On the Record: Part I

Side bar: I bought myself a record player for my birthday last year and have never actually gotten around to using it… despite having almost the entire Prince back catalogue on vinyl (it’s one of my most prized possessions)…I just always seemed too busy or too disorganised. And so, it has been sitting in my closet, collecting dust and not doing too much of anything. But since I have moved from Armidale to the unseasonably rainy township of Ballarat (more on this charming place to come), and am suddenly in the position where I am trying to make some changes to my life, I thought this would be the prime opportunity to get that record player out and start listening to some of my favourite albums on vinyl. I’ll be talking about them here one by one, just for fun.

Sunday, October 2: Grace – Jeff Buckley, 1994 (Columbia Records)

The first time I heard Grace I was 17 and in the last year of high school. The album was gifted to me on a burnt CD, from my BBF at the time. I have no idea how she came across it, but she was certainly excited about it when she gave me a copy. By this time the album had been out for nearly a decade and Jeff Buckley was long since passed on, so it’s fair to say that both of us was a bit late to the party. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t that excited about listening to it, she and I didn’t really see eye to eye as far as music was concerned, but I thought the bloke on the cover was pretty handsome, so maybe this time I should give her the benefit of the doubt. I’m glad that I did. To this day, the gift of that album is probably one of my favourite things that anyone has ever given me because this was the first album I ever heard that really changed the way that I thought about music and the way that music makes you feel, the way it shapes who you are, or perhaps the person you want to grow up be. From the moment I heard Jeff Buckley wailing out the introduction to Mojo Pin it was like a switch in my brain came on, the album was all I could think about. I got through my final exams by singing it in my head when I was feeling stressed –  by dreaming about how these songs came about – by wondering if my own life would be so filled with long dark nights of longing, unrequited love, missed opportunities and heartbreak. At the time, it seemed glorious. In retrospect, I am reminded of that quite old saying: be careful what you wish for.

Like a lot of the girls of my generation, I went through an intense Jeff Buckley fascination, where this album and Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk were all I listened to. It’s fair to say that they probably became some kind of melodramatic gospel that helped me deal with being in my late teens/early 20’s, and all the uncertainty and shit that goes with it. For the record, I was never as much of a fan of Sketches though, it just felt too different, too unpolished. Try as I might, I could never get into it like I got into Grace. I can honestly say that even now, as soon as it comes on, I can sing along to all the songs and I remember every word. That’s the result of a lot of repetitive listening! Now that I am a bit older though and a touch more calm (arguably better adjusted), the way I respond to the music has changed, but on the odd occasion hearing it is like a fun trip down memory lane too. Like watching a movie or television show from my adolescence, listening to So Real (I couldn’t awake from the nightmare that sucked me in and pulled me under/pulled me under) or Eternal Life (tell me where is the love in what your prophet has said? Man it sounds to me just like a prison for the walking dead) allows me to touch on an old part of the person I used to be. I don’t know if I like her better or worse than I like myself now, I just know she’s hidden away somewhere.

This is one of only a handful of albums that I own that I can honestly say that I enjoy every track on. (We’ll look at some of the others in the coming weeks). Time might have changed the way that I think of these songs, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still like hearing them all, in order, exactly as Jeff Buckley wanted them to be heard. That’s why vinyl is such a good media for hearing the album again – it is way too hard to skip tracks, so you have to listen to the whole album. Now, I have heard it said that Corpus Christi Carol kind of ruins this album but look, imma stop all the haters right there. I really love it and I think it further adds to the haunted atmosphere of what is really an already haunted record. Plus, it is such a weird choice, and I respect the shit out of that. I also rate Lilac Wine very highly. I’ll be completely unoriginal though, when I say that Lover, you should have come over is my favourite song on the album. Between that, Hallelujah and Last Goodbye, I think 87.9% of fans of this album are accounted for. They are all great songs too, but at times I wish I could be more original when it comes to fingering a favourite.

I appreciate the fact that there’s a perfect balance of rock and ballad; and regardless of which one Jeff Buckley is attempting in any given track, he is singing the shit out of it. I guess it’s that ability that really speaks to imaging Jeff Buckley as some kind of dirty/sweet ethereal king. In one moment he’s belting out some half screaming vocal and the next he’s warbling like a broken hearted Romantic Poet. Thinking back to the early 90’s, when grunge was a ‘thing’, and everyone was ooh-ing and aah-ing over bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam or the Smashing Pumpkins (who are all awesome in their own right), it was something really brave to put a record out with something like Lilac Wine or Dream Brother on it. It still would be. But, Buckley didn’t seem to care. Bless him.

Rock’n’Roll history tells us of course, that Jeff Buckley died in 1997, when he drowned in the Mississippi River. Entering the river in Wolf River Harbor, Memphis, fully clothed and wearing his boots, Buckley was swept away by the tremendous under current and drowned. Undoubtedly his death has been integral to the fact that he’s become one of the most loved and mythologized music figures of our time. But, there’s another reason why people still get flustered about Jeff Buckley, even after all this time. In the age of auto-tune and sampling you see, there’s no one that quite comes close to him. It doesn’t matter how old this album is or when the songs on it got released, they still have a way of calling out to you. More than that, they age along with you. Songs that mean one thing when you hear them the first time, grow and change over the years as you do – so that you can revisit this album at any time and find something in it that feels new. That’s a really rare thing, I think.

(stolen from my instagram.. speaking of, you can follow me on @theyounghistoriantravels)

Revisiting Grace always drags up a lot of baggage for me, which is why I don’t do it very often, but in this instance it was nice to take a trip down memory lane; even if it was for the bittersweet realisation that wanting to be the girl in some of these songs was probably more of a burden and a heartbreak than any grown woman would wish for. That’s over a decade of life speaking though. You’re never going to realise that at 17.



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