The Tim Buckley Archives

Goodbye & Hello

Part Two

Jac Holzman was a college student himself when he founded Elektra in 1950. Fifteen years later the label was an established independent specializing in folk music--and just getting its feet wet with the new electric-powered music coming out of Los Angeles.

"I received an audition disc from Herb Cohen of Tim Buckley," Holzman says. "I took one listen and called Herb and said I wanted to sign the artist. I loved the writing, I loved the approach, and I loved the fact that he had both folk roots and rock 'n' roll aspirations." This was exactly what Cohen anticipated. Buckley's music "was an odd category," the manager admits. "That's why I went to Elektra."

Cohen arranged for Buckley to play the small Night Owl in New York's Greenwich Village in the summer of '66. Buckley rode out there in a VW bug driven by Jane Goldstein, whom he'd met at the Troubadour. Although still married, Buckley was living alone in a dingy Hollywood apartment; Guibert was living with Herb Cohen and his wife. The relationship clearly had more downs than ups. During a rare instance of the latter,Guibert had become pregnant.

The Night Owl gigs marked the beginning of Buckley's association with guitarist Lee Underwood. Both had played at one of the Troubadour's "hoot nights." Underwood remembers a jubilant Beckett coming up to Buckley backstage to inform him of the Elektra contract: "I was really envious because I had hoped to get a contract myself with Elektra."

Underwood's initial impression of Buckley was of a remarkable voice singing "little high-school love songs" to wimpy effect. He changed his mind upon closer inspection in New York : "Not only did he have a voice and know how to use it, but he wrote extraordinary melodies. And that gentle, loving, wispy quality was extraordinarily powerful in its impact." With Underwood on lead guitar and Fielder on bass, Leadbelly fan Buckley played acoustic 12-string guitar.

That summer he also recorded his debut album. Tim Buckley included many of the "high-school love songs" that had underwhelmed Underwood. Jac Holzman and Paul Rothchild received co-producer credit, but Beckett praises Elektra for giving Buckley so much creative control. "If Tim said, 'Hey, I want a cello to play one note through the entire Song of the Magician,’ the arranger would scratch his head, but that's what they did."

Beckett and Buckley believed that good fences made good collaborators. Beckett was strictly the lyricist, crafting finished poems that he then brought to Buckley for musical glazing. Buckley was more intuitive. "He would get up in the middle of the night," Guibert recalls, "swing his legs over the side of the bed, pick up his guitar--which was always there-and suddenly this complete song would come out." Such was the genesis of It Happens Every Time, on the first album.

One late addition to the album's line-up was the Buckley-penned Song for Jainie, dedicated to Goldstein (as she was then spelling her first name). While Buckley and Goldstein were together in New York, Guibert--now six months pregnant--was back to living with her parents. "The idea was that he'd go on tour," Guibert says, "and when he came into LA we would look for a little place; he would be there for the baby being born." Buckley was sending her "weird, guilt-ridden letters: 'I wish I could be happy about the baby but I can't keep doing this to you'--cryptic things I didn't know how to interpret. I was deep in denial."

About a month before Jeffrey Scott Buckley was born, Tim and Mary met at a Los Angeles coffee shop and agreed to a divorce. Guibert now can laugh about her selflessness in setting Buckley free: "I didn't have an ounce of recrimination in me for him."

Buckley's first album appeared almost simultaneously with his son. No one involved with it--including Buckley himself, according to his sister Kathleen--seems to have liked it much. But its faults are those of youthful naiveté, not under-reaching. "He was breaking in his shoes," Holzman says. "The first album had an air of stridency about it. He wasn't comfortable in his own musical skin." But "we never signed an artist for one record," Holzman adds.

© Nurit Wilde/wildeimages
"What do you say about first novels?" Beckett asks himself. "'It really has potential.'" What he does admire about Tim Buckley is the 19-year-old singer's "beautiful tenor voice. Almost always after that he shaded the timbre of his voice, reaching for lower tones. Here he sang the way he'd been driving everybody insane in all these concerts we'd been doing for a year and a half: his unbelievably beautiful pure Irish voice."

Buckley and Beckett threw themselves into preparations for a second album. "We had a zillion songs," Beckett says, but "we were continuing to create at a hectic pace." The producer would be Jerry Yester, then married to another Cohen client, singer Judy Henske; "Herb wanted to keep it in the family," Yester explains.

Goodbye and Hello was a quantum leap beyond Buckley's debut. "The times were so intense," Beckett says. "We waited all summer in '66 for Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde to come out, and played the grooves until they went through the other side. We were trying to be part of it, trying to do the most tasteful or powerful work we could. I don't think we had any idea it would be terribly popular."

Recorded fairly rapidly during the febrile summer of 1967, Goodbye and Hello sounds as if all concerned were inspired by Sgt. Pepper to create their own overarching statement on pop culture. Buckley's voice ties together the disparate tempi, meters and arrangements: He alternates between a menacingly subtle lower register and melismatic wailing in his near-falsetto, where sound becomes meaning. "It's almost like they had a vision for that album," Fielder marvels; "that was such a work of art."

In retrospect Goodbye and Hello strikes some listeners as unbearably ambitious (if you like it) or pretentious (if you don't). Beckett looks with a jaundiced eye at his contributions; as on the first album, he co-wrote half the songs. Most of his lyrics were inspired by a romantic break-up; he further immortalized his paramour by using her name in an acrostic poem printed on the album cover.

As usual, Buckley added his music after Beckett's lyrics were finished. His own songs, Jane Pullman (formerly Goldstein) feels, tended to be about himself. Goodbye and Hello's I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain includes an unmistakable reference to Guibert as "the Flying Pisces" who "tells me of my child." His sardonically titled Pleasant Street features a relentless downward harmonic maelstrom; the lyrics to the disturbing, three-quarter time Carnival Song "express that tragic sense that he had.

"There was something very sad about him," Pullman continues, "and I believe a large part of his sadness was because of his father. From what Tim said, his father would be physically abusive and call him names and put him down a whole lot."

Elaine Buckley says her husband--one in a line of Timothy Charles Buckleys that his son furthered--was a "wonderful man, wonderful father" until an early-'60s fall off a ladder triggered increasingly psychotic behavior. From then on, "everything went to hell"; the Buckleys separated in 1966.

The album's showpiece is its title track, a generational call to (pacifist) arms. Beckett says, "I thought I would like to try counterpoint, like those crazy songs of the '40s where two people would be singing two different sets of lyrics and the melodies are in counterpoint with each other." Beckett wrote out the dual choruses for Goodbye and Hello side by side, as they appear in the album's printed lyrics. Buckley sang it monodically, though, interweaving lines from the two sets of lyrics--"not what I had in mind at all," Beckett comments, "but I liked the way it works."

Yester fleshed out the song with a kaleidoscopic arrangement in the manner of a Renaissance choral sequence. His overdubs, on this and other songs, further distinguished Goodbye and Hello from the simply produced first album.

"The first time I heard it, I just was knocked out," Holzman says. "As we got deeper into the summer of love of 1967, and Vietnam was happening, the combined effect of his words, his music, his passion, his persona struck a particular resonance. To some extent he was the bright side of people's tortured souls, and maybe of his own tortured soul. He could express anguish in a way that was not negative."

Goodbye and Hello was a succes d'estime, helped by a burgeoning rock press. Even the album cover focused Buckley's image. Tim Buckley depicted a reticent teenager hiding behind a houndstooth sportcoat (on which the letters "LSD," barely visible, are disguised as wrinkles--ah, the '60s). The new record glowed with a frontal head shot of the artist as herald of a new dawn: grinning confidently, his hair a backlit explosion of curls, saucily sporting a soda bottlecap as monocle. Buckley later told his sister that Liza Minnelli asked him how much Pepsi paid him for the plug.

Despite his formidable music, Buckley's mother-me good looks were attracting a teenybop following as well as the most earnest progressive-rock hippies. At this time, Underwood says, "I began to realize that here is a guy that I would like to give my whole self to. He was hungry for information--on books, on music, on life in general. That became my way of life: to serve him, and serve the music, in the highest sense of the word."

"Lee really wanted to be Tim's guru," Yester says, "and at the same time he idolized him." But Buckley's personality seemed to affect people that way. Co-producing his first album, Paul Rothchild found him shy, even "amorphous": "He wasn't very strong. His strength was in his music. There obviously was inner turmoil of some magnitude. But he didn't reveal very much." For Jane Pullman, Buckley was "very upbeat and very energetic. He wanted to please people, but not all the time. Tim had his feet on a cloud. He was very ethereal and highly romantic."

Manda Beckett met Buckley through her school friend Goldstein, but she was gone on him before that; his singing struck her as "pure art without any restraint at all." She found him to be "extremely gentle and tender for a boy. He was very vulnerable and emotional. It made him terribly attractive to everybody of both sexes. People just sort of swooned around him because he was so sweet. I think that frightened him. He was difficult to deal with because he was scared of his power over people. He almost seemed to try to reject his audiences for loving him so much. He wasn't mature enough to accept that much attention."

Danny Fields had just joined Elektra's publicity department when Goodbye and Hello was released. Fields was drawn to Elektra because the label had his two favorite artists: the Doors and Tim Buckley. "He was very playful, very modest, smart, very charming, very elfin in a way," Fields says. "When I compare him to Morrison, that monster to work with, Timmy was just a pleasure." Fields found Buckley to be "a little bit goofy looking": "He wasn't a great beauty but he photographed like one. To me, that's a star."

Goodbye and Hello remains the best-selling of Buckley's four Elektra albums, but disappeared from Billboard's LP chart after a scant five weeks--and a peak placing of #171. Since his first album hadn't charted at all, his star was still in the ascendant.


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