Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered
Lee Underwood was Tim Buckley’s lead guitarist and friend. They met in 1966 when Tim was 18, the year he scored a record contract and sired Jeff Buckley pretty much simultaneously. That child was a barely noticed bump in the road as Tim became a sensation and Lee played along, watching it all go down.
Fuzzy-haired with high cheekbones, fragile teen-idol beauty and an unearthly multi-octave voice (all of which were passed down to Jeff eerily intact), Tim Buckley raced through the ’60s at the same warp speed everybody else did back then. He didn’t survive. Underwood did, leaving this tribute to the music Tim made and the times they had. He pretty much talked to everyone who would talk, and thus we have a comprehensive lowdown.
There were the bad old days with Tim Sr., who came home from Normandy still fighting the war, wore his medals around the house and goaded young Timmy into fistfights. There were the good old days on Venice beach, pot and red wine and women and classic albums like Goodbye And Hello and Happy Sad.
Then there were endless hotel rooms, lonely nights, strange women, hassles from “straights,” and taking yourself to limits that Underwood, being older, found first. He watches from the wings, then, as Buckley moves to the avant-garde audience-testing of the Lorca/Starsailor years, confounding his following with atonal free jazz, a cappella dog barks and such.
In the end, it’s the mid-’70s and Underwood climbs to sobriety while watching his friend immerse himself in funk-rock, scotch, reds, drunken late-night fights, heroin, and heroin’s friend, death.
Underwood is a jazz musician and a poet from California. Hence he writes, for instance, of the Happy Sad album, “Rough spots and all, it’s heartsong flies in spring’s blue skies outside of time.” I’m going to spot him points there because he’s a musician, and we need more books from musicians. He writes about what it takes emotionally to be a musician of that caliber, and what it takes to play with one. You don’t get that in rock-critic bios, and it’s worth wading through some jazzy poet-prose to get to.
At the end is a coda chapter about Jeff, and how the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.