Fantastic Voyage Of A Starsailor
Back - Part One
used to call Tim Buckley a love child in 1966. I want
to be perfect for you, he tells the boys and girls that
cluster at his feet in The Trip club and if they listen, thats
Tim Buckley doesnt want to be mobbed, doesnt relish
the prospect of false idolatry. His medium is not messages
but songs; he is a singer pure and simple. Every journalist
wants to know if the songs are therefore poetry, if Buckley
is a man with that old metric muse, if he has something he
wants the people to know.
erase poetry to begin with, because theres never been
poetry in music. If you call a song poetry, you have been
able to read it. Songs are songs. Calling things poetry
thats a whole other thing, thats literature. I
write songs that are almost like letters sometimes. A lot
of things dont rhyme , and theyre all out of metre.
It doesnt make sense as a song or poetry."
the time hes nineteen Tim Buckley has made two albums
for Elektra records and already the difference between what
his songs say and what emotions they evoke are acute. He contradicts
himself, deliberately, or as a privilege of youth. Some people
think he must be a protest singer in the vein of Tom Paxton,
Tim Hardin or Bob Dylan. After all, he has curly dark hair
and hollowed chiseled features and being sent to fight in
Vietnam is a distinct possibility. He could be a rock and
roller with one foot in the grave like all the other poor
about war is futile. What can you say about war? You want
it to end, but you know it wont. Fear is a limited subject
but love isnt. I aint talking about sunsets n
trees, Im involved in America... but the people in America,
not the politics. All I can see is the injustice."
Timothy Charles Buckley III was born on St. Valentines Day,
1947 in Washington D.C. He spent nine years in Amsterdam,
upstate New York before his family moved to the Promised Land,
the flatlands of California. In the formative years of adolescence,
Buckley lived in Anaheim, a place famous for its proximity
to Disneyland and its preponderance of oranges - Orange County
is a promising scholar but not a dedicated one. His big thing
is music, country and western, and he hangs out in the yard
of Buena Vista High School with two guys called Jim Fielder
and Larry Beckett. At school I got drunk a lot and fell
asleep in class.
gets the pocket money working in a Mexican restaurant. Buckley
is acquainted with the troubadours life when he was
twelve and plays behind a lady, Princess Ramona and the Cherokee
Riders. They all wear sequined shirts and moccasins but this
boy isnt going to be happy being a backwoods Indian
for long so the Princess advises that he study the folk song
and listens to the sounds emanating from the East coast, a
At home, Buckley grows up with his mothers taste for
the stylists, singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King
Cole and Lena Horne and white folks in the country idiom,
Hank Williams, Flatt and Scruggs, Johnny Cash. As the kid
learns, he develops a taste for those musicians who bring
a certain defined passion to their playing. Although he never
had a music lesson or a voice lesson in his life, Buckley
learns to exercise his voice by screaming at buses and imitating
also develops a unique rhythmic guitar style which becomes
a natural adjunct to his singing but technically is all wrong;
as a kid in school, Buckley had broken his left-hand fingers
in a football game. He could never make a barre chord and
used to ridicule his withered, lumpy hand.
listens to guitarists and saxophone players alike, checking
out the range and considering their melodic invention. Buckley
is already rather more interested in the tones of Stan Kenton
and John Coltrane than he is in the social observations of
Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen.
want to function in society instead of withdrawing from it.
I want to be able to live with policemen. Torment doesnt
make music thats an American pop fallacy thats
come out of the Negro soul thing no matter how much
a white person gets beat up he never has the soul that a Negro
have a lot of white singers going around wanting to be spades,
because they think they want to have soul. But BB King sounds
like a college professor, his diction is better than anybody
Ive ever heard.
writer Tom Nolan, in Cheetah magazine, christened Buckley,
Jackson Browne and Steve Noonan the Orange Country Three,
the title was only used in jest. In reality, the similarities
between Buckley and his singer/songwriter folksy peers were
entirely superficial, though they inhabited the same place
and the same haunts. The mid-60s had a positive virtue
in that before people started thinking about modern popular
music rock as a marketable commodity there really
were no rules and no boundaries.
could frequent the bohemian watering holes in Los Angeles,
San Francisco and New York alongside the other hopefuls fresh
from art school and film school. There were exotic creatures
like Nico and The Velvet Underground in the Dom to swap thoughts
with and long drinking bouts in Nobodys where Tim, Jim
Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix (the four horsemen
of one particular Apocalypse) could be seen downing shots
of tequila and raising hell.
had a small band with regular dates in Hollywoods Its
Boss club where he sang his and Larry Becketts songs.
Beckett, according to Buckley, was a poet hes
starving in Venice (California) now. Old friend Jim
Fielder played the bass sometimes but often the band was Lee
Underwood on lead guitar, Carter CC Collins on percussion
and Buckley on 12-string and vocal instrument. Throughout
1966 they played in the right places, the Night Owl or the
Troubadour, until one night Jim Black, drummer with The Mothers
of Invention, came down and was impressed enough to suggest
that Mothers manager Herb Cohen take a look.
couldnt figure out what to do with the kid with the
counter-tenor and the plaintive love-lorn songbook but he
had a demo and took it to Jac Holzman, president of Elektra.
must have listened to it every day for a week, Holzman
recalled. Whenever anything was bringing me down Id
run for the Buckley; it was a restorative. We spent a long
late afternoon together and I explained to Tim that Elektra
was growing in a new creative direction and that he was exactly
the kind of artist with whom we wanted to grow, young and
in the process of developing, extraordinarily and uniquely
talented, and so untyped that there existed no
formula or pattern to which anyone could be committed.
The qualities which Holzman saw in Buckley were good enough
for Cohen, who couldnt think much beyond career, getting
gigs and taking a cut a manager to the bare bones but
one with influence. Apart from Zappa, Cohen had Linda Ronstadt
and Wild Man Fischer on the books and was able to showcase
his latest find on the same bill as B.B. King on the opening
night of the Fillmore East.
début album Tim Buckley was recorded in
three days flat and released in October 1966, graced with
an effusively precious liner note that suited the boys
quote: Tim Buckley an incredibly thin wire, just
19 years old, is already a kind of quintessence of nouvelle,
the sensitivity apparent in the very fineness of his features.
The man is a study in fragile contrasts: yet everything is
in key, precise.
songs are exquisitely controlled: quiet, complex mosaics of
powerful electric sound, they hold the magic of Japanese water
colors. The voice crisp, full of strength and character
- can soar, yet remain tender and delicate.
was what Buckley called his Bambi image and in
truth, he was only finding his feet. The band, Underwood,
Fielder, Billy Mundi on drums and emergent enigma Van Dyke
Parks on keyboards, matched Buckleys romantic aspirations
with a decidedly baroque flair flat out weepy strings
and lavish arrangements in the early psychedelic mode, too
lush not to have become dated but adventurous enough to merit
the listeners indulgence.
like Strange Street Affair Under Blue, Arent
You The Girl and Understand Your Man give
an indication of the area the singer is going to move into,
although the strictly West Coast tripsichord blues doesnt
enhance the direction, only the naivety. Producers Paul Rothschild
and Holzman used some of the techniques theyd tested
on Arthur Lee and Loves first album and would perfect
on The Doors debut, but they didnt suit Tim so