-- Jeff Buckley, Journal Entry, August 9, 1995
A recent rediscovery of Tim Buckleys blisteringly erotic 1972 album, “Greetings From L.A.“ reminded me that I was long overdue to read David Brownes acclaimed biography from earlier this year of Buckley and his son, Jeff, whose 1997 death by drowning eerily mirrored Tims own demise of a drug overdose in 1975.
“Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley“ proved to be engrossing, well-researched, and haunting - a dual biography of a father and son who never really knew each other, but were clearly more similar than not.
Writer Browne had his work cut out for him in creating textured portraits of two emotionally complex human beings who were also influential, original musicians, let alone relatives. Though products of different generations, each was an immensely talented folk rock cult icon whose other trademarks included artistic sensitivity and startlingly good looks. They were also equally doomed, damaged, and destined to never reach their full potential.
Father Tim began the 1960s as a quintessential folk troubadour, but emerged from the decade as a musical pioneer and offstage bad boy who bucked systems, challenged every bit of authority he encountered, and pushed limits, especially when it came to matters of carnality and illegal substances. Buckley broke new musical ground with each project he tackled, and while his genius was recognized, commercial success evaded him, something that distressed and defeated him and perhaps encouraged his increasing reliance on drugs like heroin. Quite an accomplished womanizer, his failed first marriage produced a son, Jeff, with whom he never forged a relationship.
Son Jeff was seen as a lyrical poet whose 1994 album “Grace“ revealed that he had clearly inherited his fathers musical talent and ability to electrify an audience during live performances. Within short order, especially as he fought for privacy under the increasing glare of celebrity, he demonstrated that he also had Tims penchant for erratic behavior. He had come to Memphis to record his eagerly awaited second album when an undertow in the Mississippi River in which he was swimming took his life. He was 30-years-old, “just two years older than was the errant father whom Jeff rejected for rejecting him.“
The ironies of their lives, talents, and deaths are explored in great detail by Browne, who drew from interviews, many exclusive, with many of the closest associates of both men, as well as letters, journals, lyrics, and unreleased recordings. Particularly poignant is Jeffs inability to avoid some of the same twisting, unpredictable roads traveled by his father, a man for whom he truly had deep and unresolved issues. At the heart of the story is their music, which in both cases, was always about searching, and was often as bittersweet as it was exhilarating.
If “Dream Brother“ is of interest, then so might be a few other selections, starting with the hot-off-the-presses “Wished for Song: A Portrait of Jeff Buckley“ by photographer Merri Cyr, which contains 160 pages of candid shots of the singer.
Another recommendation is a bit older, though most similar in nature - “Nick Drake“ by English journalist Patrick Humphries, who has also written acclaimed biographies of Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and Richard Thompson. The enigmatic Drake seems to have rediscovered lately when his lovely “Pink Moon“ song was used for a car commercial, and even though he released only three albums, he has long been credited as a seminal influence by artists such as REM, Elton John, and Paul Weller.
Depressed and anxious most of his life, which ended at age 26 in 1974, Drake, like Tim Buckley, died of an overdose. Humphries‘ chronicles Drakes often bizarre life through exclusive interviews with friends, colleagues, and musicians who knew and worked with him, and while some of the anecdotes are jarring (such as Drakes tendency to show up to perform in a highly inebriated state and make the most weird entrance he could), Humphries effectively evokes a place and time as he dissects what gave Drakes music its power and beauty.
Lastly, “Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina“ by David Hajdu earned a spot on Amazon.coms Best of 2001 list for its detailed, yet lyrical accounting of the wild Greenwich Village folk scene during the time that the foursome listed above were the reigning royalty.
Whether youre a folk music fan or not, or a Dylan or Baez fan or not, this is one ripping good read, as the Brits say. Gossipy, provocative, and tragic in parts, this is a not-to-be-missed account of how four quite fabulous young people defined a bohemian lifestyle and sound, the likes of which havent been equaled since.