The Tim Buckley Archives


Larry Beckett on Collaborating with Tim Buckley - Part Two


The newly released Buckley demos are fascinating. It's great to hear unadorned takes of songs from Goodbye and Hello, especially since some say that album's elaborate production hasn't aged well.

Well, I sort of take exception to that, because I think what's happened is that there was sort of a critical cliche about Goodbye and Hello, that it was overdone in terms of orchestration and "of its time." And that point of view prevailed through the '90s. But then, slowly, in the aughts, positive reviews of it started to crop up, where they said, "No, this isn't over-orchestrated at all, it's just itself, and it's very strong." Maybe his strongest album, in terms of all aspects: vocalization, lyrics, and arrangement.

Take a look at "Hallucinations"—which I think, actually, [Bob] Dylan, for "Political World," stole the opening of. Because we know he knows all things.

Yes, and steals from all things!

And steals from everything. If you listen to the opening of "Hallucinations," and listen to the opening of "Political World," you think, "OK, I get this. He played this for [producer] Daniel Lanois, and said, 'That's what I want it to sound like.'" So, that's huge. And that's not dated—that's, now, an influence on future music. So, I think the critical current has started to run the other way. When I listen to Goodbye and Hello, I don't feel any of the criticisms about it. I mean, I don't particularly like my lyrics, and that's all—everything else, I love.

What is it about your lyrics that you second-guess today?

Well, the thing is, I've had—the hard realization to come to is that, when Tim and I started working together, he was a master musician, in terms of world culture. I mean, he had absorbed all different kinds of music, and could perform them all brilliantly. And I was just kind of a Podunk, starting-out poet. I was not anywhere near in his class. I've done everything I can to catch up to him, in the interim. But by the time I started really writing stuff that could even be kept on a level with his performing and his writing, he was dead. So that was the end of that.

"I suggested that we write songs, because Lennon and McCartney,
well, they were [doing so].
It was kind of a new thing to write songs, and then sing 'em..."

What do you remember about first meeting Buckley in high school?

Well, that was [bassist] Jim Fielder's organization. He said, "You've gotta meet Buckley." He knew Buckley in one class that he had—I think, gym class—and he knew me because we were in the accelerated "genius" classes in high school. And he said, "You know what? I don't know why, but I think that you should meet Tim Buckley. You guys, I don't know what it is, but you need to meet him."

So he arranged for us to meet, as seniors in high school. And Tim was, at that point, doing only old folk songs, like "Geordie," in high school concerts. So, there was a huge chemistry between him and me. Immediately! For one thing, he thought I was hysterically funny. I may be funny, but the things I had to say were just the things he wanted to hear. I was an intellectual and a rebel, and well-read, and I was off the wall, as I still am. And he never knew what I was going to say next, and just couldn't get enough.

And also, the real chemistry between us, that I talk about in my essay on "Song to the Siren," is that we were polar opposites. He was completely of impulse and emotion, and sensuality. And I was order, and culture, and reflection. So he actually needed what I had, and I really needed what he had. And I don't think either one of us knew that consciously. But unconsciously, we figured it out. Then, I suggested that we write songs, because Lennon and McCartney, well, they were [doing so]. It was kind of a new thing to write songs, and then sing 'em.

In the '50s, like, Elvis didn't write anything. Buddy Holly was an anomaly. The main bands sang covers, written by professional songwriters. But Dylan and the Beatles changed all that, and so it put the bee in our bonnets, you know? So we thought we would try, and I think our very first song was "Call Me If You Do," which appears in the Orange County demo on the [2011] reissue of his first album. And it was kind of a Lennon-McCartney arrangement, in that when I would come up with something lyrically, then he would try to come up with his own lyrics, too. That's why you see that about half the lyrics [on the demos collection] are written by him. But they're almost in contention with mine: "Can I write something like that? Can I do that?" So I helped inspire him, creatively.

As you continued to work together, working toward the material for Goodbye and Hello, was there a sense you were improving, building on the work you'd already done?

No. The thing is, you would have to have paid attention to anyone's reaction to the first album, which we completely ignored. We had no idea of even where you would go to find out what sales were, or what reviews were. We were just living down at the beach, making more music—we couldn't care less. We were completely out of "the business," to the greater or lesser distress of the people who were funding the whole project. But we never, ever thought about it. We never knew, in our whole lives, how many units sold, or where it was on the charts, or what anybody had ever written about it. We were only interested in, "What is the next project like?" Like, Tim would say, "I've been listening to this mad Moroccan street music. Here, I brought the album over, somebody gave it to me."

Then we'd listen to it, then he'd leave, and over the next few days, I'd write the words to "Hallucinations," and then we'd meet again, and I'd give him the lyrics, and we'd meet again, and he had incorporated the Moroccan street music into "Hallucinations," because it was what he was obsessed by at the moment, musically, with whatever lyrics, and the lyrics actually seemed to work with it. So, that's what we were paying attention to. We learned no lessons.

But did you have a sense of improvement, though? That you were getting better at your craft, or your collaboration?

I will say this, and I feel a little embarrassed to talk about it, and that is, in answer to your question, no. We were so focused on the next piece, and it was happening really fast. You know, a lot of songs. There were hundreds of songs we had written before the first album, that were all lost. Or many of them were lost, some of them survive on the reissue of Tim Buckley. But there were many others. Really prolific songwriters, between the two of us. And so, in that flood, it's hard to distinguish what the direction is, whether the quality is increasing. We just let it happen. But I will say that we were both deeply impressed by Revolver, by the Beatles, and by Blonde on Blonde, by Dylan, especially. And we saw them as breaking away from pop music. Breaking pop music away from pop music, and putting it more into the world of high art—as if there's a high and a low, but that's the way our culture looks at it.

So I had the idea of, after Tim Buckley, doing something really ambitious, where we would get complete creative control over the project. Where we would select the tracks, and their orchestration. Where we would make a concerted effort to write poetry and magnificent new music, and have something emblematic, like Revolver and Blonde on Blonde. Something aspiring to art. And Tim said, "OK, let's do that." We can do that.

And, to your credit, it doesn't sound anything like either of those albums. But the intention is there.

Yeah, that's right—the ambition is there. I mean, God bless us if we could ever [sound anything] like Lennon and McCartney!

© Jeff Rosenberg/Willamette Weekly

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