Jeff Buckley Knew He Was “Going To Die Young”

Yet singer proposed marriage and neared closure on an uncompromising second album just days before his tragic drowning, 20 years ago this week.

Jeff Buckley

JEFF BUCKLEY ALWAYS GAVE the impression of being in some way other-worldly. “Not too long after we met, he said, ‘You know, I’m going to die young,’” says Joan Wasser, the musician (aka Joan As Policewoman) to whom Buckley proposed marriage just days before his death.

The singer and songwriter’s last months in Memphis, TN, were spent in an emotional and creative ferment, moving forward a second album that would eventually emerge, unfinished and patched-together, as Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk. But friends and acquaintances had sensed an unease that seemed to presage his tragic drowning in the Mississippi river on May 29, 1997.

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MOJO 283: Jeff Buckley, Chuck Berry, Christine McVie and some group from Liverpool…

“I feel like Memphis walked him down the aisle,” his friend Tammy Shouse told Charlie Moss in the issue MOJO magazine currently on sale in the US. “Because, he was dreaming about his death and he knew that something was up, and he felt it.”

Yet all of those involved in the making of his second album felt that something great was coming.

“He definitely wanted to make a much grittier album than Grace,” guitarist Michael Tighe tells Moss. “He often would say that he wanted to make music that would scare people. And he was into the idea of dividing his audience. He knew that a lot of his audience wouldn’t like this album and he was energized and excited by that.”

As part of MOJO magazine’s in-depth tribute, Buckley’s manager Dave Lory offers a heartbreaking first-hand account of the moments, hours and days after being informed of Buckley’s disappearance, then death. “Putting the phone down,” writes Lory, “I felt like I’d let go of a lifebelt at sea, a slow-motion pulse of panic and confusion.”

At Sony, Buckley’s label, a meeting was called with unseemly haste. Lory’s mood was raw.

“I had absolutely no faith in Sony to do the right thing by Jeff,” writes Lory. “I was furious that this meeting about posthumous releases had been called so soon. I’d had a ton of calls from distressed Sony employees who also thought it was insensitive. I went around as many desks as I could to support those who were in bits over Jeff’s death.”

Twenty years later, Jeff Buckley remains a vivid presence in the lives of those who knew him, worked with him or were affected by his music. In North America, copies of MOJO 283, including our fulsome Jeff Buckley memorial feature, are on newsstands now.

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Jeff Buckley in MOJO 283: “He often would say that he wanted to make music that would scare people.”

PHOTO: Getty

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