Gary Lucas  
From critic Rob Patterson:

These days the rock and popular music that preceded today's sounds has become nearly as much a medium of books as it has recordings. It's only natural that a writer like myself who has covered and commented on the music in print frequently reads them.

Biographies and books about musical artists are a very mixed bag indeed, running the gamut in terms of quality from shallow and adoring to works that genuinely explore the lives and work of creative personalities with depth and perceptivity. One genuine stand-out on many counts I recently read is "Touched By Grace: My Time With Jeff Buckley" by Gary Lucas.

Full disclosure: I've known Lucas since the late 1970s, and since we became friends on Facebook, we've gone from acquaintances to enjoying a closer friendship. (That's what that site should theoretically do for people, right?) We first met when we both were being considered for a job writing ad copy for CBS Records, which Lucas was hired for. And rightly so, as I never could have come up with the brilliant line he wrote for The Clash that perfectly suited the band and the tenor of their times and the group's place within them: "The Only Band That Matters."

I didn't know that Lucas was also a guitarist, and an awesomely talented one at that, until I saw a signed promo picture for the legendary Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band on the wall of a dry cleaning shop in the Manhattan neighborhood where Lucas and I both lived. And there Gary was in the band of one of the most visionary musical creators of the last half century.

He has since become one of my favorite players: a musician of not just exceptional skill but also stunning versatility, depth, creativity and originality. And one whose collaborative nature has found him working with a plethora and wide spectrum of other musical artists, bringing a delicious imagination and empathic musical brilliance to their artistic interactions.

That's just what Lucas did with Buckley, the son of 1960s post-folk visionary singer-songwriter and cult legend Tim Buckley, who died in 1975 at age 28. Though the younger Buckley — who also died young at age 30 in 1997 — barely knew his father, the man's shadow loomed over Jeff's life and suffused his emotional make-up. The son's astounding voice echoed that of his father; his physical resemblance to his progenitor also made it almost seem like the offspring was an artistic ghost reborn.

Lucas and Buckley met and played together at the 1991 "Greetings From Tim Buckley" tribute concert to Jeff's father in Brooklyn that launched the younger singer to immediate prominence in the New York City music scene (and is recreated with stunning accuracy in the independent film of the same name that I wrote about in my "Populist Picks" column here a few months back). They later co-wrote what are Buckley's two most brilliant and enduring songs, "Grace" (the title track of the one acclaimed album Jeff released while alive) and "Mojo Pin," and Lucas brought Jeff into his band Gods and Monsters.

"Touched By Grace" isn't just a recollection of the time the two worked together. It's also a story of brotherly and creative love and betrayal as Buckley won a major label record deal, in part thanks to the musical and career momentum that resulted from his association and work with Lucas. Few if any tomes capture the all-too-common near yin/yang found in talented musical creators like this book — the way they can all but seduce others into their orbit yet ruthlessly abandon them in their lust for success and affirmation. It also shows the seamy underbelly of how record companies and their executives operate and the catty internal maneuvering found in local music scenes filled with aspirants to greater glory.

If you want to know the truth of the full range of how all that works, there's no better book than "Touched By Grace." Especially as Lucas shows a rare and highly humane, yes, grace, in writing about Buckley and the complexities and contradictions of their personal and music business relationship and creative partnership, especially given how the singer basically threw the guitarist under the bus in his lust of success. It's as red-blooded and fully-fleshed portrait of the mercurial nature of musical genius as I've ever read. And though its title refers to how Lucas feels blessed to have know and worked with an artist who deserves the overused tag of "genius," it was as much if not more so Jeff Buckley who was touched by grace to have collaborated with Lucas and have his talent, soul and all-too-brief comet of a career recollected by such an empathetic and truly fair chronicler as Lucas.