IT IS 10:30 P.M., MONDAY, JUNE 2. “It’s still early,” says Chris Walker, hopefully. “He might show up.” Jeff Buckley, whose 1994 album Grace established the 30-year-old singer-songwriter as more than just the son of the late folksinger Tim Buckley, had played Monday night gigs at Barristers in Memphis since February. But despite the wishful thinking of Walker and a few other fans at the quiet club, Buckley would not be coming. According to police, Buckley and a buddy had trekked down to the local harbor the previous Thursday night. The singer had waded into the chilly Mississippi, begun to sing and swim on his back—then, in a passing tugboat’s wake, he vanished. Six days later, on June 4, Buckley’s body was found floating downriver, still in Memphis, police said. His mother, Mary Guibert, had already presumed him drowned. “It is now time to celebrate a life that was golden,” she said in a statement.
While police saw no sign of drug or alcohol abuse, Buckley’s untimely demise recalls that of his father, who died in 1975 at age 28 of an accidental overdose. His father’s career seemed all but over at the time of his death; Buckley’s was just blossoming. His soulful high tenor and haunting lyrics had won him a fervent following; he was about to record a second studio CD, this one in Memphis—out of the spotlight he shunned. In a note to fans last December, Buckley said he was seeking “that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender.” Perhaps presciently, Caroline Sullivan, music critic for Britain’s Guardian, once likened Buckley to early-grave bards. “You can see a bit of Jim Morrison in there,” she said. “And of Byron, Shelley and Keats as well.”