Jeff Buckley’s mother Mary Guibert was never so involved in her son’s career as she is now, touring the world to promote his posthumous live album, Mystery White Boy, not only speaking to the media but the fans themselves.
She’s not even certain Buckley would have wanted this live material released, but says it’s something that might have bided some time for him to work on his next studio album (the demos for which were released as Sketches for My Sweetheart, the Drunk). Buckley was about to start rehearsals for the album the night he drowned in the Mississippi River almost three years ago.
“As it was, he was pressured to get an album out right away, as soon as he got off touring,” Guibert says. “He’d been on tour for two-and-a-half years nonstop. He was rung out. And even though he had plenty of material in the hopper that he could finish up and polish off, he was a very explorational guy. Those demo tapes that he did in Memphis indicated that he was going in an edgier direction.”
Before the enigmatic singer-songwriter’s untimely death, Guibert says Buckley would talk with her about maintaining his equilibrium and controlling the growing fame, but she never had input into the music or his career, beyond encouragement. “My job was to show up and applaud and point and say, ‘That’s my boy.'”
Now, since taking on the assembly of the live recording and full-length video, Live in Chicago, in dealing with Columbia Records and Sony affiliates internationally, Guibert has added words like “junket,” “recoupable” and “cross fade” to her vocabulary.
“It was a pretty steep learning curve for the first couple of years. I’m just now beginning to feel comfortable with everything,” she says of dealing with the music industry. Although Jeff’s father Tim Buckley was a folk singer (who died of a drug overdose in 1975), Guibert happily abandoned thoughts of a singing career to raise Jeff (she has another son by her second marriage).
In promoting Mystery White Boy, Guibert is getting a better understanding of the insane schedule her son might have endured with the release of 1993’s EP, Live At Sin-e, and 1994’s debut album, Grace. She once did nineteen interviews in one day from Paris. She has also been hosting special “fan appreciation” events in Canada, America and Europe, consisting of listening sessions and question-and-answer periods.
“They usually have really wonderful questions to ask,” says Guibert of Buckley’s fans. “So many people want to know, what he was like as a child? What was it like to listen to his music?”
So what was it like for a mother to pour through hours of soundboard recordings of her deceased son? “Wonderfully heinous,” she answers. Buckley’s voice itself was haunting with its beauty and erratic screams.
“It was beautiful and it was awful. There were times, for example, when I heard the rendition of ‘Grace’ that’s on this album, I had to stop. I had to stop and cry. I couldn’t go back to listening for an hour.”
When Guibert and co-producer Michael Tighe (Buckley’s guitarist) finished the task, the resulting album was pieced together from seven performances in Germany, Australia, France, Seattle and San Francisco, without losing what Guibert calls its sense of “continuous performance.”
“I know when it came to certain things, that he liked them messy or unkempt or it shouldn’t be so smooth. That was one of the reasons I didn’t edit any of [the songs] for time.
“Jeff was so courageous with his work. He just leapt off that precipice into whatever it was that occurred to him, and if he failed, big deal. Certainly, listening to the concerts, he didn’t always hit the high notes. But the fact that he tried with a particular note and the way that his voice cracked at that particular moment was even more effective than hitting the note right.”