Today we lament the tragic and untimely passing of rock'n'roll's
most revolutionary vocal stylist - the beautiful Tim Buckley
- wrenched away from this planetary existence on this day
in 1975, aged just 28. Had he survived his tragic fate, who
knows what ecstatic new highs and churningly deep lows this
mischievous yodelling leprechaun could have brung us?
to Elektra Records in 1966 after a brief spell as Nico's teenage
guitarist, and accompanied - Donovan/Gypsy Dave-stylee - by
his own poet/familiar Larry Beckett, Buckley's first two LPs
TIM BUCKLEY and the soaring and sumptuously produced GOODBYE
& HELLO placed the nineteen-year-old on the edge of hippy
superstardom by early '67.
But when Tim's exquisite performance of the timeless 'Song
to the Siren' on the Monkees' TV show enraptured millions
of spellbound teenage girls, this immaculately hip troubadour
immediately turned his back on the kind of 'Face of '67'-style
magazine stardom that beckoned; ditching his cool young hippie
musicians in favour of a bunch of middle-aged jazz uglies
absent from this new music were those baroque pop structures
previously demanded by Larry Beckett's keenly observed lyrics,
Buckley's new vocal path being instead a yelping dance through
fire, a kundalini guru's walk on gilded splinters, a relentlessly
speculative and even unrewarding experiment. But at its peak,
what a ride this music could be: a sonic Cresta Run no less.
close friend declared to me back in 1981
that Buckley's death should really
be regarded as an unproven homicide..."
blissful songs of this new LP HAPPY SAD stretched way out
instrumentally into proto-meditative states, ambient ballads
of impressionistic heat haze that evaporated on touching,
as did the jarring, near inchoate stumbling genius of the
bizarre LORCA, whose six blissful burnt offerings often collapsed
in on themselves so strung out was the vibe. Ah yes, but so
far from Elektra's initial commercial expectations had Buckley
by now swerved that this final extraordinary disc was passed
over as a major release by Elektra and allowed merely to seep
out via the company's mid-price label.
next home on Frank Zappa's Straight label immediately yielded
another artistic triumph in the glorious BLUE AFTERNOON, sumptuously
packaged and brimming over with shimmering organic experiments.
But the rage and range of its follow-up 1970's STARSAILOR
often veered too close to the jazz leanings of Tim's Frank
Zappa sidemen, and those all important strung out grooves
which had previously acted as vehicles for Tim's vocaleptics
were, on STARSAILOR, too often faded out before he'd really
the 1970s would prove difficult, even arduous for Tim Buckley.
His management bailed on him, his jazz musicians prevaricated
and his audiences evaporated even further. So with his free
music experiments put temporarily on hold, this loveable but
un-hireable jazz elf held his tongue temporarily whilst LA
producers drew out of him performances of songs written by
others, even such standards as 'Sally Go Round the Roses'.
heroin use, a bad haircut and his itinerant lifestyle soon
took its toll on the famous Buckley looks, whilst the hack
artwork of his final three LPs - GREETINGS FROM L.A., SEFRONIA
and LOOK AT THE FOOL - show us evidence enough of our hero's
tragic can't-be-arsed decline and evaporating muse. Ironic
it was, then, that Buckley - only after a comparatively successful
series of Texas shows - succumbed on June 29th, 1975 to an
accidental heroin overdose, dying at 9.42pm from 'acute heroin/morphine
and ethanol intoxication'.
Many friends and family members believe that Buckley overdosed
due to his body's over-reacting to his drastic clean up of
the preceding months, whilst one close friend declared to
me back in 1981 that Tim Buckley's death should really be
regarded as an unproven homicide, arguing that Tim had so
successfully and so visibly reduced his heroin use that any
friend offering him the drug should have known how hazardous
it could have been to him.
all of this in mind, we should now reflect on what a tragic
loss the death of Tim Buckley was to '70s rock'n'roll, for
his main sequence of LPs offer extraordinary and sustained
evidence of a compelling Ur-spirit at work. Had Punk and the
New Wave re-ignited that spirit, he may - like near contemporaries
Peter Hammill, John Cale and Robert Wyatt - have enjoyed even
greater notoriety than the first time around. But it was not
So let's now salute this elusive elemental whose looks drove
women crazy and whose ways charmed all around him, and let
all true rock'n'rollers now bow their heads in symbolic acknowledgement
of Tim's dazzling series of roaring and righteous works. To
Tim and his adventuresome spirit, let none forget.
2011 Julian Cope