The Tim Buckley Archives


Tim Buckley : "...talking in tongues..."

Part Two

Is it really a chore for you to write commercial material as you suggest you have done on Greetings From LA?

Pretty much. Ball and chain on the old brain! I don't see it as a compromise though. It's just part of my life having to do something like that and doing it the best that I could. You always try to do the best you can do, right? When you run out of ideas for a particular type of song you have to move on. In my early career it was the semi-rock folk ballad which was a pretty creative form of song, because it got you to stretch out and it enabled you to say a lot.

It was almost like an art song. But then when I started playing more gigs and going out on stage just before the psychedelic people it was fruitless to do an art song, so I stretched out by experimenting with rhythms and time signatures. Having the voice that I do I became more and more an instrument. I became more and more about my voice.

You began to regard your voice as more of an instrument?

I always had been an instrument but I hadn't used it that way, because when you write a song you become a slave to the lyrics.

Where did your vocal technique come from?

I developed it. I was inspired, I suppose, by classical people -- Penderecki, Boulez, Messiaen. As far as forms of music go I really don't listen to pop or rock'n'roll. I don't read rock magazines although I think when you're out of work you read Downbeat because there are some interesting writers in that magazine who write about music specifically rather than about showbiz. Show business is fine but I'm pretty much involved in music alone -- in playing it and performing it and in entertaining.

Is your guitar playing as important to you as your singing?

All my writing is done on guitar but I'm not a guitar virtuoso. There are too many great cats around for that. I have a very good guitarist working with me now called Lee Underwood. I can't relate between my guitar playing and my singing. I sing so full-out that I couldn't think about playing along with it.
"You can't talk in tongues without other people communicating back to you to their fullest extent. That is basically what black jazz is all about..."
You talk about "art songs". What's an art song?

A song I wrote called Goodbye & Hello is pretty much an art song. I guess an art song is like a Kurt Weill or a Jacques Brel song.

Should it tell a story?

Anything can tell a story if you're not at a party listening to a record. Jacques Brel tells a story specifically through his lyrics, but when I listen to John Coltrane that man tells me the story of his life just by playing what he plays. He tells me about Chicago and he tells me about New York and Harlem. He tells me about being a musician and he tells me all of his love just by what he plays. That's how it is to my mind. I don't expect anyone else to feel that way. I don't think that you have to convey a story through words alone. In fact, words can be pretty inadequate because words which sound good in songs don't always mean what you would want them to mean.

They could also mean more than you want them to mean.

Yes, conversely! Talking in tongues is the best.

Is that what you think you do?

In a way. When I'm inspired. Gospel music and modern classical music are the only two musics I would really trust.

© Unknown
"Talking in tongues is the best.."

Do you really think you speak in tongues?

I do.

Is it a gift from God?

No. It's a gift of humanity. I don't know anything about God or religion or anything like that. I just believe in people and what can happen between people. Being a musician I see the power of music much more than I see the power of God.

What is that power?

Music. It's the total communication between people in a room. You can take me to a political rally and the relationship between the politics and the people is pretty far removed, so that room doesn't cook. I see music and religion -- like the gospel thing -- and that cooks. But I see the music as separate from God. The people may do it out of praise for God, but what happens in that situation happens because the people are singing their souls out.

You can't talk in tongues without other people communicating back to you to their fullest extent. That is basically what black jazz is all about -- Coltrane, Miles, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy and people like that. I don't go for everything in jazz but there are some great people in it. Certain rock'n'roll people are great. Hendrix is great, Clapton was great. But basically I like gospel and classical music.

Do you collect gospel records?

I don't collect anything. I listen to gospel music on the radio on a Sunday. It's great to drive to.

You sound as though you see yourself as totally separated from the rock business.

Business I'm certainly divorced from. Rock? I've really never known a rock musician that I could talk to for longer than five minutes at one time. What is there to talk about? The musicians I have played with and the musicians I play with now I feel a phenomenal empathy with, but rock'n'roll I don't know anything about. People like Elton John get away with so much that I don't understand how they do it. Basically I think it's due to the mediocrity of the last decade.

Are lyrics important to you?

Yes, but it's hard being a lyricist now because there are so many of them around. I remember in the mid-'60s not many people wrote their own lyrics and it was easier to be unique as a singer-songwriter. Today there are so many so-called poets traipsing about the land and turning up on the Dick Clark show. Everybody has a message, of course, and there are incredible depths of meaning to their lyrics! It's harder to be unique being a lyricist who sings today than it was five years ago.

© Turner/MOJO

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