Revisiting Richard Buckner
Strange set of circumstances this evening led me back to the music of Richard Buckner, who most of y’all are probably reasonably familiar with, even if he’s flown fairly under-the-radar the past few years (or maybe I’ve just been out of that particular loop). The trail began with Vic Chesnutt; I was searching for an online site which had a full stream of his song “Florida”, and found it on last.fm (frequently a useful source for such things). Happened to notice that among the “Related Tracks” listed a little ways down the page was Richard Buckner’s “Lil Wallet Picture”, a song that I recalled had meant a great deal to me at some point many years back.
Clicking on the link, I found that last.fm had only a 30-second snippet of it posted, so I went foraging for a different site where it might be streamed in full. (Neverminding that I could’ve just gone to the closet and pulled the Devotion + Doubt CD off the shelf and put it into the stereo….what a novel concept, eh?) Anyway, I finally did find the stream on a new site I wasn’t previously familiar with called Grooveshark, which boasts on its loading-page logo, “Play any song in the world, for free!” (I’ve not yet looked around further to test the veracity of this claim, but let’s just say I’m highly skeptical.) They did at least have “Song Of 27” and in fact the whole Devotion + Doubt album available, which was a pleasant surprise. Although it’s worth noting that my web-journey which led to Grooveshark included a visit to an on-hiatus official Buckner page where our hero has flatly declared, ILLEGAL DOWNLOADS KILL ART. (Maybe ‘cuz this is streaming instead of downloading, it’s slightly less evil, I dunno. And anyway, Richard’s probably right.)
As I listened to “Lil Wallet Picture”, and “A Goodbye Rye”, and “4am”, and “Ed’s Song”, and “Figure”, and “Song Of 27”, I was struck by just how deeply these songs could still cut, even if my relation to the circumstances under which I first heard them now seems at least a lifetime away. Back when I first heard it, in the winter of ’97, it inspired me to write this. I recall an encounter with someone at South By Southwest the following spring who claimed my review had convinced him he wanted to become a music writer. (My sincere apologies for that, dude.) I dunno if it warranted such a reaction, but it was….something.
It’s just dumb luck that this little ramble tonight actually happens to be somewhat timely, in that just yesterday, Merge Records reissued three of Buckner’s other albums from a decade or so ago: Bloomed, The Hill, and Impasse. It would appear these are digital-only reissues (far as I can tell from perusing Merge’s site, anyhow); I remember somewhat less about The Hill (a concept album of some sort, I think) and Impasse, but a fair bit about Bloomed, which was his debut (originally on Dejadisc, and produced by Lloyd Maines); certainly well worth being back in print again, whatever the format. Buckner spins a few entertaining yarns about the three records in a blog post on the Merge site, including this observation about the aftermath of recording Bloomed: “I flew back to San Francisco, dismembered the band and embarked on a tour that would last about 15 years (or a few days, if you count what I actually remember).”
As for Devotion + Doubt – because it came out on major-label MCA (which Buckner de-acronyzes as “Musician Career Assassin” in that blog-entry), it’s not as easy to get reissue rights, and so that one remains generally unavailable but for the used market. (Apparently Amazon does have the tracks via download, but I doubt Richard sees a dime from any of that.) Eventually it should be a moot matter; if you wait long enough, not a single person at the old company even remembers that the artist was ever signed to the label, and it’s easy enough to independently reissue the records without concern, as Mickey Newbury did in the late ’90s with all his 1970s Elektra albums. Piece of cake, all you gotta do is just wait around a quarter-century or so. Richard’s already about halfway there, and anyway, the entire music industry probably will have disintegrated by then….