Lee Underwood Interview (Uncut Magazine)
Tim comes across – even in the more complex Starsailor era clips – as very natural and remarkably comfortable in front of the camera. Was this the case and, as much as TV performances can, do you think these performances truly capture Tim live – his magnetism and charisma?
Tim learned early in life that his physical presence had an immediate charismatic impact. When he smiled, women swooned. And when he sang, men and women alike opened their hearts to receive the music’s beauty and spellbinding magic.
As a result, whether talking or singing, he felt confident in front of the camera. He knew the affect he was having. While singing, he rarely opened his eyes. He confidently shut them to avoid distractions, giving himself entirely to the powerful musicstream flowing through him. These performances are excellent examples of his strong, relaxed, and often fiery live presentations.
For such a sensitive, seemingly intense person who was wary of the music industry, what also comes across is Tim’s amiability and professional qualities. I assume you would agree, having worked with him so closely.
Indeed, Tim was as sensitive as a wild deer and as intense as a blue flame. He was justifiably wary of the ways in which business interests notoriously manipulate and exploit musicians. At the same time, he took full responsibility as a communicator. His job was to present the power and beauty of his music with as much honesty and integrity as possible. He was not an “act.” Even in conversation, his occasional exaggerations were as entertaining as they were truthful, directed toward elegant revelations of fundamental realizations he wanted to share.
What also comes across in the interview clips is that he is so articulate and has a powerful, intense intellect. I realise one isn’t surprised at this, but it’s almost at odds with the laid back, troubadour image. There seem to be a lot of internal contradictions within Tim Buckley, a man living on the edge. Is this fair comment?
For some two decades after Tim’s demise, I wrote about music and musicians for dozens of publications, including Down Beat and Rolling Stone. I spoke with many brilliant musicians. Of all of them, Tim was one of the brightest. His insights penetrated to the core of issues. He linked disparate concepts in startling ways. His thought processes were as fast as an eye-blink, and his use of language brilliant. The “laid back troubadour image” fit him during the early days when he was a teenage folkie, but quickly became irrelevant and inappropriate as he matured.
While some people see contradictions in Tim, I see complementary unities – kind/fierce, loving/angry, relaxed/aflame, creative/destructive, focused/playful. He lived on the edge of sanity precisely because he was an exploratory artist who had courage enough to sail his creative ship into unknown waters every time out.
Larry Beckett talks about Tim’s love of Miles Davis and uses the phrase about Miles “turn around and he’d changed”. Does this sum up Tim?
Miles’ willingness to conceptually evolve became one of Tim’s creative touchstones. In my book Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered, I extensively discuss Tim’s relationship to Miles and other developmental artists, at one point citing painter Wassily Kandinsky’s remark about Picasso, another influence on Tim – “Pablo Picasso leaps boldly and is found continually by his bewildered crowd of followers standing at a point very different from that at which they saw him last. No sooner do they think that they have reached him again than he has changed once more.” Tim’s courage to grow and his willingness to change were artistic triumphs. He explored five different conceptual phases in only nine years – folk, folk/rock, jazz, avant-garde, and white funk dance music.
The avant-garde Starsailor performances on this DVD are quite stunning. How much of this music is improvised? How often did this line up play? Were gigs hard to find, as the band was so “out there”? Also, since the DVD cuts away, how did the TV audiences and producers react? It surely wasn’t what they were expecting, was it? It is absolutely riveting to watch. Was it extraordinary to participate in?
“The Show” was taped in Hershey, Pa. in 1970, previously unseen by today’s audiences. I briefly discussed it in my book. It’s terrific that Rick Fuller, the producer of this DVD, followed that lead, traveled to Pennsylvania, tracked it down, and brought portions of it to us. It’s an amazing find. It highlights some of the dialogue between Tim and the audience, and two songs from Tim’s Starsailor period, “I Woke Up” and “Come Here Woman.”
Both of these pieces reveal Tim’s extraordinary artistic development – brilliant song form innovations and astonishing singing, unrivalled by anybody else I have heard before or since. Tim improvises spectacularly during the course of “Come Here Woman.” All of the instrumental work by myself, bassist John Balkin and the other musicians is improvised.
This group played only three or four gigs, because Starsailor music proved to be ahead of its time. (Tim also assembled three other Starsailor groups along the way, all undocumented). One of the gigs with this particular group was videotaped for the Boboquivari program, partially included on this DVD. Boboquivari included an otherwise unpublished version of Larry Beckett’s lyrical song about Venice Beach, and the only video version of “Blue Melody” that features me playing guitar (I played piano for “Blue Melody” on the Blue Afternoon album). I think viewer/listeners will be able to see clearly why I was so moved by the melodic and lyrical poignancy of “Blue Melody” that I chose it for the title of my book (honored by Uncut magazine as one of the ten best music books of 2003).
Tim’s interaction with the students here on “The Show” is a highlight. You can see some of his quick wit and sharp intelligence rising to the fore as he attempts to communicate a time-honored insight: don’t blindly follow political/religious conditioning to become merely another cog in the societal machine. Seek and find the truth within yourself, embracing your individuality and giving it creative expression in life-affirming ways. He felt his music was an effort to help people connect with the deepest wellsprings and highest aspirations of their own soul.
More than a few students felt their socially conditioned values were being challenged (and they were), while producers were delighted that Tim stirred up a little confusion and controversy. I hope someday Manifesto will release the entire program.
It was a joy playing with Tim in concerts and recording sessions. As a singer, songwriter and innovative improviser, he was brilliant. As a man, he was intense, humorous, quick-witted, intelligent, and charismatic. I have given much of my life to celebrating his life and music. He remains a shining light for all who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
- Mick Houghton
UNCUT magazine (UK). February 3rd, 2007, “My Fleeting House” DVD