Tim Buckley Is Still Ahead Of His Time
Remembering 1960's and 70's singer Tim Buckley
On a Saturday afternoon
several years ago I was listening to the local oldies station
in Boston and decided to call in a request.
Usually I am greeted by a blaring busy signal when I call but
this time I got through. The conversation went something like
|ME: I’d like
to make a request.
OLDIES DJ: What would you like to hear?
ME: Something from Tim Buckley.
OLDIES DJ: Who?
ME: Tim Buckley. He once appeared on The Monkees TV
OLDIES DJ: Never heard of him.
I suppose I should not have been surprised. Although Buckley
released nine albums between 1966 and 1974 they met with little
chart success. Nor were there any singles to speak of. But
in another respect I was surprised. The
DJ I was speaking with must have been in his 50’s, possibly
in his 60’s. Buckley was signed at Elektra Records.The same
label that signed The Doors. He did occasionally appear on
television and toured fairly regularly across the United States
took it for granted that a DJ of the 1960’s and 1970’s would
know all the musicians from the 1960’s and 1970’s. But perhaps
this was by design.Much of Buckley’s material, let alone his
multi-octave voice, would not have fit a radio format, even
supposedly “progressive” FM stations of the early 1970’s.
radio was no place for songs like Love From Room 109 of
the Islander on Pacific Coast Highway , Blue Melody,
Anonymous Proposition or especially the title track of
Buckley’s 1970 album Starsailor – an album simultaneously
considered his finest work yet horribly misunderstood.
best way to describe Starsailor to those who have never
listened to it is to imagine the Edvard Munch painting, The
Scream, set to music.
died in 1975 of an accidental overdose of heroin. He was only
28 years old. It is debatable as to whether Buckley’s music
was just forgotten or if it had ever been properly remembered
in the first place. Whatever the case, it thankfully has
not disappeared altogether. Buckley’s music has come to be
appreciated over time albeit very incrementally.
1978, his song Once I Was was featured in the climatic
scene of the Hal Ashby film Coming Home where Bruce
Dern commits suicide. In 1984, Buckley gained a new audience
in the U.K. when the British super group This Mortal Coil
recorded Buckley’s Song to the Siren – the same song
he had once sung on The Monkees TV show.
the 1990s, several previously unreleased live recordings were
discovered. The most notable was Dream Letter: Live in
London 1968, a two-disc CD, which preserved a rare recording
of Buckley’s first concert performance in England at the Queen
1994, Buckley’s son, Jeff, would release his debut album Grace. Jeff
inherited Tim’s multi-octave voice, but had more commercial
appeal. Of course, music critics could not help but compare
Jeff Buckley with his father and would question him about
it. However, Jeff grew up estranged from Tim, who left his
wife Mary Guibert before Jeff was born in November 1966.
In fact, Jeff only spent eight days with his father around
Easter in April 1975. Two months later, Tim Buckley would
Buckley spent much of life distancing himself from a father
that had little to do with his upbringing. But when Jeff Buckley
accidentally drowned in the Wolf River in Memphis almost ten
years ago (May 29, 1997 to be exact) at the age of 30, the
comparisons between father and son would intensify further.
was especially true with the publication of David Browne’s
book, Dream Brother: The Lives of Jeff & Tim Buckley
in 2001. Although Browne’s book is primarily about Jeff it
would have been impossible to write a book about Jeff without
also writing about Tim.
year later, Lee Underwood, who served for many years as Tim
Buckley’s guitarist, would write his own book about Tim titled
Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered. All of these works
provided more information about Buckley than what was known
about him when he was alive. However, Tim Buckley’s estate
has been silent on his legacy.
is until now. Earlier this month, a new DVD titled Tim
Buckley: My Fleeting House was released with the blessing
of his estate.
DVD consists of interviews with David Browne, Lee Underwood
as well as Larry Beckett, Buckley’s longtime lyricist. Beckett
might have very well provided the best explanation as to why
that DJ I called had never heard of Tim Buckley. Beckett
said, “If the pieces that we wrote got on the radio then fine
but if they didn’t that was equally fine.” He went on to say
their objective was to create “works worthy of listening to.”
Fleeting House also consists of full length live performances
including his appearance on The Monkees forty years
ago, as well as appearances on various American, British and
Dutch television shows. Buckley also turns up in a scene of
a 1971 film Christian Licorice Store featuring Beau
Bridges, Maud Adams and a pre-Colonel Henry Blake McLean Stevenson.
Christian Licorice Store, Buckley’s performs Pleasant
Street (the movie’s title is derived from the song) while
Adams is taking pictures of him. Many of these live performances
have been available on the Internet for years but are presented
in their full glory on the DVD. My Fleeting House gives
the viewer an opportunity to go inside all of Tim Buckley’s
for my money the most interesting room was The Show.
In February 1970, Buckley made an appearance on a program
called The Show, which was broadcast on WITV, a PBS
affiliate in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The My Fleeting House
DVD features Buckley performing two songs on The Show
from Starsailor – I Woke Up and Come Here
Woman. Both of these songs sound radically different from
the album which was already very much in left field to start.
Buckley’s music during his Starsailor experimental
phase did fit it into any genre, it might have been with a
Miles Davis crowd. Yet both sadly and strangely Buckley was
never accepted into the jazz world. Then again, Buckley might
not have sought such acceptance.
DVD also features Buckley interacting with the studio audience
as well with Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22,
who also was a guest on the same show. Like nearly all DVDs,
My Fleeting House features extras which include Larry
Beckett reading his essay about Song to the Siren and
about how Tim Buckley turned down an opportunity to write
a song for Midnight Cowboy.
and Underwood also, independently of one another, review Buckley’s
studio albums. While Underwood offers unqualified praise for
everything in the Buckley discography up to and including
Buckley’s later efforts Sefronia and Look At The
Fool, Beckett becomes more critical of Buckley’s post-Starsailor
works when Buckley attempted (and failed) to become a more
commercially viable act.
describes Buckley’s 1972 album Greetings From L.A.
as a “strange revulsion from folk rock.” Tim Buckley (as well
as Jeff Buckley) inspired much of the poetry inside my 2003
chapbook Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and
Dead Musicians. Indeed, the title is inspired by Song
to the Siren. When Buckley performed Song to the Siren
on The Monkees it included the lyric, “I am as puzzled
as the oyster.”
lyric was supposedly mocked by singer Judy Henske, who was
at that time married to Jerry Yester, who co-produced two
of Buckley’s albums (Goodbye and Hello, Happy/Sad). Buckley
was said to be so distraught at Henske’s criticisms that he
refused to play the song in public or record it. Buckley would
eventually record Song to the Siren on Starsailor,
but with a far different arrangement and an amended lyric
that sung “I am as puzzled as the newborn child.”
for myself, My Fleeting House serves as a reminder
of why I devoted so much time and energy to writing poetry
about Tim Buckley. I cannot say with any measure of confidence
if My Fleeting House would inspire its viewers to put
pen to paper or finger to keyboard, but it will serve as an
introduction to one of the most complicated, enigmatic and
unique musicians of the second half of the 20th Century.
Fleeting House further demonstrates why more than thirty
years after his death, Tim Buckley remains ahead of his time.
Goldstein (born 1972) is a Canadian-born author and political
commentator. He writes about the things that pique his insatiable
curiosity. In addition to politics, he is an aficionado of
baseball, poetry, music and ketchup-flavored potato chips,
and satiates his various appetites in Boston.