Author: Lisa J. Lehr
My first awareness of Jeff Healey was when I heard "Angel Eyes" on the station that I began listening to when I moved to a new place. This was 2006, so I had no clue the song was from Jeff Healey Band's first album, See the Light, released in 1988.
My first awareness that he had died was a link on an Internet news site saying something like "Blind Canadian musician dies." Well, I hadn't known that Jeff was either blind or Canadian, so no one came to mind; I clicked and there it was: Jeff Healey of Jeff Healey Band had died at age 41 on the afternoon of March 2, 2008.
Under any circumstances, a death at age 41 is a sad event. I was curious to know what had happened, but more importantly, what kind of man the world had just lost. My quest for information took me online to an encyclopedia entry about his life, to news about his performances, to his available recordings, and finally to a series of YouTube videos.
While the official sources provided the basics, such as when and where he was born (March 25, 1966, Toronto, Ontario); why he was blind (retinoblastoma in his first year of life); and how he died (metastases from the original cancer, which became pretty much a lifelong struggle), the comments from his fans really brought Jeff to life.
Here's a YouTube sampling as of a week and a half after the news: Jeff Healey Band "Angel Eyes" live UKTV performance in 1989, Jeff Healey Band "Angel Eyes" music video, and Jeff Healey "See the Light" (live), combined, have over 713,000 views and more than 2500 comments. Since Jeff's talents encompassed several styles of music, from jazz to blues to soft rock to harder rock, it is reasonable to expect that his fans come from a similarly broad demographic. Yet from young kids to those older than Jeff, the comments are universally adoring.
Some praise his music: amazing...outstanding talent...one of the best.
Some his character: nice and genuine...a true gentleman...a great human being...a true Canadian hero.
And some capture the whole man: an inspiration to all of us...a beautiful song, a beautiful voice, a beautiful man.
Lots of "love ya, Jeff." Lots of "I wept when I heard." Lots of "such a loss."
Without benefit of having been a longtime fan, I wanted to know him better. I watched the video clips of his performances, sometimes with the sound turned off, and sometimes just listened with my eyes closed. And each experience drew me in deeper.
One repeated theme in the comments was "I didn't know he was blind." Well, the complete mastery he has over not only his instrument but also his physical space is something to behold. Sure, lots of blind people become accomplished musicians; many come to mind immediately. But the way Jeff moves around, holding the guitar every which way...I read that once someone in the audience threw him a glass of water and he caught it.
His being blind doesn't make that amazing. It just makes it more amazing.
And then there are the gentle love songs like "Angel Eyes." Jeff was a mere 22 years old when this song was recorded, but in songs like this you can really appreciate the beauty of his voice. Not all rock musicians can really sing, but Jeff can...I mean, could. And that angelic face--are there any girls in the audience who don't wish he were singing directly to them?
I get the sense that Jeff Healey was underappreciated during his time here. Certainly there are musicians less talented, less likable, less enjoyable to watch--yet more famous--than he. It troubles me to think I almost missed knowing Jeff ever existed. If the radio wasn't still playing this one song after almost 20 years, I never would have heard of him, and the fact that he had left us would barely have crossed my radar.
Yet in honor of his amazing talents and his extraordinariness as a human being, I hope he becomes better known in the future. I'd love to see a series of tributes to the amazing and much-loved Jeff Healey--a documentary, a movie, of course a book. We owe it to him...more to the point, I suppose, we owe it to ourselves.
Goodbye, Jeff Healey. Thanks for being with us.
Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance copywriter and ghostwriter.
Visit her blog at http://justrightcopy.com/wordpress and her website at http://www.justrightcopy.com
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