Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered
Introductory Note by Lee Underwood:
Riny is most kind to post these brief excerpts about Tim Buckley’s life and music on his web site. They are selected from my new book, Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered. It is my hope that they will give readers a taste of the lives Tim and I led during those extraordinary times during the late Sixties and early Seventies, the flavor of the intensity, beauty, anguish and joy we felt while doing the best we could with our brief span of years before he died in 1975. In the months following the release of Blue Melody, these excerpts will eventually be followed by a few sketches, notes, and perhaps one or two articles I have written about Tim over the years that are not included in Blue Melody. A few photographs will also be showcased, virtually all of them previously unpublished. I think Riny is providing a marvelous service to listeners and readers who have learned to appreciate Tim’s creative brilliance, his songs and singing, and his magnificently affirmative spirit of exploration in both art and life.
Tim’s liberated vision was never for repressed authoritarian mentalities. Nor was it for those who insist he should have created his music and lived his life their way instead of his own. Tim Buckley toed nobody else’s line. Neither do I. He was a Starsailor who dared to know himself by courageously delving into every aspect of his complex psyche and facing it with curiosity, love, astonishment, and laughter. He was inquisitive, rebellious, and creative. I sing the song of his entire life and work precisely because I know and respect him.
Blue Melody is a celebration of every dimension of Tim’s complex character, not just those aspects that appeal to conventional minds motivated by insecurity. It takes courage to understand and affirm Tim’s many ways. To sing his praise is to sing the praise of our own humanity. May we live well enough to come to know who we are. Tim was on that path. I have followed that same path. I have no truck with those who might condemn him—or me—because they have not dared to explore themselves, thereby remaining locked in repression and self-ignorance, condemning in Tim the very things they fear in themselves and cannot, will not, face. Tim’s life in every respect was affirmative. Even his depressions and sometimes wayward actions brought intensity, fire and beauty into the world — very often bright and loving, sometimes dark and brooding, but always creatively worthwhile.
Indeed, I urge us to live our lives as fellow travelers in light and joy, celebrating the ecstasy and anguish that was Tim’s life and radiant legacy. That message was implicit in everything he sang. His life was his music. His music was his life. To emerge fully into the truth of our own humanity, let us listen to the music and pay attention to his words and deeds. If our hearts, minds, ears, and eyes are open, we will be able to see, hear and receive from him, and grow within ourselves.
In Blue Melody, I have room enough to tell the full story of his life. In these brief excerpts, of course, we can glimpse only a moment or two, but I trust they are beautiful moments that will touch your heart.
Let the music begin . . . .
Excerpts from ‘Blue Melody’:
AT THE ALBERT HOTEL, NYC, CIRCA 1967
Tim said, “Somebody’s coming up in a few minutes.”
“I don’t know, somebody from the Village Voice.”
“To interview me.”
“To interview you?”
“Yeah,” he smiled. “First time.”
My perspective of Tim subtly shifted. He wasn’t merely the scraggly poetic kid I saw in front of me wearing a t-shirt in a funky Albert Hotel room. He was going to be interviewed.
At that moment, I flashed back on our first major concert, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium shortly before we drove to New York, opening for Joan Baez. Right there, I felt strange. Baez was a big star. We were on the same bill with her. Two thousand people in the audience. Something was going on, something was happening.
Onstage, I usually stood on Tim’s right (so I could see his left hand on his guitar fretboard), but at one point I walked behind him. The spotlight was on him, creating a brilliant blue-white aura in his hair. Silhouetted in front of me, his hair a dazzling halo of light, he sang the songs that had now become familiar and close to me. At that moment, however, listening to the music, feeling the rush of energy from him and the crowd, looking at that blue-white light in his hair and surrounding his body, nothing felt familiar. Everything seemed strange, huge, immensely expanded, absolutely new. Something was happening—in that blinding moment, I became aware of it for the first time.
In New York at the Albert, when he was about to participate in that first interview, I flashed on that Santa Monica Civic concert and experienced a similar feeling. I may have been older than Tim, more knowledgeable, a little wiser at that point, but things were taking place that I had not foreseen. I had vaguely thought we might play a few gigs here and there. But this was more than that. Bigger things were happening.
A few days after the interview, Tim received a fan letter from an ecstatic high school girl. She gushed about how beautiful he was and how much she loved his music, “and please, please, please, Tim—don’t ever change.”
Frowning fiercely, Tim crushed her letter in his hands, wadded it up in disgust, contemptuously threw it into the wastebasket. “Of course I’m gonna change.”
TIM & TAYLOR
A couple of nights later. . .we trouped out to a Mexican restaurant [in Laguna Beach]. The folk singer took a break, at which time little blond-haired, seven-year-old Taylor, [Judy's son; Tim's adopted stepson] spontaneously jumped onstage and grabbed the mike. He started doing a Dick Cavett shtick, telling bad jokes, coming on like a comedian.
Some smart-ass in the audience booed the jokes. Taylor ignored him, tried to carry it off—”Did you hear the one about the elephant ratta-ratta-ratta. . . .” His jokes were rotten, but he had a smooth style, a fast pace, lots of chutzpah.
The heckler hollered, “How come you got blond hair when your mother’s hair is black!?—Har, har, har!”
Tim strode up onstage, picked up the folk singer’s 12-string guitar, sat down, started strumming. The manager and singer rushed over to stop him. I interceded, told them, “Hey, this is Tim Buckley. We played Carnegie Hall and The Johnny Carson Show, he’s got records all over the place, he can sing his ass off, he knows what he’s doing. Let him go, all right?” They grudgingly listened a few seconds, slowly smiled, said, “Okay.”
Tim nodded to Taylor to sit down and play tambourine. He whomped that guitar like Leadbelly and started singing the “Train Song” from Blue Afternoon.
It was an extraordinary moment, one of the most beautiful I ever witnessed during those years. Tim was strumming and singing full strength, with Taylor sitting beside him wailing on the tambourine, an incredible father/son unity in the heat of battle—something Tim had never known with his father; something Jeff never knew with Tim; something I never knew with my father either.
They finished with a flourish, smiling at each other and the audience. People at the bar clapped, cheered, stood up at their tables and applauded. The owner and folk singer applauded, smiling, relieved. The heckler laughed and clapped and called for more.
PHILADELPHIA TV SHOW, CIRCA 1971
For a while, Tim’s merry band of Starsailors wasn’t very merry. The East Coast lay dark and dreary in the dead of winter — snow, ice, gray skies, barren trees, brown grass. Some segments of audiences responded well to the new music, others didn’t. But not everything was bleak. With love and warmth in his eyes, John Balkin, Tim’s bassist at the time, recalled a very special incident that took place.
“Timmy and I had to get up at five in the morning in the cold, while everybody else was sleeping. I bundled him up with his coat and scarf. We were like two kids getting up and going out and playing in the first snow of winter when nobody else has seen it. We had to take a trip together and drive eighty or ninety miles into Philadelphia for a TV show. It was a very personal thing, being together in the car, making that drive in the early winter morning. While we drove, we decided what to do on the show. We had the cassette tape of the backdrop of ‘Starsailor,’ without Tim’s verbal overlay.
“When we hit the studio, we both felt the vibes of these fucking Lobo assholes. It was six or seven in the morning, and already the producers and technicians were getting juiced on wine. The Philadelphia housewives were sitting out front. And backstage, all these television slickos were getting bombed, sitting there drinking cheap white wine.
“They didn’t even relate to us. We could have walked in naked and it wouldn’t have made any difference. They didn’t even see us, you know? We just sailed through the whole thing, carrying our roles off without plotting them.
“My role was to walk coolly into the control room and hand this cat the cassette. He said, ‘What is Tim going to do?’ I said, ‘He’s going to do something from his latest album, and this is the background tape to be played under what he will be saying.’
“Tim walked out into the spotlight, didn’t take his coat off, didn’t even take his scarf off. It was an old dark tweed type of coat. He walked out in front of these housewives who sat in tiers, maybe sixty tiers.
“We cut through the whole thing. We cut through the stoned TV executives. We cut through the stoned cats in the control booth who were drinking a cheaper grade of wine than the executives—they were deciding who’s going to bring the wine next week. We cut through the guy who said, ‘Well, time to go tame all the animals,’ talking about the housewives.
“They put the tape on, and the engineer looked at me as if it was running backwards. I said, ‘No, let it go, it’s okay. It’s not running backwards. Just let it go.’
“Tim took out this piece of crumpled paper from his coat—an envelope with lyrics scratched out on it—and proceeded to read it and improvise on it, with the housewives screaming and chortling, not laughing, but having fun listening to this ragamuffin they were told was a star.
“Nobody listened to the music. Nobody listened to Tim. Everybody backstage was ready for the entrance of the next act. He was just out there. He did his shtick, they gave me my cassette back, nobody said a word. We turned around, walked to the elevator, didn’t say anything, got out in the parking lot, and just looked at each other and broke up laughing at the absurdity of it. ‘Wow!—where the fuck have we just been!’
“It was an out-front experience. It wasn’t the ‘image’ Tim Buckley. It was just two guys doing a thing together.”
(Backbeat Books; San Francisco) © Lee Underwood, 2002.
No part of this material is to be used in any way without written permission from the author.