The Tim Buckley Archives


Reflections from a Shadow

This Larry Beckett interview first appeared in online
music magazine Perfect Sound Forever in January 2004

by Carson Arnold

I could die listening to Wings-- and that whole first album-- glimmering between the reins of young fantasy and wretched tear-- just who knows what symphonies Tim Buckley has devoured from this world. Bruce Dern in the film Coming Home swam into the palm of the ocean with Once I Was, and I every day sit stunned and drenched in Buckley's voice of certitude and euphoria.

"I'm really certain he's an angel", somebody once said to me after listening to Dream Letter, slightly weeping in the red of the eye. He just could be. Much of this beloved has stemmed from the mystic lyrics and waters of his co-writer, best friend, subconscious, and surviving poet/songwriter, Larry Beckett. It's tough to average how many songs he indeed wrote for him after encountering each other in high school, treading through the collision of the sixties, and later watching Tim just drift, drift, drift, but it's a good portion; a daisy plenty that's cradled a world of love and the music affecting.

Tim, the voice, Larry the word, us, the body. GO! Songs like Morning Glory are examples of Beckett's bipolar songwriting-- distinct from the affair of any others-- that Tim avidly relied on throughout his entire career, and with the echoes of his lungs, Beckett blossomed an aquarium of verses that were both technically pure as well as emotionally bound.

I called to the Hobo
I smiled at the Hobo.

Each lyric gushing from moment to close, an ellipsis, and Christ, if you look at it, Beckett wrote perfect, if not utopian verses! Fragile phrases from Song to the Siren off the disarray of the 'ol Starsailor album (that I'm currently recording for a friend right now), softens all pulp like no other song before it, showing that he, kin to the intimacy of Buckley, translated the spell inside, and vice-versa together: the formula of the angel voice. That's incredible. Incredible poetry, even though Beckett freely admits cringing while looking back.

There ain't a whole lotta duets in my opinion who have done this in music; taken the natural and the incalculable, poured it all into some collective heart singing, still able to deliver the ultimate answer when all was finished. Beckett's songs were always profoundly entrapping bliss and ache, in three or four nude minutes, tying and opening a ribbon right around the world, enthralled by Tim's heavenly voice.

Unfortunately, it seems to me this, and Beckett's passages, have been undermined over the years by the blue legacy of Tim's passing, his son Jeff's death, and the overall rapture of a Buckley voice-- where is it?-- little realizing its contents have been holed up in Portland, Oregon for the last thirty odd years where Larry and Tim once shared many a stranded conversation over the phone-- perhaps of future projects, perhaps of plain chat-- who knows. Find out.

Larry speaks like an honest guy, recalling writer David Browne (author of Dream Brother) crashing at his place for nearly three days recording every drop that was rolled over about Buckley, and going on to fondly tell me of his various post-Tim literary excursions that include immense scrolls of hundred-page poems performed live in three hours. I'm waiting for one of his books to arrive in the mail right now. I'll tell you more later. Meantime, as Larry recounts Tim and that era, take your darkest corner and let it swim within these old shadows of new. I'll be seeing you on the other side.

"I think actually that was part of the secret, that obscurely we sensed we each had what the other person needed-- the whole human being, the whole artist. If he would try to write a song it would just drift aimlessly. But if I had these overly-rigorous lyrics in place, then it would give a structure for him to work with..."

Did I catch you playing your drums?

{Laughs} Don't have drums anymore, just bongos. About the time I went to college I stopped.

When's the last time you listened to one of your Tim Buckley albums?
Jeez, not too long ago. Just a couple of months ago. There's a European import that puts the first two albums on one CD, listened to that.

Still holds up?
Well, the first album has always been kind of thin to me, and Goodbye And Hello, people seem to think it's stilted and old, but overall it sounds fresh and exciting to me.

Why would you say thin?

Just everything about it. The writing, the singing, the production, just don't seem fully realized. There are some interesting pieces on it however. Like Song Slowly Song seems to be a predictor of future directions... Wings, people like that song. That's a strange song. Tim has the lyric credit on it, but actually he wrote the first verse but couldn't go any farther and wanted me to write the rest. So I thought about it, and I was at this USC-UCLA football game. I was going to UCLA but I always rooted for SC because my dad was from USC. So I'm sitting on the UCLA side of the field with the UCLA guys, rooting for USC, and at halftime I wrote the rest of Wings.

{Laughs} So you listen to that song and you just can't quite picture a football game... I wasn't really happy with it so I let him have the lyric credits. People would say you're the shadow-- or other wing-- of Tim Buckley. The lyricist. Being one, what have all the books that have written about him missed in his spirit?

There's a problem in books about pop musicians in that they talk about almost everything except the music. And when they do, they talk about it in a pretty vague way, they pile up adjectives. But if you read a book about Beethoven's last quartets, they'll actually write out some of the music on the page and show some of the melodic structures. I've found one book about The Beatles that actually talks about them as composers. So all the books about Tim and articles about him, they don't really talk about him in what I think was one of his greatest abilities and that is: composing melodies. Some of his melodies are still, and will always be, evocative and beautiful. Among his generation of folk/rock singer/songwriters, I think they stand out.

He was a normal kid, we would think. Where did these things come from?

You know, he was just a natural born musician. He had a lot of music in his house from his mother who had great taste in music-- she would have Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Frank Sinatra albums lying around; growing up on that diverse music, besides the wonderful pop music coming out of L.A. radio. How he got his ability to compose, I have no idea. He was just singing folk songs when I met him, at hootenannies at school and stuff. Concerts.

It was because of The Beatles and Dylan that I thought, hey, you know what? I'm starting to write some lyric poetry, why don't you write melodies to them and we'll be like The Beatles and Dylan. And he thought, OK, I'll do that. There's some unreleased tapes that I have of our very first stuff with me playing drums, too. And the melodies there, especially the ballads, they're incredibly charming and beautiful. He just had it, you know.

You have tapes of a lot of unreleased stuff?

I have some. The demo tape, with our first band The Bohemians, was made to promote ourselves. All originals. One song by Jim Fielder, and the rest by Tim and myself... It's kinda cool. There's a couple of songs that got picked up on the first album, like an early version of She Is. There's some hard-rockers-- you never hear it until much later in his career like Honey Man, but when we first started out he would do a song like Please Be My Woman and was rocking like Elvis, and I don't know where got that from either.

No one ever wanted to test that?

Loara High's Larry Beckett
He was always changing and always growing and sorta out-grew that high-school rock-band mentality and started to get into these more ambitious musical adventures. Even though it was only a few months later, time was moving so fast, that by the time we came to do the first album we had already shed all those old songs and didn't wanna do them. Wanted to do more arty stuff... He had an angel voice and had to become an artist in order to make it really sing.

Outside of the songs, who was he?

...And how many words do I have to complete this answer? I would have to write a book. You'd have to know him. He was the opposite of me, so it was very strange that we became such good friends-- we became best friends immediately upon meeting one another. I was very intellectual and disciplined and he was very loose and passionate.

I think actually that was part of the secret, that obscurely we sensed we each had what the other person needed-- the whole human being, the whole artist. If he would try to write a song it would just drift aimlessly. But if I had these overly-rigorous lyrics in place, then it would give a structure for him to work with. He would infuse my too-tight songwriting with his passion, and loosen it up. It was a kind of magical formula. And it worked in life and it worked in art. We sensed that, I don't think we really understood it at the time, though.

Did you feel with the later albums like Lorca and Starsailor he had lost that focus?

Yes, when he started to write on his own, really with Happy Sad. The albums without me on them tend to be fairly amorphous. They have interesting pieces on them though. But when we get back together the old magic was still there. And we were friends the whole time anyway. Very close, although, geography, it divided us after I got out of the Army-- I moved to Portland and he was down in Venice (California). We didn't see each other that often for the last half of our relationship. Still wrote and talked on the phone all the time. I would go down there for sessions and he would come up here for gigs.

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