Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Wished-For Song: Jeff Buckley (book review)

Book review. I also do theater reviews, film reviews, museum reviews. I'll review your cat's bathing style if you want.

A Wished-For Song: Jeff Buckley by Merri Cyr
Hal Leonard

They say it’s a burden to be beautiful—a remark that the less-burdened among us often meet with derision. But beauty is a fickle thing: It can temporarily blind the viewer to all but its sensory charms, and when it fades or is marred—a sneeze, a bruise, a bad hair day—its bearer’s deeper qualities may seem to vanish in the process.

Jeff Buckley was a beautiful man, outwardly—Gap-model pretty, hell, Michelangelo-model pretty—and photographer Merri Cyr, who met him when he was a New York club singer about to record his first EP, Live at Sin-é, was surely taken by his physical appearance. But as she writes in the foreword to her collection of Buckley photographs: “...there are not that many typically considered ‘beautiful people’ who are really very interesting to photograph. Jeff had a fantastic beauty, rare and originating on an energetic level. It’s nothing to do with the meat of a body, and it’s beyond talent. “

A Wished-For Song takes foreshadowing literally. In its mostly sepia-toned pages, and in our unavoidable hindsight, the images toll like bells. Buckley in black. Buckley with clocks. Buckley at the bank of a river, perhaps the one where he drowned. But there are also performance shots that hint at the subject’s energy, and—even better—numerous candid shots in which the short-lived hero flashes a dopey grin, like he’s showing off for his girlfriend.

And for every questionable comment like Cyr’s “Maybe his high burn rate made him shine all the more brightly”—c’mon, Katharine Hepburn glowed, too, and she’s still around—there are unexpected observations from those around him, like this one from WFMU DJ Nicholas Hill: “Part of what was so beautiful about Jeff was that he touched everybody; he was very affectionate... That’s the reason why so many people were in love with him, why so many people thought he was in love with them. And I believe he was, wholeheartedly, but he didn’t have enough of himself to give. His inclination was to engage everybody. “

Quotes from Buckley’s friends give some insights into this complex singer-songwriter. But mostly, the book is a collection of pretty pictures of a pretty man. And, given his need to reach out and touch people, that’s probably the way this beautiful seducer would have wanted it.

By Pamela Murray Winters
Harp, May 2003

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