The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews

1995

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

By Steve Turner

If Tim Buckley were alive today, I'd probably get in touch with him to apologize. "You probably don't remember me," I'd say, "but I interviewed you in a Hollywood rehearsal studio in September 1972 when you were just getting ready to go on the road supporting Frank Zappa. The fact is I never did write a story based on that encounter, and so your then-new album, Greetings From LA, didn't get the plug you may have wanted."

It was my first trip to America, I'd been put on to you after asking Warner Brothers whether they had anyone I could interview for England, and I'd been given no press kit. I'm sure you noticed that I never asked a question about any of your songs.

To be honest, I didn't know much about you at the time. I'd seen that photo of you which went out on the Goodbye & Hello album cover, and I'd heard some album tracks which John Peel would play on his Sunday afternoon radio show here in England -- Once I Was, No Man Can Find The War and, of course, Morning Glory.

Playing back the tape I can sense your frustration with this young Englishman who seemed determined to classify you as a rock star and who looked a bit blank when you mentioned the likes of Eric Dolphy and Krzysztof Penderecki. Yet you said your piece. What shines through clearly 23 years later is your tenacious commitment to your art and determination to cross musical boundaries.

So, I'm sorry for not understanding back in 1972. I hope we'd get on a lot better now.


How did you begin playing music?

I had the mumps and my mother bought me a banjo and I started playing. I must have been about 11. I just started learning music and stuff -- learning to read and learning how to play certain songs. Then I took up guitar and began playing with country and western bands when I was 15 years old.

Did you work the folk club circuit in the early days?

In those days -- 1962 and 1963 -- they were just starting to have folk clubs and they were a big thing. Then I discovered I could sing and I started learning how to do that, because I hadn't done it before.

So you've been a professional musician ever since you left college?

High school. I didn't go to college. I did my first album in 1966 and then I was discovered in 1969!

Are you selling more albums with each release?

No. They've each sold about the same number. The last one [Greetings From LA] has sold more because it's very commercial. It's getting a lot of AM and FM radio play and it's selling a lot more than some of the more creative albums I've done. I don't really know about record sales. I guess 80,000 - 100,000. Around there all the time. But there were a couple of things that were to my mind creative which didn't sell that well.
"I haven't deliberately avoided fame. It's just that I'm too odd for the white middle-class..."
Are you happy to remain the secret of a few?

I don't care if you said to me, "You're never going to record in this town again". I'd still record and I'd still create. I don't need the rock world to be a person or a singer or a musician or to play for people. All I have to do is walk up on a stage and play.

But if people stopped turning out to see you?

I'd call up Miles Davis and say, "Hey Miles, Hollywood's against me. Can I come and sit in with you?" He'd say "Sure," and I'd go on and sing with his people and with him. I don't really think about record sales. It's nice that the businessmen are happy because that does allow me a certain amount of freedom but I really don't think about it.

The only thing worth doing in moderation is fame because it's such a bullshit trap. If you're famous you have to play a lot of places all year. You live in a lot of hotels. You have no family. You have a lot of empty relationships with women which you can't fulfill because you're only one day in each place. Fame is really a trap unless it's done in moderation. With drinking or sex you can forget about moderation, but anyone who is creative is chained to fame. It's terrible.

I haven't deliberately avoided fame. It's just that I'm too odd for the white middle-class. But I'm happy. I get to create. There's nobody like me so they've got to keep me around. It's like the predicament of Roland Kirk. Nobody's going to cut Roland but 300,000 people aren't going to go to his concerts like they might go to a Stones concert. Roland's expressing too much for people to accept.


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