Maker - 1975
: A Master In Search of Pupils
Lake in New York pays tribute to Tim Buckley
like a buzzin' fly I'll come into your life and I'll float
away like honey in the sun."
Buckley wrote those words and sang them, but exits from life
are rarely that pretty. He also wrote: "the candle died,
now you are gone, for the flame was too bright..." And
that is probably nearer the truth. Buckley died at his Santa
Monica apartment on Sunday, June 29.
loss to rock music is vastly greater than most people are
going to realise, for a while, at least. Don't expect any
books or movies about Tim's demise--he never enjoyed the showbiz
plaudits afforded Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix
or Janis Joplin but his art, I'm sure, will endure at least
as long, and maybe longer.
Buckley's songs and vocal technique were without precedent
in rock. He was an innovator, and God knows, there are few
enough of them.
my mind, Buckley's almost universally ignored contribution
puts him on a par with artists like John Coltrane and Eric
Dolphy, and I'm convinced that in a few years' time Buckley
outtakes will become treasured collector's items snapped up
in the same manner that old Charlie Parker or Lester Young
tapes are now.
just a drag, a total drag, that Tim won't be around to see
it happening. Because he felt the neglect, no doubt about
that, and it made him bitter.
the time he'd graduated from High School, Buckley had already
served a lengthy apprenticeship with Southern Californian
country and western bands, and together with poet and friend
Larry Beckett began to do his own gigs.
signed a contract with Elektra at 19, but not before playing
the sessions for the Byrds' first album--and the instrument
he played was the twelve-string guitar, supposedly one of
the bands' innovations.
the sessions he met guys like Van Dyke Parks, guitarist Lee
Underwood and the Mothers' drummer Billy Mundi, and carted
them all over to Elektra to play on his debut album, which
was met with critical interest.
was in 1966, and fame looked assured. Buckley was good-looking,
pop star material. He had Dylan's froth of curls and fine,
chiselled features, plus a gorgeously pure counter tenor,
and if the songs weren't brilliant they were at least interesting--mixing
surrealism with romanticism and colouring the whole with delicate
use of electric instruments.
'67, and Tim was at the vanguard of the new flowering of consciousness,
his Goodbye and Hello album--the last to be picked
up on by any mass audience--reflecting his experiments with
psychedelics and his social indignation (the expected diatribes
against war and opulence and the older generation).
some ways it was an immature statement, but it bore the seed
of what was to come, and the title track, for all its clichés,
was an experimental work, with parallel verses and cut-up
high on all the liberated attitudes prevalent around that
period, Tim made the "mistake" of presuming that
all the barriers really were down, that pop was no longer
hidebound by convention, that an artist could extend the limits
of his imagination indefinitely and the audience, being as
hip as he was would be able to stay the course.
got very heavily into jazz and further into poetry. Reviews
of his 1968-1969 shows reported that Buckley was singing trumpet
parts--and that the audiences were heading for the exits.
transitional albums, Happy/Sad and Blue Afternoon,
were exquisitely low key affairs, proving Buckley's melodic
dexterity. Love From Room 109 At The Islander (On Pacific
Coast Highway) on the Happy/Sad album is crammed
full of counter melodies, all linked by Lee Underwood's sensual
guitar and Don Friedman's vibes, while So Lonely on
the Blue Afternoon set (and Buckley claimed that all
his songs were written from personal experience) mirrors the
extent of his introspection during this period: "Well,
I don't get no letter / Nobody calls / Nobody comes round
my door no more..."
vocal range was expanding all the time, able to plumb baritone
depths as well as scale castrato heights. But if Buckley fans
were perplexed by the nature of those albums they were dumbfounded
by Lorca --its title track dedicated to the murdered
Spanish poet Garcia Lorca and Starsailor--the most
extreme of Buckley's albums.
toyed with modern jazz, Buckley suddenly catapulted himself
to the outer reaches of music. Starsailor, while being
New Music, unquestionably hints at myriad other styles from
calypso out to free jazz and Ligeti-esque glissandos on the
was immensely proud of the album. It was his Sergeant Pepper.
Unfortunately, others didn't see it that way, and the album
Buckley hung up his twelve string and that was gonna be it.
He quit the music scene, working for a while as a taxi driver
and, at one point, as a chauffeur to Sly Stone.
took up a post at the University of California in LA where
he specialised in ethnomusicology, which, together with an
improvement in his domestic situation--he got married--brought
about a new interest in performing.
returned, tongue firmly in cheek, with Greetings From LA,
complete with mock-ecological sleeve, and containing some
of the randiest and raunchiest songs ever committed to vinyl.
and Morrison were hypocrites, said Buckley: their image was
macho and dirty but their songs were sexless. He was gonna
put that right. And, amazingly, for those with ears to listen,
he did. Greetings From LA is a celebration of physical
gratification. More power to it.
from there, sadly, Tim mostly trod water. I dearly love his
last two albums, Sefronia and Look At The Fool,
but what they represent is the work of a man desperately trying
to connect with an audience that has deserted him. They contain
great songs, but don't represent any more steps forward.
the time of his death, he was simultaneously working on the
compilation of a live album and a song cycle based upon Joseph
Conrad's Outcasts of The Islands. And he'd just completed
a tour of Texas.
sure as hell hope they appreciate his talents wherever he
1975 Lake/Melody Maker