Not a week goes by without a thought of him. It’s not anything remotely romantic – I mean, I do love his music. It’s more about what he represents to me: the ridiculously arbitrary nature of fate which is at once completely unfair (Buckley dead, Bernardo alive) and thoroughly humbling (the Universe took someone so majestic; why the hell am I still here?)
I met Buckley several times. Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I hosted a nightly radio show that permitted me to book my own guests - thrillingly, sometimes even those that coloured outside the firmly delineated lines of the station’s format – and the charmingly iconoclastic Buckley appeared, I think, three times. I had to beg and cajole to get him.
That I took heaps of shit from management and colleagues for booking him was to be expected. This was when Sugar Ray and Pearl Jam ruled, not oddball folk-pop songwriters with nosebleed falsettos. But it was worth it. So fucking worth it. Years later, Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene would recall hearing one of those Buckley radio spots and then sneaking underage into a club using his brother’s ID to witness firsthand Buckley’s voice.
That voice. That inimitable, winding, soaring, elastic, fervent, aching, smouldering, genuinely otherworldly voice. You can’t hear it without experiencing synesthesia – every sense alert to it . Though exquisite, Leonard Cohen’s original version of that song simply doesn’t hold a candle to Buckley’s cover. To hear Buckley sing that song – or “Lilac Wine,” for that matter – is quite literally breathtaking. I mean, who can do that?
Because of his cruelly limited output, it’s almost certain Buckley will end up as a footnote (however beloved) in the canon. He wasn’t famous enough or tragic enough to survive as a damaged legend like Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain. His music was too angular anyway. But to me Buckley is an unimpeachable reminder of how fragile we really are, to quote another singer with a notable falsetto.
Remembering that casts light on even dark, ugly days. Sometimes, that’s enough.