Living With Ghosts: Jeff Buckley - "Last Goodbye"

In which our hero wrestles with the art of almost and waxes on about the magic of Jeff Buckley...
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I was late to the Jeff Buckley party and yes, I will admit it was his masterful cover of Leonard Cohen's now painfully over-covered version of "Hallelujah" that brought me in the front door several years ago. That may have been my introduction to him but after untold hours listening obsessively to Grace, what was once my favorite song on the record has fallen halfway down the list.

Great music doesn't have to change. We do that enough on our own. We continue to live and, if you're paying any attention at all, learn. We add to our experiences and the songs we knew mean things they never did and songs that would have gone unnoticed years before are profoundly revelatory and revealing.

I wouldn't call myself an expert on heartbreak and breakups but I know a hell of a lot more than I wish I did. Some would say they're all the same and others all different with most of us seeing an in-between, a place where we live variations of a handful of common themes. I don't suppose there's a preferred method of heartbreak but the one in Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye" feels familiar to me in a way it didn't when I first fell in love with this song.

What I initially loved about the song was its sound. It is a stirring epic with swirling string arrangements that sound and feel like something John Paul Jones would have done for Led Zeppelin in their glory years. "Last Goodbye" is grand without being bombastic and that is another remarkable achievement. Those strings don't decorate a bludgeoning riff but instead accent shimmering, chiming guitars.

The snapshot and story of the lyrics have now hit agonizingly close to home and part of what makes it so powerful and devastating is the haunting sense of regret. The time has come for a last goodbye but neither person in this story is better for it. This wasn't supposed to happen. The relationship, to borrow a title from Wilco, was the "art of almost."

The other thing that makes this stand out is when Buckley delivers the climactic vocal where he finds his narrator in disbelief, shocked that it's come to this moment and then faced with the finality; it's over.

I hope those of you listening to "Last Goodbye" fall in love with this because of the ear candy and the impossibly gorgeous voice of Jeff Buckley rather than finding yourself somewhere in the middle of this song. Regardless of why, it is a masterwork and a testament to the immense talents of a great artist taken far too soon.