By Carrie Mok
October 16, 2013
It must be frustrating for Gary Lucas. He’s clearly a passionate musician, and has received plenty of critical praise, and yet he will always be the person standing in the shadow cast by the death of his former collaborator Jeff Buckley in 1997. Lucas even fears it to the point where he thinks that his own tombstone will read “RIP GARY LUCAS—ex-Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley guitarist.” But the entire concept behind this frustration is contradictory — Lucas doesn’t want to be known as Buckley’s guitarist but here he is having written a book about his time as that very thing.
Touched By Grace: My Time With Jeff Buckley is frustrating in that Lucas states that the book is neither a biography about Jeff nor himself. He spends half the time talking about his background and how he came to be such a worldly guitarist, while the other half is spent talking about he came to meet boy-wonder Jeff Buckley. That is why it’s annoying. Lucas succeeds in convincing the reader that he is a talented musician by listing all his printed compliments from the press in the prologue, but in a way it seems as if Lucas is also trying to convince himself that outside of Buckley, he is still a guitarist that people will know and adore.
His lack of confidence really shows in the structure of the book. If Lucas used the book as an autobiography with chapters about Buckley, the book would be a more compelling read; rather he ends up writing a book which is neither here nor there in content. His reflection on past works and bands is gripping and a great insight into the behind-the-scenes work of signing record deals and working in A&R, yet Lucas could have divulged more of his life pre-Buckley. For instance, in the first chapter, Lucas talks about having spent time in Asia and refers to a woman he met over there and married in a single sentence. Having already been engrossed in his working life and career aspects in that chapter, it would have been fascinating to hear another aspect of Lucas’ life where he whisked his wife away to live in America with him.
But then you realise that there’s been a false agenda all this time; namely that Lucas really did want to talk about Buckley. However, the question of why he wrote so much about his own background and why he wanted to establish his own legitimacy as a musician outside of Buckley in this book remains to be answered.
When Lucas marvels over Buckley, his feelings come across like true adoration and the descriptions of their jamming sessions are beautiful to read. Their relationship is a bit The Great Gatsby-esque if you imagine that Buckley is the elusive Gatsby who is full of curiosities and unfortunately meets a tragic end, and Lucas is the more down-to-earth narrator in the book, Nick, who believes that nobody on Earth will ever be like Gatsby to him in the way that Buckley is to Lucas.
In discussing the time he spent with Jeff Buckley, the fact that Lucas had a story he really wanted to tell can’t be doubted. Unfortunately the structure and the identity of the book is a bit of a mish-mash, which ultimately makes it a somewhat unsatisfying read. If Lucas had chosen to write a book solely about his time with Buckley, this might have been paired with a separate autobiography about his own career. This would have made both books much more engaging and genuinely strong pieces of work, rather than the current unconvincing medium of Touched By Grace.
Touched By Grace: My Time With Jeff Buckley is available from amazon (here).