The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews

Larry Beckett: Poet and Friend 'til the End

Room 109 Interview - April 4, 2000

Larry Beckett the poet and songwriter, wrote the lyrics to one-third of Tim Buckley’s recorded songs, and for nine of the ten years that they knew each other, Larry was always just a phone call away when Tim needed a friend.

If anyone knew Tim Buckley, it was Larry. They brought out the best in each other and it showed in their musical collaborations.


The songs that they wrote together are as follows:

I Can’t See You
Song Of The Magician
Strange Street Affair Under Blue
Valentine Melody
Song Slowly Song
Grief In My Soul
She Is
No Man Can Find The War
Hallucinations
Knight Errant
Goodbye And Hello
Morning Glory
I Woke Up
Monterey
Moulin Rouge
Song To The Siren
Starsailor
Nighthawkin’
Honey Man
Sefronia-After Asclepiads After Kafka
The Kings Chain
Freeway Blues
Tijuana Moon
Venice

By Jack Brolly

Larry Beckett, as Jerry Yester pointed out, is one of America’s great poets. I am extremely happy that he decided to address our forum and answer my questions.

Welcome Larry, and thank you for participating in our Tim Buckley Discussion Forum. I’d like to begin by asking you where you were born and raised?

I was born on April 4, 1947 in Glendale California, though we lived in Los Angeles at the time. After a year, we moved to Ashland Oregon, after another, to Downey California, and when I was ten, to Anaheim. My dad was a teacher of English and speech, and my mom had her own business in career counseling.

Could you tell us a little about your family life? I understand that you recently became a father for the second time. It must be great to be a new dad while in your fifties.

In 1988, I married Laura Fletcher, a photographer; in 1990, Susannah was born, who’s looking into acting; and in 1999, Liam was born, who’s a natural born musician. I get to live in the same house with my three favorite people.

In our previous conversation, you told me that you were still writing songs and that you're working on a piece about Paul Bunyan. Hopefully we'll talk about that in-depth later on in the interview. I also understand that you're involved in the computer industry; would you care to tell us anything about that aspect of your life?

I make money as an information systems manager and Independent computer database consultant.

Which came first...your interest in music or your interest in writing?

I’ve always been a writer, since before I was aware of it. Music is my second passion, and I play piano, sing, and compose, but life isn’t long enough to master two forms.

When did you find out that you could write poetry?

I had been writing poetry for years, inspired by Allen Ginsberg and James Joyce, though I was intending to be a mathematical physicist, inspired by Albert Einstein. A high school English teacher changed my life with a question. After having me recite a new prose poem to school district officials, he asked me what I was going to be.

"Mathematical physicist", I said. He laughed, and said," No, you’re a writer." Light rained on all the writing I’d done since I was a little kid, and my image of myself shifted toward the reality.

When and under what circumstances did you meet Tim?

I’d been friends with Jim Fielder, who saved my writings in a drawer, and he, who was friends with Tim, I guess through music, introduced us: we were all in the same gym class, and became companions.

Can you tell us much about Tim’s family life?

I don’t remember his dad; maybe he’d already gone insane; his mom was a sweetheart, with great music lying around, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Pete Seeger.

What was it like for Larry, Tim, and Jim at Loara? Did you perform often?

Jim and I were in honors classes, and Tim was barely making it to school. Tim played solo at folk concerts at our high school, but after we formed our rock and roll band, The Bohemians, and our poetry and experimental music and comedy group, The Harlequin Three, we played at other schools and nightclubs.

Do you have any high school stories that you wouldn't mind revealing?

A few weeks after the sit-in protest demonstration was invented, in 1965, by Mario Savio at the University of California at Berkeley, some student council campaign posters I’d made for my sister were torn down by the vice principal. One read “DRINK UP”, with a picture of a big cocktail, and one, “KEEP A COOL TOOL”.

I planned a sit-in at lunch to protest it, and Tim and other friends spread the word. At noon, half of the school sat down in the quad and the other half watched. I spoke about free speech. When the bell rang, nobody went to class. At last they turned on the sprinklers, and more or less dispersed the crowd.

I took all responsibility and named no names, for which, though I was vice-president of the school and president of the Honor Society for years, I was suspended for three days and banned from the senior prom.

While I was gone and unable to speak for myself, the administrators pressured the student council to strip me of my office. Tim made a point of going to the meeting, where he defended me, and the idea was voted down. In newspaper article, asked to explain the incident, the principal said, ‘Spring is spring and kids are kids’. On prom night, Tim and Jim and I took our dates to the famous Hollywood nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove, where we saw the jazz singer Nancy Wilson. She was beautiful.

What did you and Tim do outside of school for recreation?

I was a straight A student for years and a perfect though increasingly arrogant schoolboy; Tim showed me how to let my natural rebellion out. We’d play hooky and drive to Hollywood, to go through La Cienega Boulevard art galleries.

How would you describe Tim's personality at that time in his life?

He dressed like a man, not a boy, had sex in the backs of cars, and was happy-go-lucky and contemptuous of all institutions. When he sang, you thought you were sitting around with fucking Caruso.

When did the two of you actually sit down and try to write your first song together? What method of writing did you use, and what was that first song called? Do you remember what songs were on Tim’s demo tape, and do you have a copy of it anywhere?

Dylan and Lennon and McCartney were writing the songs they sang, and it inspired me to suggest to Tim that we write our own. I’m not sure which song was first. I thought it was one of those on the Orange County demo, recorded by our band in 1965. At least some of those songs should be included in a Tim Buckley boxed set retrospective planned by Rhino Records.

I always wrote the words first, which he set to music. On several important occasions, he’d suggest an image to me that would inspire the words.

Was your involvement in writing lyrics influenced by literary poets or particular songwriters that you listened to?

In songwriting, my major influences from literature were Shakespeare, Keats, Hopkins, Yeats, Ginsberg, Joyce, and from music, Robert Burns, Bob Dylan, Donovan, and Fred Neil.

Did you and Tim listen to the same music, and who were you guys listening to at the time?

Our music started with the Beatles, Dylan, and so-called folk rock, and then fanned out to include Indian raga, Miles Davis, Bulgarian folk music, Villa-Lobos, Erik Satie, Peggy Lee, B. B. King, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bach… When I lived in a duplex in Venice, nicknamed Big Pink by Tim, Lee Underwood lived in the other half. Tim was over constantly, and we listened to all of this all day and night.

How many songs did the both of you have before Tim recorded his demo for Herbie (Herb Cohen, Tim‘s manager)?

There was only the Orange County demo, for anyone, and then a four-song demo for Elektra. We had written around one hundred songs by the time Tim signed with the record label.

Was it hard deciding which songs to include on the first album?

It was easy; we knew what our best were.

What was it like for a couple of teenagers putting together a new album for an established label like Elektra?

Jac Holzman, head of Elektra, who never attended the sessions, was the source of our total artistic freedom. We were confident in our songs and Tim’s singing.

Did you guys have any type of label for your music? Did you consider it to be "rock", "folk", or "folk/rock"?

Labels are for journalists and salesmen. We just worked on songs.


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