The Tim Buckley Archives


iMagazine (Australia) - 1996
(Forty Fat & Back column)

Tim Buckley's Legacy of the Unconscious

by Mike Gee

Death imbues some with immortality, recognition way beyond that they experienced in life. That it should be that way is as tragic as it is a reflection of the ponderous reality, that creativity, is more often than not, only recognized in historical overview.

We waste our precious few who dare to challenge, to explore, to offer something beyond the mundane and instantly acceptable. Culture feeds on its simple ability to be comforted by its superstars.

Music is after all about identification, it's about finding that track, sound, rhythm, song, expression that says "yes, somebody else has been this way too." Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill is the one swallowed by the millions. She is a voice for the vaguely discontented, for those who want to change - a little - but still want their security, their everydayness. Most don't want to walk the edge.

Tim Buckley walked the edge from day one. He knew nothing else and like so many he is more revered in death than during his too brief eight year, nine studio album outburst. A collection twisted with Buckley's relentless quest for answers.

Listen to Buckley's extraordinary voice, his sometimes wordless barrage of whoops, cries, cackles, shouts, melismas and moans, and find a communication way beyond the limitations of a dictionary or thesaurus. Without doubt Buckley's words were volatile but it's what he said when the words failed that made Buckley a giant.

His career was an absolute refusal for the first six albums (Tim Buckley, Goodbye and Hello, Happy/Sad, Blue Afternoon, Lorca and Starsailor) to play the game, to stand still, to be predictable. Dig out a copy of Starsailor - you'll never find it in a secondhand bin - those who have been exposed don't let it go. Few records have ever revealed the human psyche so well - perhaps Scott Walker's frightening, dark Wagnerian masterpiece from last year, Tilt, comes closest in spirit and brave facing off of the inner journey.

It is little surprise then Buckley backed off after Starsailor, his last three albums - Greetings from LA (probably his most famous and commercially accepted: it made Triple J's hottest albums to bonk to - how sad), Sefronia, and Look at the Fool - offering a wild sex-drenched, white boy, funk/soul fandango. Tim probably went too far inside, too fast but that was Buckley. He was excessive, he was impossible to keep on even keel, unaware of his own brilliance, so deeply ingrained into his own trip that he couldn't see his own destruction spearing over the horizon.

Then again, even if he could, he probably would've aimed straight for it.

By the age of 28, on June 25, 1975, Tim Buckley died of an accidental drug overdose.

Now we call it tragic, then it wasn't quite as, but we have the luxury of time and three live albums - the double set Dream Letter - Live in London, 1968 (1990, Bizarre/Straight/Rhino), Live at the Troubadour,1969 (1994, Bizarre/Straight/Edsel), and Honeyman - Live in New York,1973 (1995, Manifesto).

This Fat & Forty was originally going to be a working man's guide to the five years of Buckley these remarkable recordings span, but that would be short changing Tim.

Each of these records is essential: remember this is a man who was discovered and signed to Elektra in 1966 by Herb Cohen, manager of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention amongst others, whose eponymous debut features Zappa's musicians, whose vocal range and styling prompted revered 1970s music critic Lillian Roxon to say "There is no name yet for the places his voice can go" - and there still isn't. This is a man whose music began in folk, leapt boundaries with a frightening rapidity into folk/jazz odyssey before reaching the edge of the avant-garde and slipping finally back to funk and soul.

In these three live sets, Tim Buckley grows, blossoms, sets off on some fantastic journeys, reaches a crescendo of remarkable brilliance. In them there are echoes of the East Coast jazz improvisation that so inspired his most tangential and mercurial period, of Miles, Mingus, Coltrane, Dylan, Joplin, Zappa, Van Morrison. History already records Tim Buckley - like Hendrix - as a genuine original, and like Hendrix an impossible act to follow. There would be no Buckley imitators, no Buckley movement because it was simply impossible: how do you follow, imitate a five-and-a-half octave range and a music that knew no parameters, only open-ended dimensions.

Max Bell, one of NME's finest writers of the period, summed it up perfectly when he wrote of "The four horsemen of one particular apocalypse" - Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison and Buckley. Tim deserves such company: he's probably jamming with them right now.

A year before he died Buckley remarked "My life does not depend on Top 40. It's so anonymous, it always has been, and that's not where it is, that's not where people are. I don't put it down - there are a lot of great songs - but I just don't fit there." The truth is hard to bear but Buckley knew it then as most know it now.

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