The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews


Option Magazine #66 - 1995

 


God Bless the Child :
Jeff Buckley's Search for Salvation

By Sue Peters

"How do you feel about this?" asks Cheryl, of Columbia Records, holding up a copy of People magazine's annual "50 Most Beautiful People" issue. Number twelve on the list is "dishy" young musician Jeff Buckley.

Buckley looks away from the magazine. "Get it out of here," he declares. "It doesn't mean anything."

She quickly puts it away, but the damage is done. Sitting on the floor in a pair of boots, jeans rolled above his knees, with matted, dyed black hair and a pout on his face, the twelfth Most Beautiful Person in the World seems indifferent about his looks and hostile towards the temptations of vanity.

He's equally disturbed to hear about a brief exchange that occurred outside his previous night's show in Los Angeles, in which a young woman told a man, "What are you doing here? This is a chick concert!"

He frowns. "A *chick concert*. It does make me self-conscious," Buckley says. "Is it something I'm doing? My first tendency is to blame myself."

It is something he's doing. The 28-year-old singer/guitarist has a voice that sounds as if it comes from a different era. One minute he extracts a writhing serpent of a chord from his throat, the next he delicately mimics an Edith Piaf vibrato, then sinks into a Presley croon or launches into a shriek worthy of Robert Plant. On his cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, Buckley peels back the husk of Cohen's voice to reveal the latent sensuality in the words he gently croons : "But remember when I moved in you, the holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was hallelujah."

Onstage Buckley puts himself at risk with spiraling vocal gyrations and weird contortions that make it seem as though he may not be able to reach the notes. Watching him deftly ply the strings of his guitar, lost in the deep focus of his singing, you feel like a voyeur in some private domain. That intimacy, though, is fair game: you're invited. "The rules," Buckley says, "are that if we're together, then anything can be said."
"All my anger has been towards the press, not towards his ghost. I grew up without him. I have the press thinking I feel one way, but now it's over..."
Some find Buckley's raw display off-putting or pretentious; others find it utterly entrancing. But what does he want people to get from his performances? "Anything," he says. "Even angry and disappointed. I like to be transported, penetrated and changed by music. What I want is for people to stay still for a while and let something that they have no power over wash over them, gladly, and be a little better for it."

Buckley is in San Francisco for two gigs, still on tour in support of his 1994 full-length debut, Grace. Waiting to record a few songs at KFOG, the station where his song Last Goodbye shares the playlist with Boz Scaggs, U2 and King Crimson, he looks up, quizzically, to the ceiling where the "adult alternative" roster is streaming through a pair of speakers. How his songs fit in here, he's not sure.

"Who the fuck is this -- John Cougar Jackson Browne Mellencrow?" he asks, leaning forward, intently, sensing a conspiracy. "Do I really belong here" Is it because of my fucking father?!"


"Father?" "Yes, son?"
"I want to kill you."

By Mark Kemp

In 1966, a handsome, fresh-faced, and gifted singer/songwriter approached 27-year-old guitarist and former school teacher Lee Underwood in Greenwich Village, and asked him if he wanted to form a folk-rock group.

Tim Buckley, then 19, had just quit his job at the Taco Bell in Anaheim, California, and left his pregnant wife, Mary, to embark on a musical odyssey that nine years later would take him to his grave.

"One of the first things I noticed about Tim was his charm; he could charm just about anybody," Underwood recalls today, from his home outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. "He was a very funny, insightful, energetic fellow. He was also angry, tormented and enormously creative."

Over the next five years, Underwood served as Buckley's bandmate, best friend and mentor, turning him on to the jazz of Miles Davis, Roland Kirk and Bill Evans, the music of composer Olivier Messiaen, and the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Federico Garcia Lorca.

Buckley absorbed Underwood's wellspring of knowledge like a plant; what blossomed was some of the most eclectic folk music of the period. Over the course of six albums -- including Goodbye and Hello (1967), Happy/Sad (1969), Blue Afternoon (1970) and Starsailor (1971) -- Buckley's style veered from folk-rock to jazz to avant-garde, with romanticized lyrics that have been compared to the verse of Leonard Cohen, Wallace Stevens, and even Samuel Coleridge.

"Tim was very expressive; some times witty, always obnoxious," says Underwood. "He had no patience for pomposity or stupidity, and as a result he made lots of friends among rebellious people, and lots of enemies within the media. He called people on their bullshit without ever looking back."

Underwood moved on after Starsailor, but remained close to Buckley until the songwriter's death in 1975 of a heroin overdose. Together, the two experienced spiritual journeys and battled with their self-destructive impulses. "We were soul mates on many levels, including drugs and alcohol."
"Tim was very expressive; some times witty, always obnoxious. He had no patience for pomposity or stupidity, and as a result he made lots of friends among rebellious people, and lots of enemies within the media..."
When Tim's long-lost son, Jeff, began making his own name in music last year, Underwood was disturbed to find the younger Buckley bad-mouthing a father he never knew.

"I think the whole situation between Tim and Jeff is very sad," says Underwood, who barely conceals his own anger towards both Jeff and Jeff's mother, Mary. Underwood believes that Tim needed to leave his past behind in 1966, and he feels that Jeff should come to terms with it.

"Jeff is enraged at Tim for abandoning him," Underwood says. "Apparently Jeff would have had Tim remain at Taco Bell and climb up the management ladder rather than become what he was. Jeff's rage is like smoke around his mind. He can't see either Tim or himself clearly at all."

 


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