The Tim Buckley Archives


October, 1975

A Fleeting House
The Music of Tim Buckley: A Retrospective

Mick Houghton, Idris Walters, and Dave Downing

by Mick Houghton

Tim Buckley was the creator of beautiful things. A multi-faceted beauty -- delicate, intricate, languorous, harrowing, sexually vibrant. But these are mere words. Inadequate adjectives. They pale insignificantly against the real thing. Listen to the eight albums from Tim Buckley to Sefronia. They are the reality.

You owe it to yourself to listen to them. You owe it to him. Tim Buckley's music existed in a highly personalized isolation, but with a tangible wider context, and throughout the cycle of albums completed by Sefronia offered a special glimpse of a rare talent unfolding. It's not difficult to discover the context -- folk, rock, jazz, funk -- but when Tim Buckley brought his extraordinary gifts to bear he reduced all previous propagators to hackneyed levels, by his own degree of style and sense of purpose.

Nothing in rock so succinctly divulges the development of such a truly innovative and keen intelligence at work. Of such a flowering artistry. And one blessed with a complementary unique voice and musical understanding.

"When I sing I can bring/ Everything on the wing/ Flying down from dizzy air/ To the ground because I care." He could. And did.

In the days before they were dubbed singer/songwriters those of Tim Buckley's ilk were pure and simple folk singers. Tim Buckley was lumped together with all the other Tims and Toms -- Rush, Rose, Hardin, Paxton et al. Were they all one and the same working a tax fiddle?

Tim Buckley's first album, Tim Buckley, stands apart from the other efforts by folk singers dabbling with electric backings. It remains one of the most fully realized group albums/rock albums to come out of the west coast we were so obsessed by in 1966 and 1967. It was with Goodbye And Hello that he stepped back into the folk métier. And then only partly. He was seeking a direction. There's much that might have found its way onto Tim Buckley.
It wasn't to be. And Tim Buckley himself is no more either. It hardly seems possible when he was so alive in his music. But it is true and the loss of potential is quite tragic. We can scarcely begin to imagine where he might have taken us in the future.
There's Goodbye And Hello, a poetic masterstroke, a near overblown/overdramatic hymn to youth and innocence. There's the mysterious metaphysical Morning Glory and the haunting love song Once I Was. They posit the mood and spirit of the next two albums. Goodbye And Hello is an in-between album, overshadowed by his first, hinting at what was to be. His albums continued to fall into pairs: Happy Sad/Blue Afternoon, Lorca/Starsailor, Greetings From LA/Look At The Fool and Sefronia, back to the beginning.

The rock end of folk again -- the full turn of the circle.

Tim Buckley contained the seeds of a lot of what was to come. On "Understand Your Man" Buckley yelps and hollers in the later style of Greetings From LA, though without the overt lyrical sexual expressionism, and with Byrd-like jangling electric rock in place of the James Brown rhythmic funk backings.

Song Slowly Song is simplicity itself. The prototype for the lingering love songs of the Happy Sad/Blue Afternoon period. Spaced out music. The spaces are as important as the notes that surround them. There's a wider context in the early music of Country Joe and the Fish (Section 43) or in the acoustic meanderings of John Fahey's music.

All later created marvelous sound collages using elemental or mechanical effects. Buckley -- Love Song From Room 109 At The Islander; Country Joe -- Grace, Magoo; John Fahey -- The Last Steam Engine Train, The Singing Bridge Of Memphis Tennessee. They all evoke the same mood.

Elsewhere the context is outward-looking and crystallizing in LA rock. It Happens Every Time opens like vintage Byrds or Fifth Dimension playing English traditional songs. The Byrds are only twice removed in the typically Love guitar phrases that mark the intro to She Is and the slow stuttering close to Song Of The Magician. And it isn't just an Elektra logo that couples early Tim Buckley and pre-Strange Days Doors. There's a curious affinity to the Doors on tracks like Strange Street Affair Under Blue or Pleasant Street from Goodbye And Hello, particularly in the internal musical dynamics.

Remember Tim Buckley was released in 1966. Pre-Da Capo, The Doors, and Electric Music For The Mind and Body. A folk album? Never. And the group: Lee Underwood, guitar; James Fielder, bass; Billy Mundi, drums; Van Dyke Parks, keyboards, and Tim's voice and guitar -- resplendent throughout the album -- could have been a real blockbuster.

It wasn't to be. And Tim Buckley himself is no more either. It hardly seems possible when he was so alive in his music. But it is true and the loss of potential is quite tragic. We can scarcely begin to imagine where he might have taken us in the future. And there was nothing fatalistic about his death, as he sang on one of his most beautiful early songs: "On wings of chance we fly."


© Houghton/Let it Rock

Let It Rock was a British magazine -#1-35 (Oct 1972 – Dec 1975) - that provided
historical analysis and critical comment on the contemporary scene,
and gave more than a passing nod to the early days of rock

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