mike gee

  • me: "i've learned to slam on the brake before i even turn the key"
  • my dad: that's actually smart driving. always have your foot on the brake as a default setti...
A Tribute To Jeff Buckley (August 1997) ~

By Mike Gee

“I couldn’t awake from the nightmare
It sucked me in and pulled me under
pulled me under
Oh, that was so real …”
  - Jeff Buckley (“So Real”) -

Those lines take on a haunting, horrific nature now. It’s as if some
two or three years ago Jeff Buckley wrote his own epitaph: now they
echo a sad, painful, farewell.

Jeff Buckley, 30-year-old genius of a singer/songwriter/guitarist, and
son of the great and legendary Tim Buckley - a father whose shadow
haunted, taunted and perhaps, ultimately, consumed him - is dead,
drowned in an offshoot of the mighty Mississippi River in Memphis. The
last time he was seen alive he was swimming on his back, fully
clothed, singing. Perhaps, that is the memory those who loved his
music, his astonishing songs and incredible, incendiary voice - so
like that of his father - should cherish.

What to say then of a man claimed so young, who left just one album,
an EP and a bunch of singles, and guest appearance tracks, yet was
already considered one of the potential greats of his times. Perhaps,
that although he always spoke so much of living, of the need to live
life at its fullest, to smash the culture of anti-life as he saw much
of society, government and authoritarianism as representing, Buckley
was as close to death as he was life. He walked such a fine line.

A product of the Greenwich Village folkie and bohemian circuit,
Buckley lived on the frontline, choosing to mix it amongst the
communes and squats where he found what he called the last real
writers, artists, expressionists; people he could relate to, people
unafraid of society’s mores and dictates, willing to take a chance.

Over 1994 and 1995 I spoke to him twice. Each time we spoke mostly of
life, what he saw around him, the injustices, the fear, the laws that
repelled him, the death of Western civilization, the loss of
spirituality, the problems he had coming to terms with the modern
world and those in silent power, and, sometimes, the shadow of Tim,
the father he hardly knew who died when he was just eight.

Tim Buckley knew no limitations; for him, songs were a springboard for
risk-tasking, for delving into the dark side of man’s nature and the
indefinable nature of the spirit. Tim only knew that once he found the
edge, he had to go over it. And through a series of extraordinary
albums that tested the limitations of jazz, folk and rock and his own
free-form fusion of the elements he took those who listened with him.
On June 25, 1975, at the age of 28, Tim Buckley was dead from an
accidental drug overdose.

Today, he is revered as a true great, a man capable of charging songs
with an emotional depth few have ever reached or dared to try and
find: it was a trait that somehow passed itself onto Jeff, even though
he was forever trying not to admit it.

One stinking hot LA morning when the temperature had already soared
past the older 100 degree mark, Buckley who had been talking with more
and more literalness for half-an-hour suddenly said, “All this stuff
about my Dad, I never knew him, really. It’s so hard to live with. I’m
Jeff not Tim. Do you think what they say is true?”

The question never got answered. How could you tell him, yes, he was
so much his father’s son. The way he sang, that extraordinary
multi-octave voice, the jaggedness of his music, his willingness to
throw it into free-form chaos, to bend between genres, and the passion
and the scary, fractured, hanging on and yelling out emotion that flew
effortlessly in unforgettable codas that spanned much more than words
can ever transmit in songs such as “Grace” and “So Real”.

No, Jeff Buckley could never be told that, it didn’t seem right. He so
much just wanted to be Jeff Buckley, and he so badly wanted to change
the world. Instead we talked about how LA’s city fathers owned a tank,
about the ‘no smoking in certain public places’ law, about how he
didn’t want to write the second album the record company or anybody
else wanted him to write and how he would write the songs that he
felt, no matter what anybody thought. To Jeff, it was all part of
beating and breaking the system. The streets romanced him and the edge
scared him - there he was different from his dad. He already feared
what he might find out and he already feared what he might become.

Somewhere towards the end of the conversation, he spoke of insanity -
he saw it all around - and how he feared that he too would become
insane. Yet, you sensed there was something driving him on, something
terribly urgent and restless within him. He could, easily, have taken
the soft option; given the music industry, the public, what they
wanted - whatever that was. But it would have been a defeat Jeff
Buckley could never have lived with and so he went on, taking a very
long time to write his second album, which he was finally just about
to go into the studio and record.

Buckley was due to begin working up material for his long-awaited
sophomore effort at Memphis’s Easily Studios on Thursday, the day he
disappeared. Former Television leader Tom Verlaine was originally down
to produce the project, but that partnership was scrapped in March
when Buckley decided he needed more time to come up with material for
the album. Recording with Andy Wallace - who produced Buckley’s
phenomenal debut - was scheduled to begin at the end of June. The
not-yet-titled album was set for early 1998 release.

Although Buckley already had more than two-dozen songs finished, he
wanted to spend the next month preparing himself for the production of
the album. Buckley most recently appeared on a track featuring Inger
Lorre on Rykodisc’s Jack Kerouac tribute, 'Kicks Joy Darkness’. He was
also going to contribute a song to Hal Willner’s forthcoming Edgar
Allan Poe tribute alongside Lou Reed, Diamanda Galas and Leonard
Cohen; and was to appear on the 'First Love, Last Rites’ soundtrack.

The facts then as they are: On the night of Thursday, May 29, Buckley
was hanging out with a friend at the Mud Island Harbor marina, half a
mile inland off the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. He and
the friend were listening to a stereo and playing a guitar when
Buckley waded, fully clothed, waist-high into the water. He started
singing and laid back on the water, when a boat went by causing waves
to come in to the shore.

The friend on shore turned his back to move the stereo away from the
incoming waves and when he turned around, he couldn’t see Buckley.
After a 10-minute search, the friend called local police. The Memphis
police department began dragging the waters that night and continued
to do so - weather permitting - for the five following days. They also
checked on the chance of him having wandered out the water. Friends
were contacted and people in the area of the marina questioned. They
came up with nothing. Jeff Buckley simply vanished.

Finally, the news came through at about 7pm on June 4: the body of
Jeff Buckley had been found. Police said that a passenger on the
American Queen river boat spotted the body at the foot of the city’s
famous Beale Street. The body had a pierced navel - like Jeff’s - and
was in the same clothes he was described as wearing when he
disappeared. His body was subsequently identified by friends and taken
to the local morgue awaiting an autopsy. The waiting was over and the
tears could finally flow unchecked for a beautiful spirit, tragically
gone.

And so we have lost another young genius, and another man who saw
perhaps too much, too soon. Worst of all, we’ll never know what Jeff
Buckley was thinking, what those 20-plus songs contained, where he
would have taken that unshakeable faith and idealism.

Some interviews you remember. And I remember that last one, so well,
too well. His voice is still as clear as if it that interview was
yesterday; its nuances, its pain, its anger, its frustration and its
love. Jeff Buckley could never hide how human he really was.

Ironically, but fittingly, the words that best fit this tragedy are
Patti Smith’s in “Beneath The Southern Cross” from “Gone Again”, her
stunning comeback album of last year, and one of two tracks on which
Buckley appeared, his voice soaring ethereal like some ghostly angel
calling from the infinite beyond. It seemed right he should sing with
this woman who has known more tragedy than most. They were like
spirits. “Gone Again” celebrated life after death and a great spirit;
the honesty of loss; an enduring love.

Jeff understood all those qualities and now in their light we should
remember this blazing light shaded far, far, too early.

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Installation views of Losing the Compass: Quilts at White Cube
Featuring quilts by: Alighiero e Boetti, Mona Hatoum, Sergej Jensen, Mike Kelley, William Morris, Sterling Ruby, Rudolf Stingel, Danh Vo, Franz West, Amish quilts, & Gee’s Bend quilts

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On this day in music history: October 22, 1991 - “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”, the debut album by Black Sheep is released. Produced by William McLean and Andres Titus, it is recorded at Calliope Studios in New York, NY from November 1990 - August 1991. Originally from Queens, NY, William “Mista Lawnge” McLean and Andres “Dres” Titus meet each other while living in Sanford, NC with their families. While in North Carolina, Lawnge meets Hip Hop icon DJ Red Alert while spinning at a show featuring Sparky D. and The Real Roxanne. That meeting leads to Lawnge becoming friends with The Jungle Brothers (group member Mike Gee also being Red Alert’s nephew). Once both are back in New York, Dres and Lawnge form Black Sheep in 1989, and within a year are signed to Mercury Records. Associated with the Native Tongues clique that also includes De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest, share the same musically eclectic sensibility as their contemporaries, but carve out their own unique personality from the pack. Recorded over a period of ten months, Black Sheep’s debut samples from a wide palette of music from jazz and rock (Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, Jimmy McGriff, Eddie Harris, Joe Farrell, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Gary Bartz, Rare Earth, Jefferson Airplane, Iron Butterfly, Three Dog Night) to R&B, Funk and Disco (The Bar-Kays, Funk, Inc., Millie Jackson, Luther Vandross, Roger Troutman, Vaughan Mason & Crew, The SOS Band, Change).  The duo also spoofs gangsta rap (“You Mean I’m Not”) and misogyny in hip hop (the skit “L.A.S.M” (Ladies Against Sexist Muthaf*ckas)), and “Strobelite Honey” (#5 Rap, #1 Club Play,  #36 R&B, #80 Pop), backed with tight production and whip smart, wryly humorous lyrics. The album also features guest appearances by Q-Tip on “La Menage” and introduces (then) fifteen year old rap protege Chi Ali (on “Pass The 40”). An instant classic, the album is widely praised by fans and critics upon its release, being regarded as one of the best rap albums of the era. It spins off four singles including “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” (#1 Rap, #9 Club Play, #21 R&B, #57 Pop), “Flavor Of The Month” (#2 Rap), and “Similak Child”. “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing” peaks at number fifteen on the Billboard R&B album chart, number thirty on the Top 200, number one on the Heatseekers chart, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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Gee, Mike, I bet you have nooooothing to do with political violence. Totally above it all, it’s just the violent Blacks, Feminazis, and Antifa, right?