My mother’s father died in the spring of 1995. I went to Belgium for the funeral with my brother and sister, mother and step father. We stayed at my uncle’s house and for the three days we were there he played Jeff Buckley’s Grace constantly. It was a mournful soundtrack and the songs are inseparable from the mental pictures and emotions I keep with me from that trip.
I don’t imagine I would have heard the Buckley record, let alone be so moved by it, unless it had been such an indelible part of saying goodbye to my grandfather, staying in the home of his only son, a man with whom I shared little language but ardent feeling.
That trip and Buckley’s album came to mind today.
The album containing “Hallelujah” came out on an independent label in 1984, and then it languished. See Ms. Simmons’s account for an understanding of why, by 1991, the world was nonetheless ready for a Leonard Cohen tribute album: “I’m Your Fan,” put together by the French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles. This album prompted a major overhaul of “Hallelujah” by John Cale, once of the Velvet Underground, who re-edited the lyrics, coming up with a version that has proved more enduring than Mr. Cohen’s. Mr. Cale’s stark, exquisitely pure rendition, with an emphasis on the song’s eroticism, is by some lights (like this one) the best “Hallelujah” ever recorded.
A remarkable stroke of fate sent Jeff Buckley, then an aspiring young troubadour, to stay in a New York apartment that happened to contain a copy of “I’m Your Fan.” Buckley heard the song and, like many who have heard it, claimed he had no idea who had written it. But he included an intensely, beautifully ethereal version of it on his 1994 album, “Grace,” giving it a young man’s hypercharged sensibility rather than the Cohen-Cale seasoned one. When Buckley died young (as his doppelgänger father, the singer Tim Buckley, had), “Hallelujah” developed a cult following. “Leonard penned it, but Jeff owned it,” Mr. Light writes.
[Photo Credit: jucanlis]