Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Famous Diarists: Jeff Buckley

There's something intriguing about catching someone writing in a journal. This is especially the case when that someone happens to be of the artistic temperament. The late great musician (and son of likewise late-great musician, Tim Buckley) Jeff Buckley embodied the essence of the Bohemian movement that was once a thriving part of the East Side of Manhattan in New York City during the 1980s and 90s. 

The area was a haven for artists, upstart fashion designers, musicians, and social activists due in part to its (by New York City standards) inexpensive rent rates and its historic architecture. The area was once home to a large multi-ethnic community with many Puerto Rican, Indian/Pakistani, Eastern European establishments. It was also, arguably, the birthplace of the New York punk-rock scene with CBGBs (frequented by Patti Smith and the Ramones among others).

It was into this scene that Jeff Buckley arrived, andthough his music is often tinged with the helterskelter of urban living ("The Sky is a Landfill"), he often referenced the more bluesy, folk-rock revival of previous decades ("Lover, You Should Have Come Over"). He is most famous for his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" - and rightfully so. It's an amazing piece of music with an intense, almost meditative quality that takes you to some heartbreaking, ethereal place. 

These neighborhoods were, unfortunately, also high crime areas (especially Alphabet City, made famous in the musical RENT). A campaign of intense gentrifcation has since forced out much of the artistic community. But these images reflect a man who relished the lifestyle that embraced art and embraced this sort of existence.

Notice the wild flyway hair and the pensive posture and expression. But also note the ambience of his environment. The man wrote everywhere: clubs, hotel rooms, his apartment, the recording studio, even on the street. You don't need to be quaint Parisian cafe or placid lakeside hill to journal. In an interview he remarks: "I have these notebooks that I fetish daily. Run to. I always have one with me." 

It's apparent that Jeff wrote in various types of notebooks - most likely whatever he could get his hands on or what he could find for cheap (let's face it - the Bohemian lifestyle was defined in part by just skirting the poverty line). Most seem to be common spiral notebooks or memo pads of the drugstore variety. You don't need a Moleskine or expensive Italian leatherbound tome, either. In fact, if judging by the quality of his writing in the excerpts that appear in the liner notes for his posthumous album, Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk, he wrote eloquently, intensely, and almost compulsively. 

The world lost Jeff when he drowned during a swim in the Wolf River on May 29, 1997 at the age of 30. His following has only grown since. 

(Thanks to Vancouver over at the Jeff Buckley Community for tracking down this collection of photographs.)

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