Jeff Buckley & The Media

by Leigh Paatsch
Oct. 1, 1997

[This interview was originally published in The Big Issue]

Special thanks to Ashley Brideson for transcribing this article:

“Room With A Fuse: Jeff Buckley & The Media — Telling It Like It Was”


Look, to be completely honest, I will miss Jeff Buckley. I would be playing the devil’s curmudgeon if I tried to state otherwise. I have listened to his debut album Grace a couple of hundred times. It was a solid, if somewhat flawed collection of songs that pointed to some glorious work a few albums down the track.

Sure, Buckley had an unusual voice, but I’m not entirely convinced that this was the key to his esoteric appeal. No, although the Buckley throat was an instrument capable of hitting many notes, it was only ever capable of holding one tone – a groove, a rut, a root of wistful self-tragedising that somehow miraculously morphed into maudlin mantras for the muddled classes. Such sounds were the epitome of ‘difficult’ easy listening, and when the mood was right, it sure came across as the real deal (to these jaded ears, anyway).

But that was then, and this is now. Jeff Buckley is dead. Went for a fully-clothed paddle in a choppy ol’ river ’round midnight. As you do.

His is a sad loss. However, Grace will remain as a passable testament to what the man was all about – a budding talent doomed to never fully flower. We didn’t get to know him, but then again, going on the clues threaded through the stylised sonic tapestry of Grace, Buckley probably wasn’t all that well-acquainted with himself, either.

This is why I am resolutely convinced that Jeff Buckley would have been seriously nauseated by the canonising claptrap that the world media dumped onto the public following the initial reports of his disappearance.

In particular, a scatterbrained cluster of Australian TV, press and radio entities were disturbingly determined to fast-track their audiences into an unwarranted global grieving process. The corn-fed coverage of Jeff Buckley’s death in this country is just one symptom of a chronic 90’s affliction that eats away at the common sense of ‘commentators’ who take their popular culture far too seriously, far too late.

A big cheerio, then, to the ghoulish goons behind the mike at pseudo-commercial yoof broadcaster Triple J. Their pathetic amplification of the Buckley situation – delivered via a local patter just this side of crocodile-teared morning – was just the latest incidence of the Jay’s latter-day desperation to be sooo plugged in… when all they continue to be is plain plugged-out.

(If Triple J’s saint-making savvy sounded sort of familiar, just cast your mind back to their dimwitted dalliance with the death of Kurt Cobain. This was one helluva big moment presented on a platter to motor-mouthed mother-hen of riot grungesse, Helen Razer. Her many years of practice playing Courtney Love dress-ups led her to believe, in the heat of the moment, that she actually _was_ Cobain’s widow placating the distressed masses. Chump-pain radio, it definitely was.)

If the rock-jock soundbite termites who slavishly followed Triple J’s lead weren’t bad enough, the half-arsed halo placed atop Buckley’s memory by journalists who should have known better was just plain embarrassing.

The absolute nadir was the poetic pocket-pissing that appeared in the lifestyle columns of a nationally-respected broadsheet. One screwball scribe who did the Buckley obit bit when way over the edge of the ouija board with her prognostications upon Jeff’s entree to the other side. Here was unabashed balderdash for which a special Walkley Award should be struck, intimating that Buckley floated down-stream, his arms outstretched to the stars, singing hymns to the angels who would soon caress his cherubic brow… PUH-LEEEESE!

The eulogising didn’t stop there, either. As fate would have it, Buckley did a small promo tour of Australia during 1995. Here was the perfect opportunity for every two-bit hack who saw Buckley play during that time to let forth with soothsaying salvos that would ensure the singer’s wake could continue for some time to come. The hollow hallmark of these pieces generally boiled down to the writer becoming something of an aura analyst.

Strange, that.

If they could all see ‘the haunting in his eyes’, ‘the monkey on his back’, and that ‘it was obvious that this world was not for him much longer’, why didn’t they cut out the waiting process and just throw Jeff Buckley in the nearest river right there and then?

©1997 by The Big Issue. All rights reserved