the road, and braked. The front of the Buick crushed desert-dry shrubs and I said, “I think you need to drive now.”

As it turns out, I’d driven over a big rusty nail, and his car went to the shop. After they replaced his tire, they told him that gasoline had been leaking into his engine, effectively transforming his car into a bomb. One wrong turn could have caused it to explode.

After that, we didn’t do much driving. We moved at different rhythms when we weren’t on the road. Even after he’d kindly and firmly broken up with me, I found it hard to move forward at the required speed. By the time I’d gotten over him, Cole had already moved back to Texas and my learner’s permit had expired. I found myself sitting in the backseat of my friend Paula’s little car, singing along to moody playlists at the top of my lungs.

Paula drove with her left foot propped up by the window, a silver ring on each bare toe. She liked to drive, so it never took much convincing for her to take Hailey and I on late-night jaunts to Denny’s (the only thing that stayed open past 9 p.m.) and into the hills behind Santa Clarita. I stretched out in the back, head against one door and feet against the other and looked back at where we had come from, at the distant glow of Los Angeles.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. We all have a fantasy self, an image we conjure when we’re feeling insufficient. Mine is a witty girl who brings down the house at any party and never gets a ride from anyone. She’s in charge of her own destination and isn’t willingly relegated to the backseat. Paula and Hailey were the sort of friends who gave me license to believe these things, just as I gave them license to believe in their own fantasies. Within the next couple of years Hailey would be dead, Paula would move back to Arizona and I’d be in Chicago. But during those long drives our futures, and our beliefs about ourselves, were suspended. Nothing mattered but the next line of a song or the neon sign of an approaching fast food restaurant. We had come to college to make something of ourselves, but we did the real work in that car. On the road, we made our peace with what was possible.

Within weeks of moving to Chicago, I applied for a driver’s license. My aunt and uncle let me drive their red PT Cruiser to the grocery store for ice cream after their kids had gone to bed. The hills of Los Angeles couldn’t compare to the six-cornered intersection at Fullerton/Elston/Damen, where I regularly drove over the curb trying to make sharp, timely right turns with a legion of cars honking behind me. Soon I found a full-time job and moved out of my aunt and uncle’s place. My first Chicago winter was beginning. Even though both of my new roommates had cars, I let my permit expire once again.

As far as cities go, Chicago is relatively friendly to both drivers and non-drivers. It became second nature to me to add ridiculous cushions of time to the front and back end of events, calculating how much time and how many trains it would take me to get somewhere. I’ve been commuting long distances my whole life, so nothing made more sense than the steady rhythm of the train rocking down the elevated tracks toward my job downtown. I made friends with fellow non-drivers, and we laughed at the people we knew whose lives revolved around their cars, and where they were going to park them, and how much traffic they’d get caught in at rush hour. I felt like a true Chicagoan blundering around outside in subzero temperatures, instead of complaining about the weather from the heated interior of a car. The city was good to me, giving me trains that came on time and buses that stopped for me and friends who rode their bikes with me to Montrose Beach in the summer. Each time, it felt like a friendly nudge in the shoulder telling me I’d made the right choice.

In Illinois you’re allowed to get seven answers wrong on the written driver’s test. I’ve always had trouble identifying signs  last time I didn’t even recognize the universal sign for railroad crossings  so I spent a lot of time thinking about each one, their color and shape. It’s easy to get comfortable with a thought, until it comes time to put it into practice. I have never been nervous about the written test, just what it means  that the road is open to me, now, and I have to take it. On March 5th, I got five answers wrong, four of them signs. My new party trick is that I can’t identify upcoming railroads.

I’ve been driving outside the city in my boyfriend Jens’s Mazda, making too-wide turns and nearly crashing into other cars in the Home Depot parking lot. I am always terribly nervous when Jens turns to me and asks, “Do you want to drive?”, but he has a wonderful way of making me want to be brave. We stop at a gas station. He goes inside to buy a cup of coffee and I slip behind the wheel.

I move the seat up and adjust my mirrors. I put on my glasses so that I can read the signs. I am good at braking  sometimes I think stopping is the only thing I know how to do well  but I am getting better at moving forward, too. Sometimes I’m sure that I am following closely on the wheels of that fantasy girl who’s been my chauffeur for so long. Maybe this time I’ll overtake her.

“There’s no reason for you to drive so closely behind that car.” I catch Jens smiling as I turn to look at him for a split second before gluing my eyes to the road ahead.

Next time, then.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about FX's Fargo. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

"Would You Fight For My Love?" -Jack White (mp3)

"Alone In My Home" - Jack White (mp3)

Tuesday
May062014

In Which This All Seems Vaguely Familiar

Minnesota Mean

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Fargo
creator Noah Hawley

This is a true story.

So claim the opening credits of Noah Hawley’s Fargo, a television spin-off of the Coen brothers’ 1996 film of the same name. The original Fargo made a similar claim, and we wonder now, as we did then, how true what we are about to see will be. More importantly, we wonder how true this 10-episode miniseries will be to its predecessor, and we (rightly) begin to fear the worst.

It is tempting for any artist to mimic a master. You get the heady sense of power that’s inherent to any artistic endeavor, without doing any of the hard work. Essentially, it’s creative suicide. Or creative murder, if you take into consideration how your interpretation of a beloved work will reflect on the original. All too often, a remake turns a good story into something that looks like it’s been through the wood chipper.

Not so with Hawley’s show — it is more like the original story simply went in another direction, as if it turned onto a different dark, snowy road in the middle of the night and ended up in one of many other sleepy Minnesotan towns.

There’s a certain delicate science to this imitation, in which everything feels a little bit like déjà vu. To achieve it, Hawley got the Coen brothers to produce the series, then spends the pilot episode giving a slow wink to everything beloved about the movie. Fargo opens where the film hit one of its first, and finest, climaxes: with a car accident. One man escapes the wreck and begins running frantically across a frozen field. In the Coens’ world, this man gets shot in the back. In Hawley’s, he disappears into a fringe of forest, while his kidnapper, who was driving the car, watches him. From here, the show and film’s narratives split, mirror, and foil one another like Schrodinger’s cat.

So innstead of Jerry Lundegaard, the mediocre car salesman who really wants a piece of his father-in-law’s fortune, we meet a henpecked insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard, who is played by Martin Freeman of Sherlock and Hobbit fame. Lester is as blond and stammery as his forebear, except he doesn't plan to cause trouble; he sort of falls into it by ending up in the emergency room next to a psychopathic killer, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). Malvo offers to pick off the bully who landed Lester in the hospital, and when Lester doesn’t explicitly disagree, pandemonium strikes Bemidji, Minnesota.

Like other Coen villains — think Anton Chigurh — Malvo is a soft-spoken devil, a hired gun who seems to do plenty of pro bono work since he enjoys watching people destroy one another almost as much as he enjoys destroying them himself. Thornton thrives in this role with a weird priestly haircut, a fur collar on his coat and an only slightly suppressed Arkansan accent. Like every other Coen character, he isn’t spared moments of humor, however dark. 

Besides Lorne and Lester, there is a comedic pair of miscreants, “Mr. Numbers” and “Mr. Wrench” (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard). There’s a heavily pregnant woman. There’s a man who likes ducks and ice fishing. There are bland, hotdish-loving townspeople who exhibit surprisingly morbid penchants, disquieting hobbies, and scandalous secret lives. There is a group of well-worn cops, including a plucky deputy, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) who, like Marge before her, is the story’s bulwark of sanity and decency.

Molly is like Marge in the same way that Hawley’s Fargo is like the Coens’ Fargo: the way a stranger can resemble a friend from afar. Unlike Marge, whose position as chief of police sets her apart from the very beginning, before we even see her prowess as a detective, Molly must prove her mettle — not only to the show’s motley crew of mostly oblivious males, but also to the audience, who will look at her and miss Frances McDormand. Molly is brilliant; she's a diamond in the rough, sweet and sharp and persistent as hell, but she can’t hold a candle to Marge. She tries her hardest, though, and we can’t help but root for her, mainly because it becomes very apparent as the show progresses that she holds her own, and that there’s really no need to compare the two. Minnesota is, after all, where all the women are strong.

Where this Fargo really surpasses the original is in exposing the dark underbelly of the legendary “Minnesota nice.” The Coen brothers hinted at it — often cheekily — but always deferred to a dichotomized world in which the bad guys engaged in bad things, and the good guys talked about the weather or dipped a spoon into Jell-O salad. But Hawley throws shadows even on the good folk; Duluth cop Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) is a devoted father, but he can be a bit of a pushover… also, he wants to bang his married neighbor. Lester Nygaard’s brother is a successful salesman and family man… and owns illegal firearms.

In other words, nobody could have been more wrong than Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times, who claimed that “Fargo finds humor in the stunning ordinariness of Midwestern small towns, where people are uniformly even-tempered and mild, bringing Jell-O salads to potlucks and saying ‘aw jeez’ and ‘heck’ when bad things happen.” Instead, it finds humor where humor has lived all along: in the disconnect between what appears to be true in the living room and what is being hidden in the basement — a body, or a stolen car, or a psychopath. What we’ve grown to recognize as Minnesota nice is just the same as every other culture in this country and the world: an attempt to handle what can’t be controlled, like chaos, death, and unhappiness.

It’s possible that we need to tell ourselves the same stories over and over in order to deal with chaos. Didn’t we spend our childhood asking our parents to read us the same bedtime stories, so that for at least a few minutes after the light had been turned off and they had left the room, we’d forget about the monsters lying in wait under our beds? It’d be easier if we could just kill them, of course, but you can’t put chaos to sleep with more chaos. You have to tell it a better, truer story.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Jeff Buckley. She tumbls here and twitters here

"Bullet in the Brain" - The Black Keys (mp3)

"Waiting on Words" - The Black Keys (mp3)


Thursday
Mar272014

In Which We Were Born Like Jeff Buckley

Creative Inertia

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Jeff Buckley’s brief intro before launching into a cover of “Dido’s Lament” is murmured in a ghost’s timbre, barely outdoing the white noise on the recording even at highest volume. His audience laughs, spooked, then the piano opens. “Thy hand, Belinda,” Jeff sings.

His is a freakish voice, made all the more odd by the grainy quality of the recording; a high falsetto mimicking the dramatic mezzo-soprano for which Purcell wrote the aria. He wails — his voice almost breaks, but doesn’t. Listening, we want it to break; the melody is too pure, its perfect desperation too stringent for this wild, unpredictable thing. Remember me, forget my fate.

It is this drama, the constant rediscovery and redelivery of a familiar, worked-over, oft-repeated tune that defines Jeff Buckley’s work. Like his voice, each song defies an original genre or mood, turning back to a more primal source. Is it a lament? A mockery? A strange self-issued prophecy from a man who, two years later, would walk into the Wolf River in Memphis, TN and drown?

Like many of his other performances, this one (a set at the 1995 Meltdown Festival in the UK) now only exists on the web, maybe even on fragments of a video somewhere. Had Jeff Buckley lived past the age of 30, it might have remained among the other, less-than-perfect detritus of a long and successful career. But when the talented die young, we like to watch their home videos. Their unprotected moments. Their failures, blow-ups, fuck-ups. Anything that might give us clarity about their end: what “brought them to this point.” Short of simply accepting that it was death that did Buckley in, we might say it was the success that got him.

Only four years earlier, Jeff had sung in public for the first time, at a tribute concert for his estranged father Tim Buckley. They had met once, when Jeff was eight, after one of Tim’s shows; two months later, Tim overdosed on heroin. Neither Jeff nor his mother Mary Guibert were invited to the funeral. When Jeff stepped onto the stage at Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn to sing Tim’s “I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain”, most people weren’t aware that Tim had a son, and most people who knew Jeff didn’t know he could sing — he’d patented himself, stubbornly, as a guitarist — so the evening unveiled not only Jeff’s vocal talent but also exactly where it had come from. This pissed Jeff off. If anything, he had hoped to use the brief set as his way of paying his respects, of breaking away from Buckley senior.

Years later, when a fan shouted a request for one of Tim’s songs, Jeff looked her straight in the eye and said, “I don’t play that hippie shit.”

Jeff escaped his hometown of Anaheim, leaving behind what he described as a “rootless trailer trash” existence. He’d been struck by New York fever. Over the next year and a half, he played at coffee shops and nightclubs in Lower Manhattan, and eventually earned a regular Monday night slot at Sin-é in the East Village, accompanying himself on the guitar. He covered Bob Dylan. Nina Simone. Van Morrison. Once, singing “Sweet Thing” with Glen Hansard, the still-obscure Buckley drew a crowd by taking the second verse through a series of vocal gymnastics that lasted fifteen minutes. People outside the club began pressing up against the window to hear him perform.

A brief writing streak with Gary Lucas resulted in two original songs, “Mojo Pin” and “Grace”, that Jeff nevertheless rarely played in his set. Lucas also invited Buckley to perform in his band, Gods and Monsters, early in 1992. By that time, however, the streets outside Sin-é were lined with record label executives hoping to snag Buckley for a solo album. That October, Buckley signed with Columbia, hired a drummer and bassist, and recording for what would be his first and only studio album, Grace, began the next summer. A quick EP, Live at Sin-é was released in November ‘93, documenting Jeff’s coffee-shop years, a time he’d long for intensely almost as soon as he left it.

Jeff was not prolific; of the ten songs on Grace, he penned only three on his own. Lee Underwood, Tim Buckley’s guitarist, said once that Jeff suffered from an all too-relatable sort of creative inertia. “[He] felt uncertain of his musical direction, not only after signing with Columbia, but before signing, and all the way to the end. He did not know himself — which musical direction he might want to commit himself to, because taking a stand, making a commitment to a direction, or even to composing and then successfully completing the recording of a single song, was extremely difficult for him. One the one hand, creativity was his calling. On the other hand, any creative gesture that offered the possibility of success terrified him.” To speak nothing of the looming shadow of a father he never spoke of, to whom he was inevitably compared, as well as a sort of dogged perfectionism that plagued his studio sessions.

Spending hours, as he did, overdubbing the vocals until he had reached what he felt was the optimal delivery, Jeff seemed reluctant to pin any one mood onto his work. Andy Wallace, Grace’s producer, had to piece several of the songs together from dozens of takes. The music was in constant metamorphosis, to the point where later, live renditions of the songs sounded different, singular, wed to whatever Buckley had learned or felt or needed in between one performance and the next. He seemed to rewrite them each time.

Grace is disparate, wavering between the almost cacophonous landscapes of “Mojo Pin”, “Grace”, “Last Goodbye”, and “Eternal Life”, the hushed, sacramental “Corpus Christi Carol”, and the desperate “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”. Buckley alternately whispers or wails, seems to laugh and growl, shreds remarkably. The music is a story as emotionally complex as its author — calling it simply brooding or romantic minimizes its scope. In reality it is confused, mystifying, indecisive.

The album, like the EP preceding it, sold in a slow trickle. Jeff’s songs rarely made it to the airwaves. Critics were either charmed by its triumph or turned off by what, altogether, seemed to be a confusing melange of emotions and genres. The French loved it, though, and in 1995 awarded Jeff with the Grand Prix International du Disque, an honor he shared with the likes of Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. David Bowie claimed that Grace was the one album he’d want with him on a desert island. Meanwhile, Jeff silenced restless crowds in concert halls across the globe with a few strums of his guitar, with a Buddhist-like opening chant called “Chocolate” that hushed chatter until you could hear a pin drop. Only then would he break into “Mojo Pin”.

Putting Buckley’s cover of the Cohen song in a separate category — as I undoubtedly must — “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” is Grace’s masterpiece. Jeff introduced it first at Sin-é when he signed with Columbia, luring listeners who had previously doubted his ability to produce a decent song of his own. Back then it was just Jeff and his guitar, sans the divine harmonium intro, the swelling gospel choir, absolutely pure. Lyrically, it’s as seductive as it is sad — as Jeff escalates to “It’s never over/my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder,” a tingle begins deep down. It’s as much the power of his voice as the power of his poetry. He chokes it out, like an old love letter he’s been forced to read aloud.

I will say this about “Hallelujah” — everything blooms from the single, conquered breath that opens it.

Buckley is remembered for these quieter contributions, and appropriately so; in a way they serve as auto-epitaphs. An incredible mimic, he nails Nina’s voice during brief moments in “Lilac Wine” and rivals any choir boy with Britten’s “Corpus Christi Carol”, which had been introduced to him by a friend in high school. But it’s palpable anger that colors the rest of Grace, anger that Jeff would take with him on tour and into the beginnings of his second album, My Sweetheart, The Drunk. He butted heads with the bigwigs at Columbia when he refused to make a music video. He alienated friends, his photographer Merri Cyr, and some of his strongest supporters with careless words. Seamlessly integrated into his public image were frequent moments of conflict, uncertainty, and stubbornness, most of them related to his burgeoning fame, and almost always triggered by casual comparisons with the late Tim Buckley.

When People Magazine nominated Jeff as one of their “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1995, something snapped. He dyed his hair black and stopped washing it. He wallowed, thin, in giant thrift-store plaid shirts and Doc Martens. On stage, Grace changed: “Buckley and the band were now playing harder, faster, and louder than ever before, transforming slow-burning epics — ‘Last Goodbye’, ‘So Real’, ‘Eternal Life’ and the title track — into rock and roll firestorms that bordered on the metallic. ‘Mojo Pin’ circa 1996 was almost unrecognizable: Buckley screamed so hard as the song built to its thunderous climax that you feared he’d cough up a vocal cord,” wrote Jeff Apter, one of Buckley’s biographers.

Touring took its toll on Jeff; he needed peace and quiet to work things out, to create, but the frenzy of the road worked up a hysteria in him. Once, in Ireland, he disappeared for a few hours in the afternoon and walked around singing and playing guitar in the pouring rain, skipping interviews and a sound check. Another time he arrived so drunk on stage he broke into a rendition of one of his father’s songs. Yet another time, wasted, he fell asleep underneath a table at a show in Manhattan. Another musician would have been thinking of giving the public a second album to chew on; Jeff was just trying to stay alive. Returning to New York in 1996 after two years on the road, he found the Village, which had once afforded him the comfortable hum of cappuccino machines, the safety of coffee shop anonymity, completely transformed. Sin-é had closed its doors. What few shows he did play, he had to advertise under pseudonyms. He needed a quiet spot, a shrine. So, in early ‘97, he went to Memphis.

During the last few months of his life, Jeff Buckley lived in a shotgun house which he rented for a paltry $450 a month. He owned little more than a couch, a telephone, and a telephone book. What time he did not spend cycling back and forth from a Vietnamese restaurant he spent lying in the grass in his backyard, or at the butterfly exhibit at the Memphis Zoo. He played at a beer joint called Barrister’s, quietly. He recorded sketches of new songs on Michael Bolton cassettes that he’d picked up for pennies and sent them to his band in New York. My Sweetheart, The Drunk tremulously came together. On May 29th, the band flew into Memphis to begin recording.

That night, Jeff sang Led Zeppelin as he waded into the river.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about Call the Midwife.

with chrissie hynde

"Ghost in the Room" - Numbers (mp3)

"Shortly Broken" - Numbers (mp3)