The Tim Buckley Archives

Tim Buckley: An Overview

Part Three

In the two years following Starsailor, Buckley was forced to sell his "dream house" in Laguna Beach, Calif. He was going broke. The door to the recording studio remained closed to him ... unless, of course, he could agree to do things the way the record company deemed constructive; unless he played rock 'n' roll.

"I went down to the meat rack tavern, and I found myself a big old healthy girl." Those lines begins side one of Greetings From L.A.. In a sense they ironically describe Buckley's re-emergence as a recording artist. The new Tim Buckley was playing straight rock, firmly set in a foundation of steamy funk.

Buckley's voice is in remarkable shape on Greetings From L.A. as he taunts and teases through a wide array of lyrical vamps and asides. In fact, the voice never sounded better squeezing buckets of erotic passion out of the strong sexual content of his and Beckett's lyrics.

Because of its riveting rock 'n' roll, some see Greetings From L.A. as the most desirable Buckley album. For visceral, no-holds-barred white funk, with what often amounts to very frank subject matter, this is the album to have.

There were certainly many ideas Buckley had for musical exploration outside rock. But the fluid power of his voice on this compelling set does not sound like one who is compromising. Buckley totally triumphs within what he saw as the constraints of standard rock 'n' roll song structure. It goes to show how justifiably frustrated he must have been when one considers for a moment that he was actually creatively limiting himself on Greetings From L.A.

Underwood described Buckley during the final years as living in a "controlled schizophrenia." He was doing what he had to do to continue recording and acted as if he'd learned to live with it. But it ate him up inside.

Sefronia was released a year after Greetings From L.A. and an obvious attempt at being commercial; it sold no better or worse than the previous one. Spread throughout the record are brief flashes of Buckley's former self. But mostly the songs, including for the first time four composed by others, are mired in sentimental production. The jazz is gone, the experiments are long gone, even the funk is gone.

Buckley wanted to call his last album Tijuana Moon, after a different song on the set. The final title of Look At The Fool, coupled with the weary and forlorn look on Buckley's face on the cover painting was an awful idea. The entire album is a ghastly failure, filled with mediocre funk exercises and disturbingly anguished vocals. It's sad that Look At The Fool, with its glaring weaknesses and subliminally mocking packaging, had to be Buckley's final statement.

It seems ironic that what came to be the last song on the last album was a direct rewrite of Louie Louie. Wanda Lou is a Buckley-written three-chord throwaway about a Mexican girl that he wants to "watch do the pony and the boogaloo." The song cops its melody from Louie Louie right down to the guitar break. In a way Buckley had gone full circle, back to the simple structures of his "carburetor soul bands" of the early days.

In a 1968 interview in Eye magazine, Buckley expressed a desire to someday return to his first love, country music. Perhaps fate was in the process of completing that circle. A year after the release of Look At The Fool, Buckley was dead. At the conclusion of a booking in Dallas, Texas, he overdosed on a combination of heroin and alcohol his system couldn't handle. He had been completely off drugs and drink for some time before his death on June 29, 1975.

The dose he took that day was comparable to what he'd taken countless times before. But perhaps due to his being clean for so long, his tolerance wasn't what it had been. (Ed. note: Some sources report that Buckley thought he was taking cocaine, not heroin, till it was too late.) At first his death was attributed to a heart attack. Only later was it determined that he was the victim of an overdose. He was in debt when he died; his guitar and an amplifier were his only possessions.

In nine albums in just under nine years, Buckley went on an odyssey of musical styles virtually unparalleled in pop music. From folk rock to jazz to rock he traveled, retaining, at times discovering, a sound uniquely his own. His was the voice of a visionary, and one of the most flexibly lucid vocal instruments pop music has ever produced.


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