Buckley - Happy/Sad
you're in a recording studio, you have time and money, so
you go into this dreamland,"
says Tim Buckley.
that's exactly what he does.
a peculiarly vivid and enveloping dreamland. A land at once intensely personal
and totally beguiling to the listener. Tales of love, of war, and feelings, and
mornings, and more love; told in words of sophisticated, soft, satin magic; in
musical settings elevating the sometimes tempestuous, sometimes so gentle songs,
to works of breathtaking beauty. The
picturesque backdrop against which he has lurched from comparative obscurity to
comparative fame in three years, is almost too good to be true. Teenage in the
hip mould of poet ridden Venice, California, "discovery" by Mother Jimmy
Earl Black in a small West Coast folk club, appearances at the legendary star
catalyst Night Owl in Greenwich Village, an Elektra contract, unsolicited testimonials
from every discerning musician from George Harrison to Frank Zappa and two superb
Sad is his third record. A treasure of incredible, rare aesthetic excellence.
when I listen to a record for the first time, I like to lie on the floor, wearing
phones or just lying near the speakers, with a pencil and paper nearby so that
I can catch initial impressions -- so that repeated listening doesn't lose or
distort my immediate reactions, which often don't recur. But with Happy Sad,
I was so preoccupied with the sleeve, that I hardly got a thing down. In a word,
it's about the best sleeve that I've ever seen.
photograph (by Ed Caraeff) of Buckley, with his mind clambering around in some
distant sink of melancholy, is stunning. A finer, more delicately shaded description
of the title would not have been possible -- it's as if you can see through his
eyes and recreate his mood and mental environment. And the lettering -- a small
detail, but so thoughtfully chosen and executed.
most frequent criticism of Buckley's live work, is from people who find his melodies
too similar and indifferent. Oblivious of the audience, they say, he enters his
dream world and consequently after a while, his spell weaving palls and provokes
a distracting monotony which the lyrical beauty just cannot support.
Well. Fair enough. If they don't like him, that's their hang up. But they lose.
His melodies are arrestingly inventive, and the settings exquisite, springing
from the supremely excellent musical and mental harmony between he and his musicians,
particularly Lee Underwood, his bearded lead guitarist, who is so cool, and so
competent. Sitting there, -- easily, quiet like a shy boy at school, feeling out
the arrangements for the softer songs with such delicacy. And on the faster material,
like Buzzin' Fly, which you know is just off his scene, you can almost
feel his tongue piercing his lips in concentration -- but he still achieves perfection.
saw Buckley at Queen Elizabeth Hall a few months ago, most of the songs will be
familiar. Love from Room 109 has been haunting me since his visit, and
his Late Night Line Up and Top Gear appearances. What a ridiculously fine song.
As I listen, I can see him sitting there, hunched over his twelve-string, his
plectrum up and down, easing out mellow waves, up and down. And him with his bony
face and ragged hair, leaning into the microphone, lips teasing its phallic form,
the sinews of his neck taut as he strains and twists, contorting his delivery
with lip manipulation, clinging to syllables and wringing out their meanings.
imagery, of love, is simple but intense. Such a thorough feeling of intense sincerity.
And in the background, the Pacific Ocean, pacifying. Here is a song which, like
Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowland, cannot provoke boredom by over familiarity.
The more you listen, the more detail is revealed. Really so nice.
are only six songs, but most are long, and all are beautiful. Buzzin' Fly,
recalling an endless summer which ended, exemplifies Buckley's rapport with his
sidemen. "They are aware of the form. Everything is improvisation really,
but the form is always there." Instead of easing out gentleness, Lee Underwood
pulls out some controlled harshness. He's such an interesting musician, lacking
the innovation of some, but setting out and succeeding wondrously in embellishing
the song -- not protruding at all. He's always on Buckley's wavelength, tickling
out his graceful decorations almost.
could quote lyric snippets, but unclad in their music and Buckley's voice, they
would mean so much less. But just listen to the sincerity of the man; the truth
of his emotional and sexual thinking..."
the musicians on the album are Buckley's usual concert accompanists, and the song
'Gypsy Woman' is Carter C.C. Collin's conga drum tour de force. For the obvious
reasons of the live/recorded music gap, Buckley's ten minute solo is drastically
cut, but he sets the decor, creates the atmosphere of caravans, horses, red bandanas,
full swirling skirts, big gold earrings, and geraniums lips.
is very fond of romanticizing underdogs (Morning Glory for instance). He
sees sincerity, attributes and romance where most of us see only dirt. Or maybe
he feels an affinity to their nomadic lives. (What are American gypsies like I
wonder, or is this another dream -- of classical, Romanies?). A very dramatically
contoured, furious song; he is screaming in tormented exultation. (Who is this?
It surely can't be early Presley. I just cannot place the similarity).
Feeling. What a unique voice, tingling with anguish, an almost suffocating
desperation -- rising, writhing, falling, moaning, strangled, sensuous, but always
controlled. Always pure. Always coaxed out with an uncanny precision of pitch.
Very distinctive, and very beautiful. An "everything's gonna be alright"
song, musically very reminiscent of the Miles Davis Quartet's Blue in Green
-- lovely vibes playing by David Friedman.
is soul singing. (Not as conveyed by Sam & Dave and their ilk who, ineptly
labeled by some ignorant cretin, have little more soul than Des O'Connor, but
just a kind of inherent exuberance). Singing from his soul, with his soul. Clinging,
soothing introspection -- practically exposing his nerve ends, full of hopes and
poignancy. Taking you right into his mind when he wrote it.
his recent visit, he was singing the Fred Neil song Dolphins, which he
did very well and very differently. It's a real pity it wasn't included here,
but never mind. Which reminds me, I once saw Buckley quoted as saying "I
don't listen to any of my contemporaries." That was a while ago, since when
he has certainly been doing a lot of listening to Fred Neil -- but then, which
American folksingers haven't? Listen to his vocal inflection on the opening track
Beckett? Yes, what happened to his lyric collaborator of previous albums? I read
that, too despondent to accompany his friend on tour, he was remaining in Venice
to record a poetry album for Elektra and to write songs for others. But that was
Goodbye and Hello was released in America, I used to get long letters from
Mac, who was living in California at the time, saying how his most pleasurable
hours were those spent engulfed in the album whilst meandering over the words
in the fold out sleeve (U.S. version) he had spread before him. This is another
record to just listen to. But this is better. It's the kind of record you think
you should inscribe the words "for perfect listening conditions only"
on. But you know you want to listen to it a lot, and anyway, the opening bars
induce a perfect, lyrical, floating state.
intensity is what particularly spills out of the record, and this is where its
beauty lies. So acutely and delicately. I could quote lyric snippets, but unclad
in their music and Buckley's voice, they would mean so much less. But just listen
to the sincerity of the man; the truth of his emotional and sexual thinking. Happy
in dream and memory, sad in present recollection, restlessly wrestling with hopeless
to it. A love record -- to absorb in solitude. To just lie and listen to. Over
all I have to give, are my dreams".