isnt much you can say about Tim Buckley that hasnt
already been said at some point.
have been countless articles and books written about his life
and music. Interest in Tim seems to wax and wane with each
coming year, though it is doubtful now that he will ever be
as popular as Jeff Buckley, his estranged son.
music fans know his music first-hand or through Jeff. I am
one of the latter. When I first heard Tims music, I
wasnt sure what to make of him. One of the first songs
I heard was the track Starsailor, probably one of the
strangest tracks he ever released, which didnt really
help me warm to him, especially as I was naively expecting
a folkier version of the younger Buckley.
then, however, I have got more and more into the music of
Tim Buckley. Well, some of it. While some of his music is
fantastic, there is a chunk of it that sounds dated, cheesy
or compromised. The period of his career that strikes a particular
chord with me is between Happy/Sad and Starsailor
and I know I am not alone in this.
to new folk types like Devendra Banhart and Entrance, Tim
Buckleys mark is more than apparent. There is an arty,
experimental side to them that you wouldnt necessarily
find in traditional folk influences. Well known artists also
wear their Tim Buckley influences on their sleeves
Starsailor even use the same font for their name as Tim used
on the cover of his Starsailor album.
albums Tim released between 1969 and 1971 Blue Afternoon
and Lorca,as well as the aforementioned Happy/Sad
and Starsailor - sound totally timeless. The styles
of the albums switch between avant-garde free jazz and the
kind of folk-jazz hybrid that would emerge on Joni Mitchells
late 70s albums like Hejira. Some of it takes a couple
of listens, but pretty much all of it is rewarding.
rock stars die, they seem to instantly gain a kind of perfect
legend status in the media. Tim is no exception, frequently
painted as some kind of misunderstood, troubled artist. The
truth is he didnt do himself any favors. Although he
created some unique and beautiful music, he constantly tried
to alienate his audience. According to many who knew him,
he was convinced that if people liked the music he was making,
it wasnt any good. As a result, his albums became more
and more abstract and demanding.
said, even his most avant-garde albums couldnt quite
escape from conventional song structures Lorca
starts off with two incredibly long improvisational pieces.
After that, the songs sound like extended versions of three
or four minute songs. Apart from the title track and a couple
of others, Starsailor has some pretty structured tracks, the
best (Monterey, Down by the Borderline) sounding like
Led Zeppelin if they developed a Miles Davis fixation.
the time, hardly anyone liked the direction that Tims
music was going in. His manager, Herb Cohen, hated the jazz
influenced material, calling it yodelling shit.
Most of his fans also turned their backs on him, especially
as he refused to play any of his old songs. At one show, a
fan yelled out: Why dont you play Buzzin
Fly? Tim snapped back: Why dont
I just play horseshit!?
left him in a desperate financial situation. Eventually, he
gave into pressure from his bosses and agreed to take a more
commercial direction. The result was 1972's Greetings from
LA a record that took on rock and funk influences. Although
some tracks on the album are reasonable, the vast majority
sounds-like bad Stones songs. What was unique about the album
at the time was the overtly sexual lyrics, which meant the
album also didnt sell as much copies as everyone hoped.
said of the album in an interview in that year: ! I
don't see it as a compromise. It's just part of my life having
to do something like that and doing it the best that I could.
You always try to do the best you can do, right?
also described it as a ball and chain on the old brain.
He did not see it as a creative challenge, rather as a job
to help pay the bills and support his family (his wife Judy
and her son Taylor. Tim had very little contact with his first
wife, Mary Guibert, or their son Jeff). Unfortunately, he
never got to move his music into a new direction.
two pretty terrible albums, Sefronia (1973) and Look
at the Fool (1974), Tim died after taking a combination
of alcohol and heroin in 1975. Some say that it killed him
because he had cleaned himself up and wasnt able to
take the amount of heroin he did. Others say that it was inevitable
because of the way he lived his life.
way, he lost his life. Ironically, he managed to achieve what
he wanted to be acknowledged in death as a true artist
and innovator. Ill end this article with a quote from
Tim from the same interview from 1972 a perfect summary
of how he worked:
only thing worth doing in moderation is fame because it's
such a bullshit trap. If you're famous you have to play a
lot of places all year. You live in a lot of hotels. You have
no family. You have a lot of empty relationships with women
which you can't fulfill because you're only one day in each
place. Fame is really a trap unless it's done in moderation.
With drinking or sex you can forget about moderation, but
anyone who is creative is chained to fame. It's terrible.
haven't deliberately avoided fame. It's just that I'm too
odd for the white middle-class. But I'm happy. I get to create.
There's nobody like me so they've got to keep me around.