Chronicle of a Starsailor

Liberate your ears
Spectrum of Music
Pre Interview Blue Melody
TB Overview
Tim, Jeff and Blue Melody

The last time I saw Tim Buckley he was dead. He lay in his coffin at the Wilshire Funeral Home in Santa Monica wearing the black silk shirt his wife had made for him, his arms crossed over his chest. He held a single yellow orchid between his thumb and the first two slightly gnarled fingers of his left hand.

("Hell, no, I can't barre a guitar chord! How do you expect me to play a barre-chord with these cripples, dummy?" He held up the once-broken fingers and tweedled them, grinning like a pixie, Groucho-Marxing his bushy eyebrows. "Price you pay when you're short, but insist on playing high school quarterback anyway so you can get the A-Number One — I mean primo — shot at the cheerleaders. Heeeeey, baby," he clowned in his punchiest Bell Gardens/Anaheim streetrat accent. "Wanna hit the parking lot at half-time and sniff a little amyl nitrite?")

Coroner's Report, Dr. Joseph H. Choi: Timothy Charles Buckley III died on June 29, 1975 at 9:42pm from acute hero in/morphine and ethanol (alcohol) intoxication due to inhalation and ingestion of overdose.

The unctuous Mexican undertaker tapped me on the shoulder. "They're ready for you now," he whispered. I peeked between the curtains — musicians, Tim's old friends from high school, old friends from the early days in New York, weeping once-upon-a-time ex-loverladies, newcomer musicians and friends from the deathnumb present, some 200 of them in all. They sat in rows and waited. Tim's wife, Judy; her blond-haired son, Taylor; Tim's mother, Elaine; and Tim's sister, Katey, sat on straight-back chairs in a special row in front.

"Okay, y'babies!" I battlecried to myself. "Time for the dream-sequence!" echoing Tim's swishy way of chortling the old Judy Garland movie line just before we parted the curtains at Carnegie Hall, Philharmonic Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and all the other concert halls and clubs and grubby barroom stages we tramped together from the beginning in 1966 at the Night Owl in New York, just before returning to L.A. to record the first album.

I set my papers on the podium. The room settled into silence. I walked over to the coffin and took a final look at Timmy.

He had been scrunched down a little too far. His skin looked pale, pink and waxey; his whiskers had already begun to grow through the makeup.

("I know, I know," I told him silently, "No, I won't bore you. Of course I'll keep the humor. Yes, yes, yes — style, style, style. Ratta-ratta-ratta, Warden. Don't worry... Just don't snore on me, f'Chrise sake... Fed the legend to the end, didn't you. Dirty trick, though. Maybe decadence wasn't so chic after all... Look at what De Golden Throat done got us into now... Maybe you were right, live ha rd, die young and pretty and all that. Gone to The Big Gig In The Sky now, huh? 28 years old. Jesus... What the hell, you always said it, anyway: old singers never die, they just go to Vegas. Schmuck... Now you're up there hustling Saint Peter for the trumpet section. Oh, well... At least you won't go bald. Let's get it on.")

I turned and walked back to the podium and adjusted the mike. "For those of you who don't know me, my name is Lee Underwood. I toured with Tim and played lead guitar on seven of his nine albums. In all the years I played with him, I never got bored on stage.

"I watched him grow from a Bambi-eyed littleboy poet prattling about paper hearts and Valentines, into a hurricane-haired rock and roller, into a madman/genius improvisational vocalist who blew all the pups away, and finally into a lowdown, roadhouse, sex-thumping stomper who injected steam and blood and juice into an r&b music nobody cared about.

"From 1966 when I met him, and gave him my music and my knowledge and my loyalty, right up until this very end, he was my best friend. Just as you, I loved him, too..."

Tim was born on Valentine's Day in Washington, D.C. in 1947. He spent the first ten years of his life in Amsterdam, New York, before moving to Southern California, first to Bell Gardens, then to Anaheim.

"I was only about 12 years old, and I had probably five or six notes to my voice. I heard a recording of a trumpet player playing things way up there. So I tried to reach those notes. Little Richard got them. It was like a falsetto scream. I'd ride my bicycle around the neighborhood screaming at the buses until I couldn't go any higher.

"Then one day I heard the opposite end, the baritone sax, waaaay...doooown...there. I said, 'There's gotta be a way to do that.'

"So I practiced, and I screamed, and I practiced some more, until I finally ended up with my five-to-five-and-a-half octave range." (From an unpublished interview with Frankie Nemko.)

As a boy, he loved Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Hank Thompson. He also loved the occasional Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis or Miles Davis albums his mother used to play. But country is what he lived.

By the time he graduated from high school, he and his poet friend Larry Beckett had written some 20 songs together, which they took to Herb Cohen, who signed Tim with Elektra. Tim was 18 when he signed, 19 when he recorded Tim Buckley.

Tim liked the melodic and harmonic flow of "Valentine Melody," "Song of the Magician," and "Song Slowly Song," but for the most part, he later regarded his first effort as just that: a first effort, naive, stiff, quaky and innocent. It was, however, a ticket into the marketplace. There, because he played an acoustic guitar and strummed, they called him a "folk" singer, a misnomer from which he never freed himself.

In 1966 he rehearsed a great deal, working out specific harmonies, specific lines and specific beginnings and endings. The songs were "objects," which were usually repeated note-for-note in performance.

The record went nowhere, but Tim was not daunted in the least. He struck out on his own, strumming his 12-string, playing solo concerts at small clubs and colleges on the East Coast. And, too, he plunged himself into the big-city brightlights, sleazy streets, backrooms, bedrooms and barrooms of concrete glass and steel urban America.

This was the mid-'60s, when the Jefferson Airplane had soared from the earth, when the Grateful Dead was wailing out the full-tilt boogie to acid-sloshed, rosy-cheeked, beamy-eyed baby-boom children who had discovered Nirvana in a pill, love in a vision, and community, harmony, personal freedom and social cohesion in two tokes of red-earth grass.

Nature was in, cities were out; touching was in, guilties were out; drugs were in, booze was out. And music, as we know greased the madcap whirrings of it all, inciting the passions and infusing the revolutionary hopes and dreams of an entire generation.

Tim explored it all. When he cut Goodbye And Hello in L.A. in June of 1967, his point of view and musical style perfectly matched the searing energy and idealism of the times. Goodbye And Hello became (and remained) Tim's biggest hit.

The mothering young women justifiably swooned over the sad-eyed poetic melodies and words of "Morning Glory" ('I lit my purest candle...'), "Once I Was A Soldier" and "Phantasmagoria In Two" ('If a fiddler played you a song, my love...'). The political protestors embraced him for "No Man Can Find The War" and the massive anti-establishment poem, "Goodbye And Hello" (lyrics of both by Beckett). Buckley was in.

Goodbye And Hello was significant beyond its popularity. Tim had begun writing his own lyrics with a personal commitment and vulnerability he had never shown before — "Pleasant Street," a darkly powerful song about the illusory and destructive nature of drugs (which, ironically, he continued singing until the end); "Once I Was," a stunningly poignant song of love lost; the melodic "Phantasmagoria," his first non-rhyming composition; and the bombastic "I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain" (to his Pisces ex-wife, Mary), in which he for the first time incorporated asymmetrical rhythms and began to awe his listeners not only with the round, seductive natural tonal qualities of his voice, but with the already astonishing technical dexterity with which he was beginning to use it.

Five of the ten songs were his own in their entirety. On the other five, he wrote the music to Beckett's lyrics. Buckley was an uneducated, lower-middle-class street dude who knew nothing about the formal and academic aspects of chords, voicings, harmonies, melodic structures, etc. He never took a voice lesson, nor, as mentioned above, could he place his left index finger flat across the guitar board and make a barre-chord. When you listen to what he did musically to the complex mass of Beckett's often ponderously "literary" lyrics of the song-poem "Goodbye And Hello" (uncredited arrangement by Joshua Rifkin), you immediately perceive the natural brilliance of this then-budding boy/man singer and composer.

After Goodbye And Hello, Buckley began moving away from the "literary" world of Beckett and ever-more into the personal world he was developing on his own (although Beckett often contributed later on),

He began to shun politics and social movements. ("Christ — either the government slaughters you with Vietnam, or the hippies drown you with love and Patchouli oil.") He resented being set up as a rock 'n' roll savior, insisting that people should learn how to do their own living instead of propping up musicians as "easy gods" who did the living for them.

While Goodbye And Hello had placed him solidly in the center of the rock movement of the times, he refused to remain there, to turn that style into a goldmine gimmick, and to capitalize on it until the locked-in lode ran out. Change, evolution and commitment to his own abilities were his watchwords. He had come to regard the blues-oriented rock of the day as white thievery, emotional sham and high-decibel masturbation. He became an outlaw roving the very underground culture that embraced him.

He also began his war with the business world. Once in Buffalo, we went to a television studio where they asked him to lip-sync the words to "Pleasant Street." "You believe this turkey? He wants to play the record and have me pretend to sing. T'hell with 'em." He walked out.

As he later told Anne Marie Micklo in one of his best interviews, "You see, it's like weird. America is a business. And if you have to be an American, no matter what you do, you are supposed to first of all be a businessman.

"So any show that I go on, they ask me, 'Well, you make albums, so you must make them for money. And I got to go through the whole thing, gotta tell them, 'Man, you are the same people who, when Monet or Modigliani were starving for 40 years and finally sold a painting, you said they sold out.'

"I said, 'Like, man, what have you got to worry about? You got all the money you want, all the fine suits — why do you have to pull me down to where you are, man? Because you can't do what I'm doing? I said. 'Why do you have to make me the way you are — 'cause I'm not, see?

"'I live in a hundred dollar a month house in Venice, California, and I don't need anything. You could take all the money away from me, and I could make it anyway. I did it before, and I can do it again. All I'm doing is paying for airplanes...'" (Changes, Vol. 1, No. 7, 1969).

Tim was an intellectual vacuum-cleaner. He inhaled personalities, he inhaled ideas, he inhaled knowledge. In Thomas Mann's phrase, he was truly "one on whom nothing is lost." Because of this exceptional ability, which enabled him to quickly acquire and utilize whatever knowledge he needed at any given time, he demanded the people around him to be constant inputs for his voracious intellectual and creative appetites. Those who ran out of informational fuel became useless to him. He dropped them quickly, often cruelly.

After completing Goodbye And Hello, he turned to me: "Jazz. The rockers think it's cocktail music. Christ. They put a perfect prettyboy up there, spray him all over with glitter-paint and makeup, plug his guitar into Hoover Dam, tell him to Play De Blooes Man, and think they got Reality. Play me some music."

We listened to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, Bill Evans' Nirvana, Intermodulation (with guitarist Jim Hall) and Town Hall. We also listened extensively to Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Gabor Szabo, Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman, Milt Jackson...

Happy Sad, recorded in 1968, was the resultant album, with David Friedman on vibes, John Miller on acoustic bass, Carter Collins on congas and myself on guitar. This time, all of the lyrics and music were Tim's.

The influences about — "Strange Feelin'," for example, is directly after Miles' "All Blues." At the same time, Tim's compositional abilities had grown immensely. The ballad "Love From Room 109" in itself consists of five movements: the sea-effects were recorded live; the melodies are some of the finest he ever composed. It was not a revolutionary album, but it was definitely a significant step in Tim's personal evolution.

He was learning how to select words not only for their content, but for their round, harsh or voluptuous sounds. He searched for content and sensuality.

(At dinner tables, he tinkled with his fork on every glass, plate and bowl; at garage sales or junk shops, he "played" old pipes, glassware, fixtures, anything that rang, chimed or crackled. "My business is sound," he said. "If you use it right, it's all music.")

"Buzz in' Fly," one of the most popular Happy Sad songs, remained in his repertoire until the end, as did the earthy "Gypsy Woman." Because the rhythms never jelled, the dynamics were poor, the performances were constricted and the piece was too long, "Gypsy Woman" failed on the record. However, it remained an indispensable vehicle in live performances for Buckley's increasingly more extended vocal extravaganzas. The beautiful ballad, "Dream Letter," was specifically for his son, Jeffrey Scott, by his first wife, Mary.

Tim Buckley, Goodbye And Hello and Happy Sad — these first three albums were the ones that the majority of Buckley fans embrace to this day as their own.

After these records, life became increasingly more difficult for Tim. His sales dropped; his dwindling audiences demanded the old material and resented the new. To them, Buckley's new "vocal gymnastics," as the critics called them, were not dazzling at all — they were jarring, upsetting, demanding.

At concerts Tim began to freely improvise at exhausting length. We no longer rehearsed. We followed wherever Tim wherever he took it. When he brought new material to the stage, he simply presented it. We found our own way as quickly and as well as we could.

("I don't want it to be a thing. A thing is dead. I want it alive, I want it present, I want it always growing and changing. Just be you. Stay close to your instincts. That'll make it fine.")

He felt strongly about instincts. As he told Anne Marie Micklo, "That's why animals are so great, because they're just pure instinct. And when you really get into them, you see that birds are even better than animals, because they have nothing. They're not even like a cat or a dog — they just fly."

Goodbye And Hello ended Buckley's apprenticeship as a writer. Because he did not wish to repeat himself, writing no longer came easily. But even as he worked at being fresh and original, an unanticipated problem arose.

"The way Jac (Holzman of Elektra Records) had set it up," he told ZigZag 44 (Vol. 5, No. 4), "you were supposed to move on artistically, but the way the business is, you're not. You're supposed to repeat what you did before, so there's a dichotomy there.

"It's a problem, and I don't think there's anybody you can talk to who doesn't face it. People like a certain type of thing at a certain time. It's very hard to progress."

Having done his "folk" thing, his "rock" thing, and his "jazz" thing, he now wanted to delve into vocal areas that were virtually uncharted. "An artist has a responsibility to know what has gone down and what is going down in his field," he said, "not to copy, but to learn and be aware. Only that way can he strengthen his own perception and ability."

We visited a record store and selected albums by Luciano Berio, Xenakis, John Cage, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Stockhausen, Subotnick, etc. I researched them. The next day I said, "You've got to hear this singer, Cathy Berberian. She sings two Berio pieces — Thema (Omaggio A Joyce) and Visage.

"She cluck, gurgles, sighs, yowls, sputters, screams, cries, weeps, wails — you don't know it yet, but in her you've got the musical friend you've been looking for."

He didn't care very much for the electronic music itself — "just doesn't touch my heart, I guess" — but he loved Berberian. After hearing her sing, he no longer doubted himself. He regarded the title cut of Lorca, recorded in 1969, to be his debut as an identity, as a unique singer, as an original force.

He held notes longer and stronger than anyone else in pop had ever done: he explored a wide, comparatively bizarre range of vocal sounds, which in pop contexts were revolutionary: having composed Lorca in 5/4, he began his odyssey into odd-time signatures, which at that time and in that context was unheard of. In the second cut on side one, "Anonymous Proposition," he composed and sang one of the most voluptuous and demanding personal ballads any singer had ever recorded.

He also bombed.

By any standards, the record was far from perfect. The songs were too long ("Lorca" alone was 9:53; "Proposition" was 7:43). The tunes on the second side, two of which are lyrically strong and musically intimate, were nevertheless basically fillers (although for an encore at Carnegie Hall he stood on stage alone, no band, no guitar, and sang "Anonymous Proposition" a capella ).

Most of the critics regarded the body of the music as being morbid, "weird," and decidedly uncommercial. And the fans didn't like the album any more than they had liked the live performances leading up to it.

"Why don't you play "Buzzin' Fly?" cried one dismayed early-Buckley fan at a concert in Philadelphia. "Why don't I play horseshit," Buckley angrily retorted. The critics called the music self-indulgent noise. Elektra dropped him.

At the insistence of his business people, Tim grudgingly dipped back into his past, pulled out eight previously unrecorded songs, including "Blue Melody" and "Cafe" (which he performed until the end), and released the LP Blue Afternoon.

The performances were perfunctory. Tim's heart was not in them, and it showed. As critic Debbie Burr observed, "Buckley never has been known for singing jubilant, bouncy tunes. But Blue Afternoon is ridiculous. It's not even good sulking music..."

Tim liked much of the material, but having to attempt to record a so-called "commercial" LP at this time (late 1969) only interrupted the creative flow he had begun with Lorca.

With the imperfect beginnings of Lorca and the interruptions of Blue Afternoon behind him, Tim now threw himself with a passion into his magnum opus, Starsailor, which he also officially produced.

"When you stand Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy or Roland Kirk up against rock," he said to Sam Bradley, "rock comes out sounding like a complete pre-fabrication.

"The reason I like Miles and those others is because their music comes out of the communication between the men playing it. Everything is so over-rehearsed in rock, that when somebody hits a wrong note, they don't know what to do with it.

"I'll never forget listening to Roland Kirk play a wrong note, hear it, and within a split second integrate that note into the total sound and take it someplace else.

"Then it's not a mistake, really... it's life. I refer to it as 'spiritual' music, because playing music like that takes faith and trust in yourself and the people you're playing with." (From an unpublished interview with Sam Bradley.)

With Starsailor, he knew he stood on tremulous commercial grounds. As he later told Bill Henderson, however, "Sometimes you're writing, and you know you're just not going to fit in. But you do it because it's your heart and your soul, and you gotta say it. It's the foremost thing in your mind... It's hard to play the kind of music that musicians like to play and that the audiences like to hear, too." (Sounds, March 8, 1974.)

With the exception of "Moulin Rouge" and "Song To The Siren," two poetic little gems melodically, harmonically and lyrically reminiscent of his earlier work, Starsailor was a pop monster of odd-time signatures ("Come Here, Woman" — 5/4; "Healing Festival" — 10/4; "Jungle Fire" — 5/4); bizarrely dissonant criss-crossing shrieks, wails and moans; surrealistic overdubbing (the title cut is Buckley singing 16 tracks with himself); freely improvised instrumental madness (trumpet, saxophone, pipe organ, tympani drums, etc.); and virtually unparalleled exoticism and sensuality in the lyrics: "Gently you tease me/And turn away/Unlike the young ones/Your movements you savor/Like a tango... Give me drunken lands/Where you don't feel pain/Let me smell your thighs/Let me drink down a little rain/While we drift and float/Out beyond the seas/We're with the tide/Into a coil of peace." ("Come Here, Woman, c. Third Story Music, 1970).

"I was as close to Coltrane as anyone has ever come," Buckley later said in Warners and DiscReet bios. "I even started singing in different languages — Swahili, for instance — just because it sounded better. An instrumentalist can be understood doing just about anything, but people are really geared for hearing only words come out of the mouth... The most shocking thing I've ever seen people come up against — besides a performer taking off his clothes — is dealing with someone who doesn't sing words. I get off on great-sounding words. If I had my way, words wouldn't mean a thing. It shocked the hell out of the people. It was refreshing."

It wasn't Swahili, but it sounded like it. And it may have been "refreshing" to Tim and those few fans who liked it, but it was also an economic disaster.

True, some of the critics perceived and appreciated the music from Buckley's point of view. Michael Bourne gave Starsailor a five-star review in "Down Beat," saying, "...he has proven himself a consummate vocal technician..."

Rich Mangelsdorff praised Buckley's willingness to "burst the bounds of even phrasing, strict rhyme and taken-for-granted arrangements." He went on to say, "Buckley employs his voice in instrumental fashion, getting sometimes into contemporary dramatic or operatic atonality and fragmentation, sometimes bending and twisting his notes, changing pitch and timbre abruptly, sometimes getting into non-verbal wails and trills..." ("Kaleidoscope," Jan. 8-15, 1971.)

Even "Creem," the often viciously scathing rock journal, perceived and empathized with what Buckley had done. "Yet another album by the elliptically rousing Tim Buckley — who I steadfastly maintain is one of the most underrated and misunderstood musicians ever to develop out of the deadend of rock and roll into the free-form fusion of rock and jazz coupled with his already original sound... Starsailor is yet another lyric-stung, waterfall-rushing-into-the-night's-combing-of-the-stars manifestation of Buckley's thresholding work in the rock/jazz medium. A tricky stance to take, and one with probably doubtful financial success... but for those who care about what a genius can do with lyrics, a 12-string guitar and a windmilling voice, Tim Buckley is to be investigated." ("Creem," December, 1970.)

The vast majority of critics and fans, however, detested the new sound. In reviewing live performances of this period, critics almost unanimously said: "Buckley offered a set which was agonizing in its rampant dissonance, and deadly dull in its self-indulgent repetitiveness." (Michael Sherman, "L.A. Times," April 2, 1970.)

"Concluding the evening with an eerie trip into vocal distortion, Tim Buckley seemed oblivious to the audience in relating mostly to the mike or his electric 12-string..." (Robin Loggie, "Billboard," Nov. 28, 1970.)

Writer William Tusher contemptuously categorized Buckley as a "folk" singer, then said, "Buckley's delivery is more than acceptable — if less than spectacular — until he succumbs, as he does early and often to his addiction to affecting change of pace with a high-pitched tremelo that comes off like a Siamese cat in pre-dawn heat." ("Hollywood Reporter," April 2, 1970.)

Immediately prior to recording Starsailor, Buckley married his chic and extraordinarily provocative fantasy woman, Judy, whom he renamed "Madam Wu."

Together, they moved to Tim's new dreamhouse in Laguna Beach. There Tim worked on Starsailor, while Judy professionally designed clothes. They regularly walked on the beach in the sunsets; they listened to Olivier Messiaen (especially Quartet For The End of Time), Satie, Penderecki and other notable classicists, many of them introduced to Tim by John Balkin, the bassist and friend who had become one of Tim's closest companions and foremost educators from the earlier days immediately preceding Lorca.

When Starsailor came out and proved to be a terrifying failure, Tim became furious, then profoundly depressed.

His business people took away all control. He could not produce his own records anymore. He could not get booked. For awhile, he booked himself ("under the table") and played obscure clubs like In The Alley in the mountains north of San Diego. Then that too was gone.

He could not record his group (Balkin on bass, Emmett Chapman on 10-string electric stick, Glen Ferris on trombone, Maury Baker on tympani).

The powers that be shut the doors in his face. When he ran out of money, he was told, "Tough, schmuck. You can't eat five stars in "Down Beat." Better learn how to drive a truck."

They broke him. He unleashed his anger, his frustration and his fear on himself. He gobbled reds like vitamins, booze like a sailor. When smack was available, he took it. Down... down... He gave up his dreamhouse in Laguna and returned to Venice/Santa Monica. Down.

After two years, he was strapped in every way. He needed money. He desperately needed the adulatory recognition of his long-vanished public. He needed to record. He needed to feel like a man again. He needed to come back.

"Gotta play rock 'n' roll, kid."

"All right. I'll do it your way."

He came back with three rock albums: Greetings From L.A. (produced by Jerry Goldstein), Sefronia (produced by Denny Randell), and Look At The Fool (which Tim wanted to be entitled Tijuana Moon; produced by Joe Falsia, who also arranged and played lead guitar).

He did it "their way," but it didn't work, primarily because he despised the conventional r&b/rock format, the clichés, the thin, canned arrangements and the necessity of recording other peoples' songs (exception: Fred Neil's "Dolphins," which Tim dearly loved and regularly performed live).

He hated enduring the pitifully pedestrian, inadequate and unfulfilling context with which he had to surround himself, especially on those few excellent songs that were deep and true and honest and often achingly impassioned, notably "Sweet Surrender," "Because Of You," "Look At The Fool," and "Who Could Deny You."

Although he despised the limitations of the format, he did love the earthy rhythms and the spirit of the "monkey-rub, belly-to-belly, walkin' like a skinned cat, talk in tongues, smell the way you walk, listen to those walls a-talkin' that voodoo song." Pure sex — nasty, raw and elegant, all in one.

Ironically, his voice never sounded fuller, more varied, or more technically controlled and emotionally capable than during these last three years. The context was an empty sham to him; but as an improvisational vocalist in live performance, he had become a master.

During this final period, and especially during the last year, he lived a life of what I think of as "controlled schizophrenia," figuratively speaking.

He was nice to his loyal, well-meaning musicians; he was nice to his producers; he was nice to his managerial and record company people (until he had contracts with neither); he was nice to the press. He was nice to everybody who counted.

But he hated himself for it. His sense of isolation became excruciating. "So what is there to say?" he wrote in a "story letter" to me, postmarked Sept. 13, 1974, less than a year before his death. "You are what you are, you know what you know, and there are no words for loneliness, black, bitter, aching loneliness, that gnaws the roots of silence in the night...

"There has been life enough, and power, grandeur, joy enough, and there has also been beauty enough, and, God knows, there has been squalor and filth and misery and madness and despair enough, and loneliness enough to fill your bowels with the substance of gray horror, and to crust your lips with its hard and acrid taste of desolation...

"... and we are lying there, blind atoms in our cellar-depths, gray voiceless atoms in the manswarm desolation of the earth, and our fame is lost, our names forgotten, our powers are wasting from us like mined earth, while we lie here at evening and the river flows... and dark time is feeding like a vulture on our entrails, and we know that we are lost, and cannot stir..."

In his effort to come back, he had made effective and constructive strides in controlling the alcohol and drugs. He ate well, he took vitamins, he exercised. Before going on the road, and during the extensive periods of rehearsals, and while touring, he remained completely straight. There were binges in between, but, next to the sustained extravagances of the two years following Starsailor, his life had become comparatively healthy.

On the weekend of June 28, 1975, he returned from a road-gig in Dallas. As was his custom after final performances, he got drunk, this time starting in the afternoon. Instead of returning home immediately, he went to the house of a close, long-time friend, where he sniffed some heroin.

Buckley's system had been clean. The combined dosage of alcohol and heroin proved to be too much for him.

Thinking that he was only drunk and obnoxious — on many previous occasions Buckley had ingested considerably more alcohol and drugs than this — the friend took him home. As his friend discussed the situation with Judy, Tim lay on the living room floor, his head resting on a pillow.

When his friend knelt down to ask him if he were all right, Tim almost inaudibly whispered his last words, "Bye, bye, baby," he said.

Tim died, in debt, owning only his guitar and his amp, and he was cremated.

Memory is a wicked lover, foxy and disloyal, always a treacherous temptress. There are perhaps those who will disagree with my perspective; perhaps there are others who will recognize the events, the insights, and/or the interpretation s that have been omitted either by choice, necessity or ignorance.

Much remains to be done — people talked to, interviews and reviews collected, stray tapes gathered etc. With your help, perhaps it can be accomplished. As of 1999, the writer's email address was

Tim Buckley held hands with the world for awhile. He gave in fire and fury and perverse humor the totality of his life's experience, which was vast far beyond his mere 28 years. He courageously stood on the arena-stages of our barrooms and auditoriums, ultimately alone, singing from within his own flames like a demon possessed. He had a beauty of spirit, a beauty of song and a beauty of personage that re-etched the face of the lives of all who knew him, and of all who ever truly heard him sing. He burned with a very special flame, one of a kind. No doubt about that. Bye, bye, baby....

Down Beat, June 16, 1977
Copyright Lee Underwood