Live Your Own Life
Tim Buckley is standing on the stage at Philharmonic Hall looking appealingly
undernourished behind his big twelve-string guitar. The hall is packed with his
fans, thousands of girls who look to be about sixteen, dozens of whom are at this
moment crawling up the aisles toward him, snapping pictures and bearing gifts.
red heart is dropped at his feet, notes are passed up to him, secret treasures
in manila envelopes are slid across the stage. Suddenly a tall blonde rises to
her feet and dramatically hands him up a red carnation. Oh, very tender--she's
offering herself to him.
looks down at the bloom, smiles at the girl, and...What?! Chomp, chew. He's grinding
the petals between his perfect teeth. Phtoui. He's spitting them out. "That
really tastes terrible," he says of her gift of love.
the risk of stretching a point, a message can be read into that gesture, which
took place at Buckley's concert here recently. Since 1966, Buckley has been playing
and singing his own kind of folk music, poetic, wordy plaints about love and dreams
and adolescent confusion.
lyrics, his hypnotic alto-to-falsetto voice and sensitive mother-me appearance
came together, and caused a whole lot of young people to identify with him. Tim
was 19 when his first record for Elektra came out; he is 22 now (he has birthdays
on Valentine's Day), growing up personally and musically, and he could do with
a little less of the identifying.
is the kind of emotional response that rock 'n' roll has fed on and the fact that
Buckley has been caught up in it is not only beside the point, he feels, but destructive
to music. "Here's the thing I gotta say: I really wish people would try to
live their own lives and stop trying to make musicians do it for them. There's
a lot more to music than sex; I play heart music."
third album, Happy/Sad, will be released early in April and it is a real
change from his previous work. It is about as close to modern jazz as a folk singer
can come: progressive folk jazz. "If the Modern Jazz Quartet likes it,"
he says, "I'll be happy." He talks a lot now about Milt Jackson and
Mingus and Monk. And you never saw anybody rush the stage to touch Thelonious
Socrates, starts spewing truth like anybody would, because you gotta be honest.
And the people kill him. Ha. I don't know if I'm being pretentious but I can see
what happens. It happened to Dylan...I don't know what to do about that..."
other words, Tim Buckley is going his own way, and if a lot of his present fans
want to come along, they're going to have to shape up and start listening. "You
know, people don't hear anything. That's why rock 'n' roll was invented, to pound
it in. My new songs aren't dazzling; it's not two minutes and 50 seconds of rock
'em sock 'em, say lots of words, get lots of images. I guess it's pretty demanding."
has only six cuts, a couple of which run ten and twelve minutes with extended
instrumental solos and improvisation. The lyrics, which Buckley composed alone,
are simple, more blues and soul than folk. What about all that famed poetry of
his? "A song is a song, not a poem. If people want poems, they should read
Dylan Thomas." (This, remember, from the lad whose most lavishly praised
song, Goodbye and Hello, has some 600 words and not one but two poems.)
isn't worried about where pop music is or isn't going, and the news that George
Wein's jazz series flopped not long ago at the Fillmore East is not going to change
his direction. "It's really too bad, though. It seemed like the logical progression,
that kids should start digging the cats who have taught all these rock 'n' roll
groups what they're doing.
of it, too, is that middle-class kids want middle-class people playing for them.
When a cat comes along that's been playing saxophone for 20 years and he's black
and kinda scraggly and looks like John Handy, they don't dig him because they
can't relate to him. And it just gets farther and farther out of proportion;
what does it matter what his image is?
whole stuff has got to stop, because music is being poisoned by the people. Plugging
into a wall is not the answer either--that volume bull, ego-rock. Soon musicians
are going to have to split and go back to the few little ghettos where they can
play music. I see where I'm headed--yeah, into a progressive thing--there's going
to be a change and I can't help the people."
Buckley's music turns a corner, his "image" will no doubt follow. Since
early in his career, he has been boxed as a kind of poete trouve, fragile as a
Meissen fawn wandering on moonbeams. Vogue has eulogized him as they might a new
hair spray ("Instant waif with dimples"); photographers have indulged
themselves in his halo of curls, delicate features and black eyes: He could probably
make a living standing in front of a camera looking soulful.
has chosen to try to stay natural--funky but not tragic. The only movie camera
he has agreed to stand in front of so far is that of Raoul Coutard (the press
agent swears he has been signed), the brilliant French cinematographer who has
shot most of Francois Truffaut's and Jean-Luc Godard's pictures.
film, Wild Orange, is to be directed by Robert Cordier.
"It's a 42nd Street kinda thing" is the most anybody
could find to say by way of description, and Buckley, who
stars as an American Indian named Fender Guitar, is plumping
for Jenny Dean, a "girl of the streets" and non-star,
to be his leading lady. Shooting is scheduled to start April
15 in New York.
Tim did not take part in this move. It surfaced in France
in 1975 as "Fender
l'Indien" , also known as "Injun Fender ")
initiation into moviemaking was a film called Changes, for which he wrote
a score (it was later dumped) and several songs. "Wasn't it a crummy movie?"
he says, no question intended. "It was a 50-year-old concept of what young
people should be."
movie traces a young man's search--for self, truth, meaningful relationships and
other clichés. "I told them I hated it from the beginning, but I felt
obligated. I also wanted to learn something about movies. I wrote a very subtle,
alive score for guitar, vibes, congas, things like that...What a bummer. Mess
up my body, man, but don't mess up my music." The
major demands Buckley makes on his life, apart from the musical ones, are that
he stay simple and away from the hype that has taken over the rock 'n' roll business.
"Rock musicians are businessmen. The focus is more on clothes than music--you
change your clothes every day, ride around in limos and airplanes and you never
see the ground. It's like a thing Woody Guthrie said--when you're not living with
the people, something wrong happens. I ask myself what do I really need, an' I
figure I can only make it with a certain number of clothes."
money in the bank, he still travels with a bright canvas duffel bag containing
only "stuff to keep me warm" (a ratty pea jacket, overalls, a couple
of turtlenecks) and "stuff to keep me clean" ( a brown paper bag full
of toothbrush, razor, Listerine and soap). He has a real fear of losing control
of himself and his work to "the economy" or "the businessmen--they
want to control you. They don't want you to be yourself because then they can't
say, 'Look, now he's gonna do this. Watch him do that.' Dangle, dangle."
however, he lets people close to him boss him. Jainie Goldstein, referred to variously
as Peaches, My Lady, and, most frequently, My Old Lady, has been organizing his
life for the past three years. "She takes care of me," says Tim, nodding
in unnecessary assent. Jainie has just found them a house in Venice, Calif. She
didn't come to New York with him this time because she was moving them there from
Topanga Canyon and because, Tim says, "This is my gig. The milkman doesn't
take his old lady on his milk run." (Jainie is also the subject of Song
for Jainie and other tunes on his first LP.)
was married when he was 17 and divorced at 20. His son, Jeffrey, now 2 1/2, was
born after he and his wife had separated. The Pisces in his song, I Never Asked
to Be Your Mountain, is his former wife's sign. ("The Flying Pisces sails
for time--And tells me of my child.")
Jeffrey. Great kid. He's in a Montessori school in L.A. I'm not sure I ever want
him to go to regular school. It took me almost two years to throw away all those
patterns they lay on you in school, but I was fighting it all the time I was there
[in Bell Gardens, Calif.]. I was playing and studying music all the way through
the morning, then it was time to go to school and I'd go and couldn't relate to
anything. I went to college for two weeks.
was just beginning to get together then. My father, he's a brilliant guy, but
he never should have gotten married, never should have been in the war--he was
in the paratroops, heavy stuff. He sort of lost his purpose. I just learned he's
in prison in Chattanooga. I don't even know what for.
wouldn't get married again. Just that word messes you up. Me and My Old Lady been
together for three years and we're more married now than I ever was. She's still
in school; we got time."
remembers hearing his first progressive jazz when he was about five. "My
mom dug Miles Davis." But more recently, he has been influenced musically
by the people he is backed up by on Happy/Sad: David Friedman, a Juilliard
graduate who plays vibes and bass marimba; John Miller, from the University of
Michigan, who plays acoustic bass; and Lee Underwood.
a tranquil, intelligent man and accomplished musician, has been playing lead guitar
with Buckley since 1966. He also plays with modern jazz artists like Monk, Bill
Evans and John Handy. There seems to be a perpetual rap going on about Milt Jackson,
or Jimmy Giuffre, or Mingus, or Horace Silver. Or Gary Burton.
what I'm comfortable with," says Tim. "It's more direct and simple.
I'm gonna start playing jazz clubs anyway. I'll just play a set with whoever's
there. 'Cause I feel good about it. I can see where I'm really headed, and it
will probably get farther and farther from what people expect of me.
Old Lady was telling me what she was studying in school--Plato,
Sophocles, Socrates and all those people. And the cat, Socrates,
starts spewing truth like anybody would, because you gotta
be honest. And the people kill him. Ha. I don't know if I'm
being pretentious but I can see what happens. It happened
to Dylan...I don't know what to do about that."
1969 New York Times