Garland Jeffreys: The King Of In Between


Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

Garland Jeffreys: The King Of In Between
"In her poem to her husband, Claire constantly directs the attention of the viewer to his personal life, as a way to understand his unique creative process." | Photo: Courtesy of DOC NYC

As one of New York's unsung musical giants, Garland Jeffreys encompasses a rich tradition of artistic experimentation. His music revealed Seventies America to foreign audiences while at home, his albums got lost within a busy industry driven by stiff categorisation. Claire Jeffreys, Garland's wife, stitches together TV interviews, radio snippets and personal videos, looking earnestly at a career that was treated superficially by some but was beloved by many.

The archival collage takes the viewer back in time, looking at a burgeoning New York musical scene with which Garland had a bumpy relationship. Inspired by folk and soul, the mixed-heritage singer isn’t guided by one genre but absorbs the styles of others and filters them through personal experience. He is at home writing protest music, love songs or party tunes, establishing himself as an archetypal eclectic artist. This status is explored through personal accounts and interviews with peers, which paint an image of frustration directed at an industry that turned its back on Garland’s intimate approach to songwriting.

The constant dialogue between his life and art is mirrored by back-and-forth editing that reveals intimate details of significant circumstances. His clashes with the industry's racism shed light on a fundamental issue that affected many of his peers. Infuriated by the racial tensions around him, he wrote Don't Call Me Buckwheat, a 1992 album that the interviewees hail as a potent dissection of American bigotry. Equally, his relationship with his father pushed him to pour his emotions into his art and create meaningful songs that garnered attention. Garland's struggle with this aspect of his childhood is portrayed in an emotional montage of contrasting identities. Once an angry performer, recounting a story of abuse, he is now a compassionate father who has exorcised the ghosts of his past through art.

Struggling to fit within the labels of a business that sees his music through the superficial lens of race, Garland meets like-minded musicians who accept and promote him. Experimental artist Laurie Anderson and rock giant Bruce Springsteen express their deep admiration for his story and embrace the distinctive music born out of it. The medley of praises is a testament to a talent that refused classification over decades in which he was overlooked for all the wrong reasons.

In her poem to her husband, Claire constantly directs the attention of the viewer to his personal life, as a way to understand his unique creative process. The musician is presented as confused, offended and determined, emotions which made his journey worthwhile. Taking nothing for granted, he embraces his unobserved career. It's a body of work so underrated that Jeopardy! contestants have a hard time giving answers about it. But that's the point. Garland Jeffreys is not a pop culture icon. He is an artist whose deeply personal style stands on its own, without relying on prestige or pretentious accolades.

Reviewed on: 16 Nov 2023
Share this with others on...
Garland Jeffreys: The King Of In Between packshot
An in-depth look at the underrated career of an idiosyncratic New York singer-songwriter.

Director: Claire Jeffreys

Year: 2023

Runtime: 70 minutes

Country: US


DOC NYC 2023

Search database:

Related Articles:

Owning it