Why did you and Tim stop writing together for a while before "Happy Sad"?
[He thought that maybe the] rather startling success of "Goodbye and Hello," and in fact maybe his entire career, was perhaps due to my lyrics. Which was something that he never expressed to me, and is in retrospect ludicrous. But knowing Tim and the depth of the self-doubt into which he could fall, totally believable. And that he then decided that he would try to do an album all on his own, just to see if it was his magic. We were really incommunicado for that entire year. That would be mid-'68 to mid-'69, while he was doing his lost album and "Happy Sad."
It's a shame, because as you know, the totally gonzo story of the "Midnight Cowboy" theme is that they went to Dylan and asked him to the theme to "Midnight Cowboy." He came up with "Lay, Lady, Lay." I think they turned it down?! And then, somehow, Herbie got in on it, and said, oh, I got just the guys that can write the perfect song for "Midnight Cowboy"--Buckley and Beckett. But I was in the Army, so we couldn't really collaborate. So they fished something out of Fred Neil's catalog, and that wound up on the soundtrack, in Nilsson's version. I could have wrote a good title track to "Midnight Cowboy."
Though the idea of not collaborating was a bit of a blow, and depressing to me, and frustrating, it in absolutely no way changed our personal relationship, in that we were absolutely best friends, and remained so, and hung out together at all times, whenever possible. I fully respected whatever it was that he wanted to do.
Tim did a lot of live stuff at that time that's pretty different from anything on his studio records.
There's a live tape from the New York Folklore Center, of about maybe 20 songs, about half of which have never seen the light of day. That may be coming out if all the right parties get together. So yeah, Tim was being very prolific on his own part, once he started writing on his own.
The thing is that he was, how can I put this? He was almost too unprofessional to care about reproducing the sound on the album of anything--the arrangements, or anything. He actually was just born to recreate whatever material he was singing in the moment. Now we've come to respect that kind of thing, and think that it's rare. That was just his standard procedure. To me, I'm almost spoiled. We think it's a big deal if Dylan does something with a reggae beat. Tim couldn't really...it just made no sense for him to even bother to try to do something the same way twice. What would be the point of that? Unless it was some musical vision that he was pursuing, some sound. And that changed all the time.
How did it happen that "Lorca" and "Blue Afternoon" came out at almost the same time?
All I know is that there was--the bottom line is, the schism where he leaves Elektra and joins Bizarre. I actually think that "Blue Afternoon" came out after "Lorca," is that even humanly possible? But it was recorded before. So here are these people at war with each other, with their little Tim Buckley albums. So they're not considering each other, they're just getting their sessions out on the market. That's why they're uncoordinated. The artist and the manager have nothing to say about it. They could have held on to "Lorca."
With "Lorca," it seemed that he was almost intentionally trying to drive listeners away, especially by putting the most difficult track first.
I totally agree (laughs). That's totally like him, and I'm sure the programming was his idea. He was calling the shots. Herbie had nothing to say about programming. So yeah, I think that's true.
In those days, in like the late sixties, we were really inspired by like "Bitches Brew" and Miles Davis. And Miles' entire career, his complete integrity to himself and his vision. I think Tim really wanted to model himself after that in some way. Just write even austere, forbidding music that he heard, and not really care about his accessibility, and even confront people with that, and have it lead off. That makes total sense.
Miles Davis used to turn his back on the audience and only play a few notes in a 17-minute piece. 'Cause he wasn't interested in soloing; he'd been soloing for thirty years. Now he wanted to create a musical environment, and that's what he was doing. And he wasn't just some jive-ass trumpet player anymore, you know? And people just couldn't handle it. They thought he was insolent. But all he was doing was being utterly faithful to his vision. And nowadays, everybody loves Bitches Brew and thinks it's a masterpiece. Well, in those days they hated it. (laughs) But Tim saw--and I did--saw Miles' integrity, and wished to mirror it.
You started writing with Tim again on "Starsailor."
We only ever wrote some of the material together. He called up one day and said, you know, let's write together again. I said, okay. It was really an easygoing relationship. We worked on "I Woke Up." He had had some dream, and had some images. He actually tried to work on the lyrics with me, but it was a disaster, a putrid, surrealistic pile of shit, and not a very song. But then at that point, that sort of broke the ice, you might say. And that point he said, what else do you got? And I gave him "Monterey," and talked him into doing "Siren," and so on. And "Moulin Rouge" eventuated out of that too, and "Starsailor" itself.
You know, every single one of the albums that I had anything to do with was titled after a song of mine. I found out after Tim's death that the last album, "Look at the Fool," Tim had titled "Tijuana Moon." He could no longer make the decisions, so somebody retitled it. But I thought that was really sweet.
I always wondered about "Moulin Rouge," because it sounds so different from anything else on "Stairsailor."
Like I say, Tim was ready at any point
to put out a five-album set. He loved so many kinds of music, and
was so good at it, that limiting him to the two sides of an LP was
ridiculous. Even in public, like you see on the live stuff as it
starts to come out, he would start to diverge. And then in
he would diverge even farther, and play and sing all kinds of stuff,
covers or originals, that had nothing to do with anything. I
they're just out from left field. All different kinds of music.
This ["Moulin Rouge] was his idea completely, doing something, some chanteuse-like song, and he wanted me to write in French. He did not know French at all, and actually I coached him, I coached him, I wrote it out so that he could just read what I had written, and sound it out. And he still screwed it up royally. Although I was there for most of the sessions of "Starsailor," I wasn't there for that one, so it got in the can screwed up.
But musically, it's very strange. All it really is, is him saying, once again, you know, "You don't know me. I love all kinds of music you never even thought about."
With "Stairsailor," Tim got about as far out as he ever did, except maybe for "Lorca."
[It was] a watermark of his experimentation. That was clear to him, and to the record company, and to the buying public. He was starting to become more alienated from...well, let me put it this way. He had problems; this is why he could not live beyond the age of 28. In the old days, he would do, like at the Troubadour, a totally haunting, charismatic set, get off the stage. Somebody'd come up and say, "God! Magnificent, Tim!" And he'd say, "Ah, it sucked." Insulting the person who had complimented him, misreading his own performance, really. 'Cause he was wrong--it didn't suck. It was good. But a lot of times he couldn't feel it. He castigated himself. There's a whole hour conversation right there.
But that was the early manifestation. The later manifestation of that was where he thought of the audience as a bunch of idiots. They were nicknamed Lobo--which stands for Lobotomy. Meaning these people, who have paid to see me, who are applauding, have no idea about anything about music, can't follow me, never heard of the name Kristof Penderecki, and couldn't conceive of a 15/17 time signature. So what's the point? He actually conceived this kind of hostility.
In a way, he's right. In a way, he was getting inspired by John Balkin's interest in contemporary classical music. He was getting into that music, and "Starsailor" is actually more like Ligeti than anything else. But...
Obviously it wasn't going to get played on the radio.
No, it wasn't going to be played on the radio or understood by anybody. But I don't think that he was crestfallen, exactly. I think he was, as usual, screwed up in his relationship with the audience. I mean, he was just in a state of permanent alienation. That's all I can say. So this was nothing new, the fact that they didn't understand it. It's just that, at this point, it started to take on, perhaps egged on by his cohorts in the group, he started to take a more hostile attitude towards the audience. But he couldn't help changing.
Just so I can mention it, there's a song on--I think the best version is on "Live at the Troubadour," called "Strange Feelin'"--which is, although the melody has been shifted, it actually is "All Blue" from Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. It's that little, it's a blues riff in 3/4 time that he wrote a slightly different melody to. I think it's a conscious bow to Miles.
Tim's whole approach was just different. He wasn't really an entertainer who cultivates the audience, the kind that becomes beloved in that way. He put all his effort into being authentic, continuing to grow, and then performing with all of his heart when the time came. He would hope that the performance of a challenging piece that no one had ever heard would be enough to sway them. Even Beethoven couldn't hack it. You know, they would play his last quartets, which are now considered to be maybe the best music ever written, and people would hoot and walk out. And then Beethoven would go choke the cellist, thinking that he'd screwed up. Some things don't change.
What do you think Tim would have done if he had gotten better response to "Starsailor" and was allowed to experiment and record as he wished?
The best, most realistic way I can answer this is by saying that, well, first of all, that in my view, is that the record company eventually said, "Starsailor," whatever else its value is, it's just not something that we can afford to produce. So either you come up with a completely different, more accessible sound, or you can't even record at all. Now Tim had always told me that it that ever happened, he was going to walk away and drive a milk truck. Or actually, I think he said bread truck. My dream for the past is that he had done so, is that he had walked away, driven a bread truck, and then now all these years later, alive, you could be talking to him first, and then me second. That's what should have happened. But that's not what happened.
I'm not saying that they drove him to suicide or anything like that. But I think that he caved in after showing such integrity, a la Miles as an artist, that when they threatened to take away his contract, then he switched to a sound to a more accessible...I mean, he did it his way, of course. But still, I don't think it was at all comparable, singing that kind of stuff, or playing with those people. It was against his will, it was not his natural direction.
And what happened is that--to try to answer your question realistically--in the last month before his death, he and I were engaged in creating new music, a new piece together, which was going to be a song cycle, something we'd kicked around since the beginning. An actual set of songs that tied together narratively. It was going to be called "The Outcast of the Islands," based on Joseph Conrad's second novel. And it was going to have music that you couldn't--the closest sound to it, I think, I would say, is [on] "Sefronia," "The King's Chain," which is not the real title of that song. That's the kind of sound, where you can't even really categorize it. What is it? I mean, it's not pop or jazz or classical or anything, but some kind of fusion of everything. That's the direction he was going, in some even more ambitious, even more inclusive kind of music. And I felt that had the record company not intervened, that that would have happened immediately, not been postponed by these rock'em sock'em albums.
Not that "Honeyman" is bad. It's a fuckin' rock and roll masterpiece, whether live--I have some live tapes of it that go on for 20 minutes--or the studio version. He did a version of that on "The Tonight Show."
When that all happened, I was living in Oregon by that time, and he was living in L.A., so we weren't in constant contact. It was hard for me to know what was really the direction, what was the cause of it. But I later figured that, from everything, that it was them threatening to pull the contract.
What do you know about the soundtrack he did for a film called "Changes" around 1970?
He did do a soundtrack for a film called "Changes," and I have a dub of like three songs. It was, like, a couple of instrumentals, and two or three songs with lyrics.
"Changes" I wasn't really aware of till it was done, but a fan later sent me a bootleg of the soundtrack. It was only about 20 minutes long, the soundtrack. Not a big deal. But he did record it to the movie. They didn't just take pieces that he'd done. He sat in there and tried to compose music that was appropriate.
What would Tim have thought about how his music is appreciated today?
Like I say, my dream that never came true is that he dropped into complete obscurity, and then this sort of groundswell with your book and the Rhino project brings him back into the public ear, and he's appreciated for the great artist and unbelievable singer that he was. And not only that, but to my mind, I always, I guess I'm the only one, but I think of him as a great composer. It's the melody to "Hallucinations" that I think is so extraordinary. Everybody listens to his voice, which is very charismatic and wonderful. And his career is intriguing, as it goes through its changes. But to me, how do you write a melody like "Troubadour" or "Hallucinations" or "Siren" or "Morning Glory"? It's only by being a magnificent lyrical composer. That's the way I thought of him when I first heard him write a song, and that's the way I think of him now.
So it would have been nice if he could have somehow made it through to see this adulation. Although, deep inside, if you'd ever known him, if you just walked in on him eating breakfast, you would think, my God, this guy's heart is broken. So you sort of had this feeling that feeling, he's just not going to make it. Now in those days we didn't think it would end in death, because we were all so young. But sure enough it did.
How did Fred Neil influence Tim?
If you listen to that Troubadour one I was telling you about, like "Strange Feelin'" or "Driftin'," listen to how deep...Tim had a tenor voice. And one of the marks of his perversity was to immediately take the one thing that he was good at, and throw it out. You know what I'm saying? Like, what possesses somebody to do this? As soon as he's out on his own after...you know, he throws my lyrics out, then he throws his tenor voice out, and then he goes into "Happy Sad" and starts trying to reach down for low notes, just like his idol, Fred Neil. You know? That's okay...in a way, in the long run, he's really trying to expand his range, literally his vocal range, an octave. We used to kid around about Yma Sumac, who supposedly had like a five-octave range, and Tim was trying to meet her or beat her. You can hear that, kind of. He recaptures the tenor and does the low notes and the high notes and everything on a piece like "Starsailor," he's like everywhere.
But I think that change started to happen with Freddy...we walked in [to a session] because Herbie was managing both people, we got to visit his session. We just walked into the booth. It was a huge room in darkness. And way off there, with like just a tiny light, was Fred, John Sebastian, unrecognizable playing harmonica, and Cyrus Faryar and the rest of the guys doing a version of "The Dolphins" completely unlike what wound up on the album. Then he would stop and change it and do something, again, reconceive it. The sense of Fred's magnificent voice and total authenticity and commitment to creativity...you know, if Tim didn't have it already, he got it that afternoon. The album that came out of it, "Fred Neil," he and I and all of our friends think of as like one of the four or five albums of the sixties. I don't care what-all lists or sales charts anybody wants to throw up. To me, it's like the "Kind of Blue" of the '60s. "Kind of Blue" is a disc that you can listen to over and over, and you never get tired of it. It's eternally fresh. And so is that "Fred Neil" album.
So, between that experience and then the final achieved version, how magnificent, how loose, how poetic, how authentic it was, that become a profound influence on Tim, and on myself, actually. The way he worked folk phrases into original compositions was just an inspiration.
Anything else you want to add I didn't ask about?
I've done my best, over the decades, to
come anywhere to be as good a writer as he was a singer and composer.
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