Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley and the Secret Chord that pleased the Lord

Jeff Buckley Grace quote
Jeff Buckley quote

There is some profoundly archetypal message in the lives and deaths of Tim and Jeff Buckley, father and son who never knew each other. They both sang with a heightened intense emotion, a poetry of song that transcends the usual. They both had the power to catalyse emotions in the audience; they were both magnetically alluring to those who came into their orbs. They both put music above commercial gain and they both died before they achieved their full potential. Tim left Jeff’s mother before Jeff was born in 1966 so he only knew his father through his recorded music. They met once but it was brief. The father, Tim Buckley, a singer-songwriter star in the late sixties and early seventies was an Aquarius born on Valentine’s day,  February 14th, 1947; and the son Jeff whose career blossomed for a brief few years in the nineties was born a Scorpio, on 17th November, 1966. These are both ‘fixed’ signs so they were both intensely driven and didn’t give in easily. If Jeff were alive today, he would be 53. I can’t do full justice to this story which deserves longer treatment, but I can hint at the complex parallel signatures in the natal and event charts to cherrypick what pointers the aspects have to reveal.

Tim and Jeff Buckley
Tim and Jeff Buckley, father and son

Jeff Buckley was a highly sensitive and gifted musician, handsome but delicate – some compared him to a wild horse ready to bolt at any moment, somewhat untamed. He was born in the year of the Fire Horse -1966 – said to make those born that year highly strung. He was, as is common of people who observe how Scorpios move, compared to a volcano ready to blast off.  He surprised everyone with his voice when he first appeared on stage in New York in the early 1990s at a tribute to Tim Buckley –people gasped that he sounded so like his father. He has the same look and mannerisms.  No one had any idea there was a son. Gary Lucas (a double Gemini) worked with Jeff later  was the musician who had played with Captain Beefheart. He helped organised the tribute concert. When he first heard the astonishing voice of the young and unknown Jeff, he said that it was no mere imitation, of his father “Jeff was inhabited by the spirit of Tim Buckley.” Jeff’s voice is different from his father’s but it has that same magical elasticity and was able to soar beyond the notes into some ethereal place other voices simply cannot reach.  Jeff played down the comparisons and could get angry when fans asked for Tim’s songs but Gary said that Jeff had the presence of an ‘atomic bomb’ and was ‘on fire’ -this also echoes the Scorpionic twist.

Grace (1994)
Grace (1994)

When he produced his one album in 1994 it was called ‘Grace’. This concept clearly meant a great deal to him as he said of it  “Grace is what matters in anything, especially  life, especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death. That’s a quality I admire very greatly. It keeps you from reaching for the gun too quickly; it keeps you from destroying things too foolishly and sort of keeps you alive.”  Growth, pain, love and death are all straplines of the eighth sign and eighth house matters, said by a true Scorpio sun-sign. He had that quality but it didn’t keep him alive, alas. But there is a story in that too. His eighth house is Pisces, ruled by Neptune and the house guests are Saturn and Chiron sitting together where the wounds are obscured by the grand master (the father?) who would make sexual matters more difficult and intense and leave a scar of abandonment to wrestle with through life. Traditionally, it may also point to a death by water but that is easy to say in hindsight.

Jeff Buckley poster
Jeff Buckley poster

The stellium of planets in Scorpio is extremely powerful –not only is the South Node conjunct the IC, but the story starts nebulously with Neptune, then Mercury the Sun and Venus all within five degrees in the last decan of Scorpio ruled by the Moon. This medley of all the ‘art’ and ‘creative’ planets most definitely describes a native blessed with artistic gifts that are positioned in the sign that digs deep in order to have a profound impact.  He did just that by getting under people’s skins. You don’t just ‘like’ Jeff Buckley, you love and adore him, or you loathe him; there’s no middle ground.

The sign of Taurus, associated with the throat and singing, is on the MC and Jeff quickly became widely  known as being a singer of extraordinary range – from angelic to demonic- with delicacy in the high notes. He was a tenor whose voice could manage four octaves but could also do counter tenor. What is also fascinating is that he lacked the drive to become famous, was anti the star-making machine, even though fame rushed upon him. There is zero Cardinal energy, and for that reason powerful drives to push forward may have had a shadow quality to them, rising up when least expected. He kept record company A&R men dancing around till he was ready. He also had an out of bounds Moon so he broke all the rules and chose to exile himself from ‘stardom.’This Moon opposes Jupiter, so impulsiveness may have ruled him in shifting ways he could not explain. Contradictorily, there is a lot of fixity, as both Sun in Scorpio and Ascendant in Leo are in fixed signs. And if you are worried about the Pluto-Saturn conjunction in January 2020 consider that there are people like Jeff who was born with them in opposition – and his father Tim had Saturn and Pluto conjunct in Leo.

There is a tight rectangle – not the obvious ‘mystic’ type- which has more harmonious aspects, but this one is formed of two sesquiquadrates and two semi-squares that traps in the energy of these to crossed oppositions. There is little in astrological literature said about this formation, but nevertheless it marks out his chart pointing to some tightly concentrated circuit of locked energies. Mars/Uranus sits opposite Saturn/Chiron  which points to wanting to fulfill the promise the father failed to fulfill, also pointing  to ancestors with the stellium in the fourth house, which could also be his father, Tim Buckley who had a gypsy spirit,  troubadour and vagabond, and left a lot of his relationships thinking life was a ‘river’.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Jeff Buckley
Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley lived and breathed Qawwali which is the devotional music of the Sufis. Its most renowned singer was Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Jeff adored this style, calling Kahn his ‘Elvis’. It the type of music that has fanatical devotees will to listen and engage for 5-hour long performances. The singing riffs on poetic devices and improvisation that is described as “jumping off a cliff and fluttering towards heaven” and it is clear Jeff attempted to do just this in his performances being open and experimental going to his edge. He had memorized whole quatrains and ghazzals sung in Urdu and treated his audience sometimes to a rendition of Qawwali singing. “In between the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit… the void’ and with Qawwali  ‘there is only pure devotion  and a fierce virtuosity to grow wings and soar through music.”

The muses
The  9 muses

Jeff was gifted and it would be enough to point to the conjunction of Neptune, the Sun, Mercury and Venus, but to me he was also a great example of someone touched by the muses, divinely inspired, and the astrology of muse asteroids is a fascinating addition to the  astrologer’s colour palette.  They dance around in the background. Brad Pitt, who became obsessed with Jeff Buckley, said that listening to him sing and play goes right to the very source of genius- that indefinable place artists seek to reach but Jeff went there effortlessly. He found the chord that pleased the Lord as the lines from ‘Hallelujah’ go. Melpomene, the muse of tragedy is conjunct his Venus and the Sun and he certainly the dark side of life in his music, loss and grief. Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, is conjunct his MC which opposes that same Venus/Sun/Mercury conjunction creating a dramatic tension that played out in his life. Classic emphasis on his sheer artistry as a musician is that Euterpe, the muse of music, is conjunct his Neptune there in Scorpio, just one degree apart.

The qawwali singing represented this seeking to go beyond is evident in his singing which stretched beyond limits in ‘Hallelujah’ (1994) a song with spiritual and transcendent leanings. He owned this rendition making it his own signature song. He extracts every last drop of devotional and spiritual energy out of it. The song was Leonard Cohen’s but Jeff was inspired by John Cale’s version. Neptune conjunct the sun and Venus would add this kind of rapturous beauty to his voice that touches on the sacred. But also the muse asteroids are present. The muse asteroid  of sacred music Polyhymnia is bi-quintile his sun.  This is so expressive of the sublime tone of which he was capable.

Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley, London , September 1994. (Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

Another cellist  Maria Castro heard of Jeff only after he died but was so inspired by his music that she composed a piece for cello called ‘Eternity.’  This was by Maria Castro. His vocal range was phenomenal; he could sing rock, folk, chanson, ballads, sacred music like qawwali and he so that he could sing the most tragic opera  arias too, doing a heartrending version of Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament’  which has this solemn tone of tragic lamentation and sorrow.

BiWheel Natal and Death
Natal chart and Event chart

In the chart of the time of his death by the river estimated at around 6pm, 30th May, 1997, in Memphis, Scorpio was rising. The Sun opposed Pluto and the Moon opposed Mars which had just edged into impulsive Aries from Pisces by 1 degree. The Moon is conjunct the South node and Mars is conjunct the North Node. This opposition squares Venus in the Eighth house to form a T-square. Chiron was in the 12th house square to Neptune which was at 29 degrees of Capricorn. To contrast this to his natal chart reveals that  transiting Mars  in ? was conjunct his natal triple conjunction of Pluto/Mars/Uranus so it was triggering some of those impulses buried in his turbulent self value. Uranus was also transiting the Moon in Aquarius.  I don’t say any of this lightly; it is just what is there when the natal and death charts are seen in parallel. There is an alignment of his MC to his Ascendant so the personal and the public combine here at this event and news travelled fast plummeting many into grief.  A vigil to his memory sprang up outside Sin-E the cafe which brought him to prominence. Pluto is also separating from a conjunction to Venus/Sun/Mercury so from the Horary point of view, it happened perhaps before 6 pm. There are similar aspects in the chart of Tim Buckley’s death too, where Saturn was square Mars (29 degrees Aries, conjunct Chiron/Jupiter) and transiting Pluto was conjunct his natal Neptune and there were no planets in Earth signs at all.

Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley © Nicola Dill/Corbis

In 1995 Elvis Costello invited Jeff to sing Purcell at the Meltdown festival in London.  He had done Benjamin Britten on ‘Grace’ so it seemed he was capable of dramatic soprano style of ancient music. ‘Dido’s Lament’ (1683-8) contains the lyrics “Remember me, Remember me, but forget my fate.” The fate was that Dido stabbed herself and then put herself on a funeral pyre when Aeneas left her.  Singing this aria to a rock audience astonished many people as it also ominously hinted at Jeff’s early accidental death. The words are ‘Remember me,  Remember me, but ah, forget my fate’ at the Meltdown in 1995.  He said in an interview that people should probably forget him, but at least remember the music. Jeff Buckley’s body was found in the Wolf river days after his disappearance, apparently near Beale Street, home of the Blues.

His close friends said there was something sacrificial in the disappearance of Buckley in the river in that day. One said that there was something cathartic and cleansing about it. He died in the water in twilight, swallowed by a large wave.  Since then the story of lost potential has grown and spawned many songs and a film, and collections of live performances some curated by his mother who said he was still a fun guy to be around sometimes, but that the music inspired awe as to where it came from no one knew.

In keeping with eighth house matters, where the psychic veil is thin, Dave Lory, one of his road managers who was very close to Jeff tells an interesting story. For months after Jeff’s death, he could not talk about it, he was so choked up with emotion, but he did visit a psychic just outside London, confirmed that it was an accident and recognised the bracelet that Jeff had given Dave.  The message was to not blame himself as  it was not his fault. It was as if Jeff was speaking from beyond the grave. Make of that what you will but his death immediately created a kind of cult around this other-worldly voice that was now lost and here we are in Greek myth territory again- the lost father, the self-destructive urges, the son who repeats the father’s narrative while trying to avoid it. It doesn’t get more mythic and dream-like. Can a life lived take a tragic end in order to perform a function for the collective? To restore that connection with the eternal.  He had huge potential and that was cut off yet news spread by word of mouth and by the many live recordings attest to the virtuosity of his singing.  You might say his voice has a ‘transformative’ effect and his death too was a kind of message.  This underscores all the Scorpio themes that threaded through Jeff’s life and were most fully expressed by his death.

 

© Proteus Astrology, November 17th, 2019

References

Browne, D. (2001) Dream Brother: the lives and music of Jeff and Tim Buckley  London: Fourth Estate

Lucas, G.  (2013)  Touched by Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley London. Jawbone Press.

Click the hyperlinks for all online sources and listen to Jeff sing.

 

www.proteusastrology.co.uk

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Kieron is a London-based and trained astrologer at Proteus Astrology on Facebook:

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Kieron has a Certificate in Astrology from the London School of Astrology

He writes for Celestial Vibes Magazine edited by Aswin Balaj.

 

 

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