The song is over

In rock, there are thousands of singers and dozens of early deaths but never were there singers sweeter than the Buckleys and never was there a sadder ending.

That old rock cliche about the difficult second album begins to seem terribly prescient when you learn that it was on the first day of pre-production for his follow-up to 1995's Grace that singer Jeff Buckley took up his guitar last Thursday and walked into the waters of the the Mississippi river, ostensibly for a swim, but ultimately to his death. His body - which was missing for days - has now been found and it is confirmed that possibly the greatest singer of his generation has been lost to us, at age 30.

Though one doesn't wish to be accused of myth-making, the myths are already there. Tim Buckley, Jeff's father (though he left Jeff's mother when the son was only six months old), was the best singer of his generation too, before he died from a heroin overdose in 1975, aged 28. You don't even have to search for parallels, for they are inescapable. Folded into the sleeve of my copy of Buckley pere's best record, Blue Afternoon, is the cutting of a 1979 NME biography by Max Bell that begins with these lines from Tim's "Song to the Siren": "I'm as puzzled as the newborn child/ I'm as riddled as the tide/ Should I stand amid the breakers/ Or should I die with death my bride?/ Swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you/ Here I am, here I am, waiting to hold you."

Listening to Jeff's mini-album Live from the Bataclan while I write, it's nearly tears on the keyboard-time as he sings his medley of French chansons against the screams of the girls in the Paris audience - for Jeff was a serious love-god - in his angelic cracked alto voice. Singing in French, he pauses for a moment ("Hope I get this right"), then switches to the English translation: "When at last our life on earth is through, I will spend eternity with you, if you love me, really love me, let it happen darling, I won't care." The voice dies to a whisper, accompanied by the gentle rhythmic waves of his plucked guitar, before rising in a final, heart-stopping "ooh", to be met by heartfelt applause. Then he does Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".

The noisy club grew eerily silent as the tiny figure on the stage sobbed out each word. As he left the stage, Buckley took off his shirt and threw it to the crowd. Later that year he came to the Royal Festival Hall to take part in Elvis Costello's Meltdown season, participating in an evening dedicated to "The Song", and breaking everyone's heart with the beauty of his singing. If you missed him, Live at the Bataclan, which is an import on French Columbia, is the next best thing. "Bonne nuit," he says, as "Hallelujah" finishes. "I love you!" and the crowd goes delirious, as only a French crowd flattered by their own language can. Or try the versions of Nina Simone's "Lilac Wine", Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol", his own "So Real", and, of course, "Hallelujah", on the debut album Grace. While some of the other tracks attempt a not entirely convincing hard-rock mode, the real songs display Buckley's talent at its spine-tingling best.

The parallels with the career of his father are hardly accidental. Jeff Buckley took on the mantle of Tim with a frighteningly intense fidelity, echoing his multi-octave vocal range, his folk-jazz repertoire, even his angelic curls and self-consciously melancholy-poet persona. In performance, as the gathering sweat began to turn his hair into a backlit corona of haloed curls, Jeff became the dead spit of the dead Tim's photo on the cover of Blue Afternoon, ecstatic grimace and all. In an article posted on the Internet this week, Jeff was quoted as saying: "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?"

Nowadays, Tim Buckley is even less well known than his son. But in the years between his debut album in 1966, and his last, really great album, Greetings from LA in 1972, he was the most thrilling of all the post-Dylan singer-songwriters. Indeed, his fans would happily swap the last 30 years of Dylan albums for one more mediocre Buckley set. Though his albums sold in negligible numbers, Tim Buckley was a hugely influential figure for his time, and particularly well-respected in England. The posthumously released Dream Letter double-CD of a London concert from 1969 still sounds almost impossibly good, with Pentangle's Danny Thompson thumping out the bass-lines.

With a deliciously creamy voice that spanned baritone, tenor and alto, and a repertoire of dreamy songs calling on the blues and the late-night jazz of Miles Davis, Bill Evans and even the most extreme experiments of saxophonist John Coltrane, Buckley created a sound-world entirely consonant with his own smacked-up troubadour image. The classic, mid-period albums, Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon; Lorca; and the astonishingly experimental Starsailor have no parallels among any other works of the time or since. They're simply out-there: rhythmic poems for voice, double bass, vibraphone, guitar and conga drums, full of oblique chordings and meditative vocal grace-notes. At their best, as on the track "Buzzin' Fly" on Happy Sad, or "Blue Melody" on Blue Afternoon, they are just about the most satisfying music I know, though they do tend to favour a melancholy mood.

Tim Buckley grew up in California (he would have been 50 this year), in Anaheim and Orange County, learning from his mother to appreciate the voice of Nat "King" Cole, and imitating jazz trumpet players heard on the radio. He learned to play guitar imperfectly, due to a broken hand, and he was never able to make a barre-chord. He formed a band and played folk clubs in LA until he was spotted by Jim Black, the drummer of the Mothers of Invention, who introduced him to Herb Cohen of Straight Records, who in turn introduced him to Elektra's Jack Holzman, for whom he recorded his eponymous debut for Elektra at the age of 18, in 1966.

The following year he made Goodbye and Hello, a marvellously overblown Vietman-era set, whose track "Morning Glory" established his reputation as a latter-day troubadour, and in Britain became one of the folk-club anthems of the time. The great mid-period albums followed shortly afterwards, as Buckley - who was a friend of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin - got further into heroin. He had an affair with Linda Eastman (later Mrs McCartney), spent time out of music driving a taxi-cab, acting in Edward Albee's Zoo Story in LA, writing screenplays, and listening to Coltrane, Oliver Messiaen, and Eric Satie on Santa Monica beach. By 1972 he had changed his style to a kind of pre-"Let's Get It On" urban soul with Greetings to LA, his great white-boy sex album, which is full of weird, only partly ironic celebrations of masochism and the far side of sexual experience.

By June 1975, he was dead from a heroin overdose, the powder evidently sniffed in mistake for cocaine. His guitarist Lee Underwood insisted that it was only because Buckley had recently got clean that the dosage was sufficient to cause his death, and an LA graduate student was subsequently charged with first degree murder for giving him the drug. At the funeral at Wiltshire Funeral Homes, Santa Monica, the mourners were mainly his old flames, who were numerous.

Since Tim Buckley's death, no one else has emerged to offer that rare, Romantic charm and courtly, Anglophile mix of poetry and passion, folk and jazz. Until, at least, his son Jeff. It's enough to make you weep, which, of course, is what both Buckleys did, par excellencen

'Grace' by Jeff Buckley is available on Columbia; the live mini-album 'Live from the Bataclan' is on Columbia France; another live mini-album, 'Live at Sin-E' is on Big Cat. Tim Buckley's albums are available on Elektra, Demon and Manifesto

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'