On the evening of May 29th, 1997, Jeff Buckley strode fully clothed into Wolf River Harbor, a slack water channel of the Mississippi River in Memphis, and disappeared, only for his body to be discovered a few days later on June 4th. He was 30 years old.
Given his status as a nascent rock star par excellence and the demise of his father (musician Tim Buckley) via a heroin overdose, the headlines seemed destined to write themselves. Lured in by the lurid fascination that compels us to feast on the gory details of a life cut short, mystery abounded as the music press sought the same narrative that had fitted his father and too many others before him.
The truth was altogether more moribund but no less tragic for it. This was a morbidly simple accident. Despite the fact that he’d swam there several times before, something unforeseen happened that evening to leave his loved ones bereft and his fans forever wondering what other masterpieces would have been added to his legacy.
And what a legacy it was, despite his life’s brevity. In Grace (1994) he released one of the greatest debut albums of all time. An album that framed his majestic, angelic voice with a surprisingly romantic and powerfully poetic musicianship. And although work had begun on his follow up album (My Sweetheart the Drunk), these only existed as formative versions that eventually saw the light of day a year after his death, in 1998. Grace was both his monument and epitaph.
That a light should burn so brightly for such a brief time is wretched. That it teaches us something of life, is a gift. It would do us well to remember that musicians—in spite of our adoration and worship—are still subject to the whims and fancies of this fickle life where no guarantees are given and it is our privilege to hear, love and share their art. Live each day well and leave a legacy of brilliance as Buckley did. What more could you want from this fragile life of ours?