A furiously detailed, deeply smitten biography of father and son musicians Tim and Jeff Buckley, from Entertainment Weekly music critic Browne.
Tim Buckley was a 1960s musician who blended folk, jazz, art song, and rhythm and blues with “a tenor as clear and untainted as Irish air.” He attained cult status but was too gratingly experimental to capture a wide audience. That he was self-obsessed and obnoxious—“No, I don’t play that anymore. If you don’t like it, get the hell out of here,” he would suggest to old fans—didn’t help either. Though Browne is clearly taken with Tim’s music, he doesn’t try to buff his rotten behavior, or tidy up his neglect of abandoned son Jeff. Jeff also turned to music, partly as a way to get free from a miserable home life, Browne suggests, and he was just as wide-ranging as his father and had a voice “as big as a cathedral.” While the father played the failed, misunderstood artist, the son cultivated the look of “a sullen male chanteuse who sang as if he were older, wiser, and more heartbroken than he appeared.” Reading here, it is very hard to get a sense of why these two men so absorb Browne when they come across as ditsy and irresponsible: Tim willful to the point of bitterness and Jeff waffling and erratic. Browne’s music critiques are flabby (of Jeff’s one album: “Grace seemed to float above the earth, scouring the landscape for spiritual fulfillment”) and the details can overwhelm (is it important that Jeff briefly rented a house with a red stucco roof?). That father and son died young is tragic, but doesn’t add up to a compelling story.
Buckley fans will be pleased by the fruits of Browne’s hungry research—but others may be left to wonder what all the fuss was about.