This post will touch on three topics I’ll revisit in the future: talented musicians who died young, works of music inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the seductiveness of a good guitar line.
Singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley drowned in Memphis in 1997; he was just 30 years old. His first, and only, studio album, Grace, was released in August of 1994. (At the time of his death, he’d been working on his second). From the start, Grace was a critical, though not commercial, success; after Buckley’s death, it found a wider audience. Many consider his cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ the definitive interpretation of that song.
‘Last Goodbye’ is my favorite cut on the album. To me, it’s a tour de force from start to finish, from the chord progressions of the layered guitars (both acoustic and electric), to the string section, to Buckley’s astonishing vocals (emotional, raw, keening in places). The song opens with slide guitar; at 0:14, we hear the bass riff come in under the slide, the ride cymbal crescendos, and already at 0:25 there’s a catharsis of sorts. The bass line returns at 0:36 and pulls us along to the start of the first verse. We hear the string section first at 1:31, then prominently at 2:26; the stretch from 2:39-2:47 has an subcontinental Indian flavor. The song ends, after a last wordless plea from Buckley at 4:28, with two plaintive notes on a dulcimer.
Take a listen and see how it makes you feel.
This is our last goodbye
I hate to feel the love between us die.
But it’s over
Just hear this and then I’ll go:
You gave me more to live for,
More than you’ll ever know.
Well, this is our last embrace,
Must I dream and always see your face?
Why can’t we overcome this wall?
Baby, maybe it’s just because I didn’t know you at all.
Kiss me, please kiss me,
But kiss me out of desire, babe, and not consolation.
Oh, you know it makes me so angry ’cause I know that in time
I’ll only make you cry, this is our last goodbye.
Did you say, “No, this can’t happen to me”?
And did you rush to the phone to call?
Was there a voice unkind in the back of your mind saying,
“Maybe, you didn’t know him at all,
you didn’t know him at all,
oh, you didn’t know”?
Well, the bells out in the church tower chime,
Burning clues into this heart of mine.
Thinking so hard on her soft eyes, and the memories
Offer signs that it’s over, it’s over.
I didn’t forget my Shakespeare reference: The Old Globe Theatre, in San Diego, recently announced that it will open its 2013-14 season with a new musical, The Last Goodbye, that combines Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with Buckley’s music.
Nick Drake is another beautiful talent in limited supply.