The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Briefly recounting Tim Buckley’s short, inconvenient stylistic trajectory *

* (restored)


‘You know, people don’t hear anything. That’s why rock ‘n’ roll was invented, to pound it in. That whole stuff has got to stop, because music is being poisoned by the people. I see where I’m headed–yeah, into a progressive thing–there’s going to be a change and I can’t help the people.’ — Tim Buckley, 1970

‘It is not that Tim did not want to please his listeners. He very much wanted them to enjoy his offerings. However, he also wanted to grow as an artist, to seek new approaches to composition and performance. He wanted to evolve. And he did, through five distinct generic phases: folk, folk/rock, jazz, avant-garde and white funk dance music. Along the way he listened to everything from Duke Ellington, Pete Seeger, and Fred Neil, to Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, and Penderecki. By the time he reached Lorca and Starsailor, he knew he was the most impassioned and technically innovative singer of his era. He knew the past; he knew the present; he stretched his psyche and his soul into the future.’ — Lee Underwood, 2007


‘Once I Was’, 1968

‘I’m Coming Home Again’, 1968

‘Song to the Siren’, 1968


‘Tim Buckley recorded his debut album, Tim Buckley, over three days in Los Angeles in August 1966. Buckley later remarked that recording was “Like Disneyland. I’d do anything anybody said”. The album’s folk-rock style was largely typical of the time but Buckley’s distinctive voice and melodic compositions garnered positive reviews upon its release in late 1966. On later reflection, guitarist Lee Underwood summed it up as “a first effort, naive, stiff, quaky and innocent [but] a ticket into the marketplace”. Producer Jac Holzman expressed similar sentiments, stating in 1991 in the periodical Musician that Buckley “wasn’t really comfortable in his own musical skin”. Lyricist Larry Beckett suggested that the band’s desire to please the prospective audience held them back. Despite having some aspects in common with Bob Dylan, in terms of musical style and fashion sense, Buckley distanced himself from comparisons, expressing a general apathy towards the artist and his work. Whilst his second album, the more ambitious Goodbye and Hello did not make Buckley a star, it performed better in the charts than his previous effort, peaking at #171.


‘Morning Glory’, 1968

Tim Buckley interview, 1969

‘Sing a Song for You’, 1969


‘After Buckley’s long time lyricist Larry Beckett was drafted into the Army, Buckley was free to develop his own individual style, without the literary restraints of before. He described the music he was associated with at the time as “White thievery and an emotional sham.” Drawing inspiration from jazz greats such as Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Roland Kirk, and vocalist Leon Thomas, his subsequent independently-recorded music was vastly different from previous recordings. His third album Happy Sad alienated much of his prior audience. He began to weave in new songs into his performances, featuring an increasingly minimalist sound from his heavily orchestrated first two albums, and introducing a vibraphone player into his band. However, this attempted rejuvenation was a commercial failure; becoming largely based on improvisation, his performances were less accessible to the audiences who saw him as a folk-rock poster boy.


‘Blue Melody’, 1969

from ‘Lorca’, 1970

‘Venice Beach’, 1970


‘During 1969, Buckley began to write and record material for three different albums: Lorca, Blue Afternoon, and Starsailor. Inspired after hearing the singing of avant-garde musician Cathy Berberian, he decided to integrate the ideas of composers such as Luciano Berio and Iannis Xenakis in an avant-garde rock genre. He started to fully utilize his voice’s impressive range. Lorca was viewed as a failure by many fans who, shocked by its completely different style, found the vocal gymnastics too abstract and far removed from his previous folk-rock rooted albums, and Blue Afternoon was criticized as boring and tepid. Vocally and instrumentally haunting, Starsailor was highly original, with free jazz textures under Tim’s most extreme grunting and wailing vocals to date. At times his voice sounds disturbed and depressed. Despite including ‘Song to the Siren’, the song that would end up being his most covered and revered, the album shared the same response as the Lorca album. Impervious to Buckley’s avant-garde style, few of his fans were aroused, and most disliked it.


from ‘Starsailor’, 1970

‘I Woke Up’, 1970

‘Come Here Woman’, 1970


‘After the failure of Starsailor, Buckley’s live performances degraded to insincere chores and he eventually ended up unsellable. Unable to produce his own music and almost completely broke, he turned to alcohol and drug binges. Two years later, financially depleted and craving recognition, he released three rock/soul/funk albums – Greetings from L.A., Sefronia and Look at the Fool. They all failed. Fundamentally Tim was unhappy with the systematic and shallow R&B; structure of the lyrics and music, despite being a fan of the genre. His distaste with bowing to commercial pressures from his manager soon left him without a recording contract. On June 28, 1975, Buckley completed the last show of a tour in Dallas, Texas, playing to a sold-out venue with 1,800 people in attendance. Buckley celebrated the culmination of the tour with a weekend of drinking and drugging with his band and friends, as was his normal routine. Having diligently controlled his drug habit while on the road, his tolerance was lowered, and the combination of the drugs he took mixed with the amount of alcohol he had consumed throughout the day was too much. The coroner’s report by Dr. Joseph H. Choi stated that he died at 9:42pm, June 29, 1975, from “acute heroin/morphine and ethanol intoxication due to inhalation and ingestion of overdose”.’

* text collaged from various sources


‘Dolphins’, 1974

‘Honey Man’, 1974

‘Sally Go Round the Roses’, 1974


‘I think of our culture like I think of bacteria. Rock ‘n’ roll keeps the traffic moving to an adolescent pulse. Politics, prime-time TV, Danny Thomas and the game shows–it’s all bought and sold and planned out to get a response, and the response is planned in order not to get in the way of the next one. But man’s music–his bout with the gods–has nothing to do with the latest crimes. It’s too personal to isolate, too intimate to forget, and too spiritual to sell.’ — Tim Buckley, 1970





p.s. Hey. The p.s. is indisposed today, but it will return tomorrow. In meantime, here’s a very old post resurrected from my former, murdered blog.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Like Father Like Son

  2. Steve Erickson

    I love Buckley’s music from his second album through GREETINGS FROM L.A. His final two albums are pretty mediocre, and had he survived past 1975, I wonder how he would’ve evolved. At this point, he’s such a cult figure that the posthumous live albums and demos collections almost outnumber the studio albums he released during his lifetime. If only all the people who bought his son’s cover of “Hallelujah” had bought HAPPYSAD or LORCA!

    I’m seeing THE GREEN FOG tonight and have very high hopes for it. Maddin plus VERTIGO plus found footage FTW!

    I was surprised by this, especially France is the one country in the world where women direct 33% of narrative films:

  3. _Black_Acrylic

    Oh wow this is the first time I’ve heard Starsailor and I Woke Up, they’re not what I expected at all. Starsailor is also a really sucky Britpop band so maybe that put me off.

    I had an idea for a title of the forthcoming Yuck ‘n Yum in Seattle show – The Special Relationship. Not heard any feedback from other YNY members yet but I’m quite proud of that one.

  4. Steve Erickson

    BTW, the first 3 Pet Shop Boys albums are being reissued in deluxe editions at the beginning of March, and I have pitched reviews of these to Gay City News. These albums are currently distributed by Warner Bros. in the US. I am not sure about the reissues. Inspired by the news, I just watched a 1997 live performance of “The Theatre,” with a film showing behind the group as they played, and I thought “although I like THE SQUARE, this takes 5 minutes to make most of the same points that film does in 2 and 1/2 hours.”

  5. Count Reeshard

    I was lucky, toward my appreciation of Tim Buckley, in being a Detroit native. For whatever changes Buckley adopted, in what many critics saw as his willful effort to discard whatever audience he’d accrued with his previous recording, each and every new guise adopted by the shape-shifting onetime folkie was accepted and loved by Detroit audiences. Buckley was the first out-of-town act to play our local hippie ballroom, the Grande (on the first night of the ’67 Riots, no less). And though documentation of his ‘Starsailor’-era performances is next-to-non-existent, Buckley can see seen on the ‘Detroit Tubeworks’ show (a televised extension of local freeform FM station WABX) performing in a chamber music setting with various ex-Mothers Of Invention. I entered Buckley’s discography at the mid-point with ‘Blue Afternoon,’ his first for Zappa’s Straight label. I was immediately smitten, despite its being panned in the Fifth Estate, a local hippie paper, as a ‘downer.’ Later, I saw him perform ‘Greetings From L.A.’ at the Michigan Palace. This occurred at the apex of the glam era, yet Buckley could not have been further removed from prevailing fashions. He wore a black ‘body shirt’ with exaggerated collar, black bell-bottoms and black, pointy-toed flat-heeled shoes — all summed, the perfect import of East L.A. pachuco garb utterly lost on a Midwestern audience. During that show, and in spite of his dull bar-band support, Tim displayed the hottest onstage moves of any Caucasian singer I’ve ever witnessed. I recommend David Browne’s ‘Dream Brother,’ containing the twinned biographies of Tim and his son, Jeff. If you thought Lincoln’s & Kennedy’s lives contained occult correspondences, get ready for real weirdness with this one. Thank you D.C. for this post, one which lands very close to the center of my being. P.S. Long ago, in the mid-’80s when nobody much was discussing Tim Buckley, a writer at Stereophile penned a lengthy appreciation, beginning with the thought that no one covered Buckley’s songs and perhaps no one ever should do so. Factoring in This Mortal Coil, I’ll still agree with that writer.

  6. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – Great to see this Tim Buckley day. It’s amazing how many stylistic swerves he packed into a short career. Shame he never lived to perform the role of Woody Guthrie in that Hal Ashby film. His presence/persona would’ve made ‘Bound for Glory’ a much more interesting film.

    You have a favorite Buckley album or period? I like ‘Starsailor’ a lot, though I always drift back to ‘Blue Afternoon’ for whatever reason.

    Keeping this short b/c I’ve been without internet and cable for a while thanks to construction crew across the street who keep pulling down our lines. Stealing some internet time over at my sister’s place.

    I’d love to get on Skype sometime soon and catch up. Got some unsettling literary news I’ve been digesting. And love to tell you more about the new novel. Later this week/end or next?

  7. Kyler

    Hope everything’s OK Jeff – and Happy Birthday, Dennis!!

  8. Meatrod25cm

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DENNIS!! You don’t look a day under 40! btw care of your publisher, I sent you a gift certificate for the Twink-of-the-Month Club. I hope it doesn’t get lost in the mail! ;-D

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