The Tim Buckley Archives


Unknown Magazine - 1967

More about Tim Buckley

by Michael Thomas

Whatever it is that keeps Tim Buckley awake at night, whether it's a fiddler playing in the street somewhere nearby, or just the memory -- whatever it is that haunts him, makes him laugh or makes him sad, a lover, a beggarman or a thief, whatever it is, he takes risks to call up all his fantasies, to make them dance beautiful patterns in the air, which is one way of saying that having see Tim Buckley sing, it's hard for me to imagine the world without him.

When he walks on stage, he looks like a raggedy kid, dressed in skinny corduroys and old suede boots, his shirt hanging out, like he's just hitchhiked all the way from California cuddling his massive twelve-string guitar, and hasn't had the time to get the crows-nests out of his hair,

He hovers, chatting to his musicians: the impeccable Carter C.C. Collins, who sits before his conga drums as though he were hiding by the stools in a soda fountain, and bearded guitarist Lee Underwood.

Buckley laughs and dawdles, poking at the microphones, just taking his time getting comfortable. He's frail, and restless, his face is bony and delicate, all the time he barely opens his quick black eyes. He looks a little forlorn.

I found a letter
On the day it rained
When I tore it open
There in my hands
Only ash remained

All the same, I'm not sure anybody's ready for Tim Buckley. When he starts to sing, gently at first, in a soulful athletic counter-tenor, it's alarming. His voice is as pure and as complicated as cut and polished crystal; it trips and falls and soars again in a mysterious flowing love-call, and later, when he begins to thrash his guitar and Carter C.C. Collins tickles and thumps the conga drums, his whole body starts to shiver and sway, the way Presley might have done, and he hollers and shouts raunchy rococo blues, kidding with his falsetto, scatting with Underwood's eerie guitar, sometimes just plain screaming and wailing, full of hurt, full of tenderness. It's dangerous. One time, Underwood stopped playing and just stood there, digging it.

As Tim sings, he scowls and pouts, he looks uneasy and then he looks angelic, and a lot of the time he looks bewildered. He never falters, and yet all the time you know he's up so high that if he fell there could be no one to catch him. None of which means that Buckley is engaged in any kind of manic therapy; it's just that his whole trip is a walk on the high wire, juggling insights, and he tosses them up and plucks them out of the air, magically, beautifully. You can see him sweating.

The singer cries for people's lies
He will sing for the day to bring him night
The circus burns in carnival flame
And for a while you won't know my name at all
But sing and dance and love for pennies and gold

Most of his songs are hallucinations more than they are poems, scattered images, and his melodies, aptly, are snatches of tunes that only sometimes resolve. They are made of flashes. Reprinted in somber brown type on his album jacket, the songs read as prosy and mannered, always youthful and undismayed, and now and then a little foolish.

They are, most of them, love songs, with an occasional passing shot at the hungup "antique people" still reading yesterday's papers, and more often than not they are sad songs, wistful, not disenchanted. But the words, often written in collaboration with poet Larry Beckett, are only Buckley's point of departure, for when he sings them they become pieces in a rich collage of sound, fragments, pretty pictures of greeting and farewell. I'd love to hear him sing at dawn.

I lit my purest candle close to my
Window, hoping it would catch the eye,
Of any vagabond who passed it by,
And I waited in my fleeting house.

At a concert at Carnegie Hall, a couple of strays called for Pete Seeger during Buckley's performance. "I'm just a war baby trying to make it," he said, and shrugged.

He was twenty last Valentine's Day.

In his reflective moments, songs like Morning Glory and Once I Was, all his contrasting moods, the melancholy and the wonder, come together and melt. They are beautiful, distilled songs, when I saw him sing them in the Village a girl threw flowers to him; that's all.

Tim Buckley gives you his opinions of midnight and high noon, and I believe him.

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