by Caitlin Moran
May 2, 1994
“Orgasm Addict,” by Caitlin Moran
[This interview was originally published in B-Side Magazine, Fall 1994]
“There is no name yet for the places he or his voice can’t go.”
They said that about Sixties archangel Tim Buckley and they’re saying it about his son, Jeff Buckley. Caitlin Moran gets orgasmic with the multi-octave vocalist.
Oh, no, Missus.
Jeff Buckley swishes through Sony’s New York offices with seven or eight lackies trailing behind him. They’re showing him the way to The Gold Room. He could probably find it himself, but all of Sony US seem to have signed contracts binding them to fulfill Buckley’s every need. When we finally reach The Gold Room, Jeff closes the door behind him. How many Jeff Buckleys does it take to change a light-bulb?
“It’s OK, Jeff, we’ll do it for you. No, no–we’ll do it. Just sit down. Do you need anything else?” He grins. He’s aware. He’s aware, all right. So are we, now.
The Big Cat Record offices, New York, are in a dirty brown street that smells of malted chocolate and exhaust fumes. The building itself seems to be all about gentility and utility. Basically, it’s a dump-and-a-half. The lifts take 17 minutes to arrive. A huddle of Hungarian students waits perpetually in the lobby. Jeff Buckley used to [be] signed to Big Cat.
The Sony Buildings are in the most expensive part of NY–the exhaust fumes are so dense here that the tops of buildings disappear in a cloud of neon-lit pollution. The trees are decorated with fairy lights. The buildings themselves make me experience infinity for the first time: the walls are too far away to see. There are uniformed cleaners scuttling around, constantly buffing and polishing the already spotless marble and chrome. Every so often, a television flashes up maps, to show you where you are. The air conditioning pumps out what appears to be Chanel No. 5. Jeff Buckley is now signed to Sony. Companies as big as the UK government don’t employ lackies to run around after nobody. Wosser story here, then?
IN THE BEGINNING…
So we were in this tiny room in the arse-end of London, right, snorkling gin through our noses and laughing as John McEnroe started snogging Chrissie Hynde.
“Love all!” we cried, amusingly. “We cannot believe it! Your tongue was over the line!” A friend so amazingly good at guessing the Next Big Thing that she seems to “mainline” The Future into her veins at the weekend, has dragged me down here, muttering such words as “genius” and “obsession,” as is her wont. Some son of a famous dead man is appearing tonight–and I, she, John McEnroe and Chrissie Hynde are waiting, as Radiohead would put it, for something to happen.
Suddenly, this boy wanders onstage, skin lit holy by the spotlight, and a guitar tucked under his arm. The way he moves suggest street-level royalty–the cool friend of a friend you’re too nervous to ever speak to, but spend hours practicing how to light cigarettes like they do. His hair was rumpled and appealing–how do you get hair styled like that? “By fucking wild-eyed on the floor,” my friend explained.
The boy starts singing. It is his album, Grace. As each song unravels, it fills you with a desperation that sucks at the heart, and puts sparks in the eyes. It moves through the blood and makes the veins glow. It crackles across the skin and leaves scorch marks. Imagine if you could actually sing the sound of all hope leaving. Imagine if you knew the syllables of falling in love. If you had fingers that could coax a guitar to sound like the sun in your lover’s eyes, the smell of hot skin, the taste of their throat.
Kristin Hersh once posited a theory that love is like an addictive poison–one lick of it and you crave the next hit. Anyone who hears Jeff Buckley music will spend the next month craving the next hit.
LET THE BLOKE GET A WORD EDGEWISE, CAITLIN
“Music is my mother…and my father…it is my work and my rest…my blood…my compass…my love.”
Jeff is hunched over a pile of old take-away cartons and a head-sized ashtray full of dead cigarettes. He has spent the afternoon explaining his soul away to regional papers and fanzines over the phone. Shaving has not been an issue for the last three days, at least. Neither has sleep, judging from his sore eyes and greased hair. Buckley talks weird–like he’d learnt how to have conversations by reading poetry and New Age “Self Help” books. When his phrasing turns rococo and sounds slightly stilted, you cringe until you realize it appears awkward because he’s singing it in his head. He can hear the music and you can’t.
“I try to make my music joyful–it makes me joyful–to feel the music soar through the body. It changes your posture, you raise your chin, throw your shoulders back, walk with a swagger. When I sing, my face changes shape. If feels like my skull changes shape…the bones bend. “Grace” and “Eternal Life” (from the album) are about the joy that music gives–the, probably illusory, feeling of being able to do anything. Sex is like that. You become utterly consumed by the moment. “Apparently orgasm is the only point where your mind becomes completely empty–you think of nothing for that second. That’s why it’s so compelling–it’s a tiny taste of death. Your mind is void–you have nothing in your head save white light. Nothing save that white light and ‘YES!’–which is fantastic. Just knowing ‘Yes.’
Jeff smiles, and his teeth show. He has wolf-teeth.
So what noises do you make when you come?
Well, me and my mates have all seen you baby-scat-singing live. You make wibbly sounds and go “Awwuhagh” a lot, as does Bjork. We’ve got a bet on that you sound like that. Do you sound like that?
“Well, no…,” he seems genuinely thrown for a minute. “Although it’s very flattering that you should think I can imitate the sound of orgasm. However, some of the pictures that have been taken of me onstage have brought back a couple of happy memories when I look at them–y’know, head thrown back, jaw locked, sightless eyes…”
Jeff does his orgasm face. One can almost see a speech-bubble drawn in the air, saying, “And this is my 25-minutes encore version of “Kanga-Roo.”
Talking of orgasms, did you and Liz Cocteau Twin ‘do’ it? Everyone thought you were an ‘item’ some months back.
“Oh no. Oh no,” Jeff looks shocked. “We were just friends–very, very close friends. She’s such a good person, so sweet. Fucking her would be like fucking a sister–no, Liz and I were never bed buddies. That was all lies.
“I am fucking Courtney, though,” he adds. “All those rumors are true, obviously.”
Jeff is lying so much, his pants are on fire.
“NIGHTMARES…oh, I have wicked dreams sometimes.” Jeff pulls on his hair. “Last night’s was stunningly twisted, the King of Bad Dreams. There was this artist who wanted to show me his art; took me to this warehouse out in a bleak, bleak piece of desert, showed me into his barn. It turns out his art is human bodies, with the skin eased away from the bone with razors, and woven into baskets, into sculptures of living skin. all of his works of art are still alive–but their vocal chords are nicked and they are blind–they writhe and writhe, with their bodies twisted and out of shape by this man’s vision. And he’s looking to me for conformation that his art is valid and special. He keeps saying, ‘It’s shit, isn’t it?’ But in the way that you do when you want the other person to go, ‘No, no, it’s brilliant. And then he turns on me, knife glinting in his hand, and tells me he wants me to be his greatest work of all. I run…” Jeff shudders, and looks up with dark, troubled eyes. Well, that’s not just eating cheese before you go to sleep, is it?
“No,” says Jeff. “No.”
So why does this man do what he does? And why is a company as big as Sony so interested? Well, partly because he’s had a restless, rootless upbringing, and wants to feel part of something, a member of a gang. When he talks about his band, he speaks of them in the way that one would a brother, a sister, a lover. He obviously enjoys the camaraderie and the closeness; the in-jokes and the we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. Buckley’s only history that he can speak of without anger or regret is that which he makes himself, through his music and his gigs; his only childhood (partly robbed by bringing up his younger brother, partly from being the “man of the house” from such an early age) is when he stands, glowing and stripped in the spotlight, eyes screwed up and scat-singing, reeling off sherbert-bubbles of angel-phrasing unto eternity.
Why are Sony so interested? Well, they’ve got over two hours of live concerts in the vault, in case those brooding good looks turn out to have serious cause behind them. And if he lives, well, critical adulation always converts into units if a pretty boy’s on the receiving end. His face is his fortune–and his downfall.
No wonder the happiest I’ve ever seen him is pulling grotesque faces for Steve Gullick. The prettiest genius around, more’s the pity.
©1994 by B-Side Magazine. All rights reserved