Jeff Buckley was a folk rock singer/songwriter and guitarist who lived in Memphis. He was the son of the famous folk singer Tim Buckley. Jeff never knew his famous father because Tim abandoned Jeff and his mother when Jeff was a baby. Tim Buckley died of drug overdose when Jeff was just nine, and Jeff claimed that he only met his biological father one time.
Jeff went to high school in Anaheim and attended a one-year music academy in Hollywood after that. Not long after that, he moved to New York to try to launch a musical career. He played in a couple of touring bands and was exposed to a bunch of different styles, but didn’t really find a permanent gig. That (sort of) came later, when he started playing Monday nights at a little Irish coffeehouse called Sin-é. After a while, he became a permanent fixture there, sort of like the “house band”. He played mostly covers, but worked in a few originals, too. Columbia Records released a four song EP of some of those recordings, and cleverly called it Live at Sin-é (1993).
After the success of that EP, Columbia recorded Jeff Buckley’s debut record Grace in the summer of 1994. It was a smashing album, and it was placed in loads and loads of “best record of the year/decade/all time” lists On that album was Jeff Buckley’s most famous thing. His cover of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah”. It, rather than the original version, is regarded as the definitive version.
Buckley and Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins had an “intense personal relationship”, which may or may not have been romantic in nature. Before Grace was released, Fraser was once quoted as saying that hearing his voice for the first time made her “sweat like a fucking June bride”. “Music has never done that to me before”, she added. In that same interview, she expressed some desire to work with Buckley some day. She got her wish, as they recorded a song together called “All Flowers in Time Bend Towards The Sun”, which has never been officially released. Jeff’s mother is the executor of his estate, and she has said that because it was a work in progress and because she has tremendous respect for Elizabeth Fraser, she’s never going to allow the release of the song.
After some extensive touring, Buckley moved to Memphis in 1996 to work on a follow-up to Grace. That album was to be called My Sweetheart the Drunk, but it was never completed, as he disappeared into the Wolf River while going for a swim on the evening of May 29, 1997. He was 30. It was ruled an accidental drowning, and it was made clear that there were no drugs, or alcohol, or depression involved.
The next year, Buckley’s mother, Mary Guibert oversaw the posthumous release of the rough drafts of his new songs. The 2xCD set was called Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Guibert has also overseen a few other posthumous releases, including a magnificent 3-disc set of Sin-é recordings. Today’s song comes from that 2003 Live at Sin-é release. It was also on the 1993 original, but this one is a little bit cleaned up.
“Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin” by Jeff Buckley
I love that in the Piaf version she sings in French, while Buckley sings in English and French. I also love that in her version, there’s a Calliope or some such instrument that’s meant to invoke the carousel that’s mentioned in the song. In his version, it’s just him and a guitar, so he delicately plays the chords in arpeggio. It’s a lovely touch.
His tremolo vocal style was not at all unlike Piaf’s. Strangely, her voice was deeper than his, which makes his version that much cooler.
Buy the “Legacy Edition” of Live at Sin-é here.