He wants to freak you

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"But 'So Real' has an insistence, and 'Eternal Life' is probably the most conventional form. There's a sort of collective consciousness that has heard these forms over and over again, and they've heard them done well. They've heard 'Johnny B. Goode' and everything from Son House to the Cramps, and we all know this. People remember forms and everything, and I don't need to do them again. I'd rather just do something I've never heard before."

If anything, Grace comes off as an experiment in sound and language, as though Buckley were trying to find that place where they join and become inseparable.

The lyrics of a song like "So Real" ("We walked around till the moon got full like a plate, and the wind blew an invocation and I fell asleep at the gate") mean nothing (and are perhaps a bit laughable) when seen out of context. But when heard through Buckley's impossibly high voice, when heard over this dramatic and sparse music that seethes and shifts and abruptly erupts for just a second, they seem like the wisest words ever written.

Buckley is not a poet in the strictest definition of the word, no more than Bob Dylan was a poet. They are, however, extraordinary musicians, songpoets who create words to be accompanied by music that accentuates the lyrics, that heightens the impact of an image ("Broken down and hungry for your love with no way to feed it") or underscores the emotion contained within a simple word like "love." Grace is a haunting record in that respect--dark and tortured, difficult to listen to all the way through without coming away feeling there's no hope left in the world.

"Music is that world that I feel makes sense because it does transcend trend, the troubles of convention, the errors of convention," Buckley says. "It also aligns with the things that always will be, which is good and fortifying. Everything I am is reflected in music. But the problem is that it does transcend and does bring you into these fuckin' areas that are so ugly and black and chaotic and cancerous that you don't want to look at them. But you have to anyway--either through you or through other people."

Near the end of the interview, Buckley recounts a story from his childhood, using it to explain his music. When he was a kid living in California, he knew an elderly couple: he was a bitter wheelchair-bound World War II veteran; she was a mean-tempered woman given to erratic bouts of screaming. Every day, Buckley would go to their house, wheel the man outside, help him out of his chair, and let the "crabby old soldier" hold on to Buckley's shoulder as they walked around his yard. It was during the World Series, Buckley recalls, and they'd often talk about the Pittsburgh Pirates' chances against the Oakland A's. For his trouble, Buckley would get two dollars a day.

"I was trying to describe this to someone about feelings that have no names, sensations people feel all the time," Buckley says. "I said to him, 'Do you know that feeling that you feel when you know somebody who's going to die or who's terribly sick and you feel like your thighs are tingling, like, that death tingle and that uncomfortable feeling you'd get in your stomach?' The things we're talking about simply have no language to speak of...

"But I like literal stuff, too. I wanna freak you. I love those fuckin' R&B guys, those really literal, 'Girl, take your clothes off but leave your shoes on, I'm gonna freak you all night, wax your body down with love oils'--totally tacky and clumsy and material sex about satins and furs and 'I'm gonna do anything for ya,' and it's all a lie.

"It's good, though. I'm makin' up a song like that called 'Chocolate.' I love sex songs, but I don't like most sex songs. There's a song coming out of me called 'Chocolate.' It's just about how good"--Buckley pauses just for a split second--"pussies feel. And everything. I...love...it.

"I do love it--the way people make a moment out of nothing together, and they must show themselves, and they are naked and have a special language sometimes. Lots of things are being formed in my mind like rocks, like planets, and I'm fighting for every spare moment. So I'm constantly daydreaming about them and talking about them just so they'll be in my mind. Otherwise, I'll be buried in phone interviews and gigs and healing my hand and bad food."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky