"Lorca" by Tim Buckley
"The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,
nor the horses, nor the ants in your own house.
The child and the afternoon do not know you
because you have died forever.
The autumn will come with small white snails,
misty grapes and with clustered hills,
but no one will look into your eyes
because you have died forever.
Because you have died for ever,
like all the dead of the earth, like all the dead who are forgotten
in a heap of lifeless dogs.
Nobody knows you. No. But I sing of you.
For posterity I sing of your profile and grace.
Of the signal maturity of your understanding.
Of your appetite for death and the taste of its mouth.
Of the sadness of your once valiant gaiety.
It will be a long time, if ever, before there is born
an Andalusian so true, so rich in adventure.
I sing of his elegance with words that groan,
and I remember a sad breeze through the olive trees."
Extract from "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias" by Federico Garcia Lorca
Tim Buckley's fifth album is called "Lorca". It was released in October 1970 (I think) during a manic eleven month period which also saw the release of "Blue Afternoon" (February 1970) and "Starsailor" (January 1971).
The two sides of the album displayed a contrast of styles. Side two consisted of three songs "I Had A Talk With My Woman", "Driftin'" and "Nobody Walkin'" which were in the style of his previous two albums ("Happy/Sad" and "Blue Afternoon"). Side one consisted of just two songs, "Lorca" and "Anonymous Proposition" and these were different! There was a real change of direction for Tim musically with these songs which eschewed the tranquillity and beauty of much of his previous work. There was much less form to these songs and much more improvisation. However, it is a fallacy to suggest that "Happy/Sad" and "Blue Afternoon" gave no indication of what was to come. Each of these seminally beautiful albums contained one track that provided a showcase for Tim to explore musical styles as well as the range of his voice; "Gypsy Woman" and "The Train" sit slightly uncomfortably on these albums and signpost his progression onto the musical adventures of "Lorca" and his masterpiece, "Starsailor".
Lee Underwood wrote about the development of Tim's musical styles:
"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."
Tim describes his musical departure in an interview in April 1975.
"When I went in to do Lorca, I decided right then it was time to break open something new because the voice with 51/2 octaves was certainly capable of coming up with something new. We were getting real tired of writing songs that adhered to the verse, verse, chorus things. It wasn't an intellectual exercise though; as a matter of fact, it was a thing that finally Miles did with In A Silent Way. It happened with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and using one bass line which kept the idea of key in mind. In Silent Way, Miles had a melody line that he played on a trumpet and I had a lyric and a melody that went through 'Lorca.'"
"Lorca" was the last album that Tim released on Elektra, the company owned by Jac Holzman who had signed him in 1966. In 1969 Holzman was on the point of selling Elektra which upset Tim. He decided to change labels to Straight, a Warners-distributed label formed by Herb Cohen and Frank Zappa. This decision left him with separate demands from the two record labels. He still owed Jac Holzman at Elektra an album and Herb Cohen at Straight wanted Tim to record some accessible music. The result was that he recorded "Blue Afternoon" and "Lorca" in the same month, giving "Blue Afternoon" to Straight who released it in February 1970. "Lorca" was released eight months later on the Elektra Standard label. Elektra Standard was a new term that Polydor (who distributed for Elektra) had introduced and was a budget line reserved for albums that they deemed to be of a minority interest.
There is conflicting information about the release dates of "Blue Afternoon" and "Lorca". Some sources (Tim Buckley : The High Flyer By Martin Aston MOJO Magazine and Goodbye & Hello by Scott Isler Musician Magazine) state that the albums were released within a month of each other. Scott Isler states that "Lorca" was released in February 1970. The Music Master Price Guide states that "Blue Afternoon" was released in 1969. More convincingly the date on my record label of "Blue Afternoon" is 1969. The dates I have used are from The Tim Buckley Archives.
The album starts with the title track "Lorca". Tim describes the song "It happened with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and using one bass line which kept the idea of key in mind. In Silent Way, Miles had a melody line that he played on a trumpet and I had a lyric and a melody that went through "Lorca." To this day, you can't put it on at a party without stopping things; it doesn't fit it." A quiet beginning with some doodles from Lee Underwood on the electric piano before the main bass line is introduced. This is played throughout the song and is compelling and urgent. After some vocal warming up, Tim sings "Let the sun sing in your smile/Let the wind hold your desire/Let your woman's voice run through your veins/Let her be your blood don't feel ashamed." The electric piano is prominent throughout and there are no drums. Every word is sung with great intensity drawing every emotion from every syllable. The sound is most peculiar and unlike anything I've ever heard. Is this rock? No, there are no drums. Is this folk? No, the electric piano is too prominent. Is it jazz? Possibly. Is it brilliant? Absolutely. "If love flows your way then be a river/And when it dries just stand and shiver." The last word is sung low and then rises maniacally. The musical setting is odd but if you love Tim Buckley's voice, if you have ever had your emotions touched by his intonation, this track is perfect. The end of the song features more stunning free form vocal. Tim regarded the title track as "my identity as a unique singer, as an original voice." Lee Underwood wrote "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."
The second track is "Anonymous Propositions". John Balkin's bass is particularly original. "We never had any music to read from," he remembers. "We just noodled through and went for it, just finding the right note or coming off a note and making it right." The opening lines "Love me as if some day you'd hate me" has haunted me for nearly thirty years; what exactly does this mean? Lee Underwood loves this track. "The real advance comes in "Anonymous Proposition," the song that comes after "Lorca." It deals with a ballad in a totally personal, physical presentation, to cut away the nonsense, the superficial stuff. It has to be done slowly; it has to be a movement. It has to hold you there and make you aware that someone is telling you something about himself in the dark. That's what music is all about on record. It is very personal; there's no other way to deal with it. There are certain things that great singers have to deal with; it's their duty to." Lee Underwood's playing is brilliant throughout the whole of Tim Buckley's recorded career because he is able to express such brilliant emotion. Reading this, I realise that Lee Underwood is also able to put his finger on exactly why I love Tim Buckley's music. Read it again: " It has to hold you there and make you aware that someone is telling you something about himself in the dark. That's what music is all about on record. It is very personal; there's no other way to deal with it." Yes yes yes. This track is very free form. There is no melody or riff or hook to latch onto. It's just Tim Buckley singing a very personal song wrenching emotion from the listener by outstanding use of one of the most original voices in music. Who could ask for more?
Buckley's friend Daniella Sapriel went over to his house to hear Lorca the day he received the advance tapes. "He was really excited," she says. "It was a big step for him. He really liked it and he really felt he had pushed through something from the last album to Lorca. It was great, but it was also clear that this wasn't what the public was going to find if they were looking for a three-minute hit single for radio!"
Side two starts with "I Had A Talk With My Woman". This is a lovely song. Beautiful guitar, understated congas and a lovely melody. This would not be at all out of place on "Blue Afternoon," not dissimilar from "Chase the Blues Away" or "The River".
The second track on side two, "Driftin'," is perfect. It is very laid back with Tim in a particularly reflective mood: "When there's wine in your belly/Love rhythms on your tongue/ For you are a woman/And each man has been too young/But for me you were a lover/Gently under your cover/Your sheet reeks of others." Then a loud guitar chord and a change of emphasis "Oh I came here to hold and be held for a while" and a most beautiful guitar line starts. This song is so slow and as usual the sound of Tim's voice is so evocative. "All I want to be is what you mean to me." Then comes one of those great moments, the bit you always look forward to hearing every time you hear the song. He repeats the line but draws out the first word so that it takes thirteen seconds just to sing the word "All." Yes, I know this doesn't look very interesting, just play it and hear it for yourself. Listen to this bit and listen to the guitar solo that Lee Underwood plays. A guitar solo of beauty which reflects and amplifies Tim's voice. More moans - Tim and Lee bouncing ideas off each other - then "Late last night as I dreamed in dizzy sunlight" and listen to that note that keeps playing. This is a rare example of two magnificent performers making music together, each being aware of their contribution to the sound and neither one dominating - just bouncing low key reflective ideas off each other. How can words describe such beauty?
The last track on the album is "Nobody Walkin'" which is fantastic because it features Tim Buckley's voice but apart from some interesting electric piano from Lee Underwood is probably the least exciting thing here. It is faster in tempo than the rest of the album, the vocals are, of course, brilliant but the musical setting is, how can I put this, a little more ordinary than the rest of the album. It's still better than 99% of all the other tracks you own though, so check it out.
Jac Holzman said "he was making music for himself at that point...which is fine, except for the problem of finding enough people to listen to it."
Tim responded with "An artist has a responsibility to know what's gone down and what's going on in his field, not to copy but to be aware. Only that way can he strengthen his own perception and ability."
I've nicked loads of things in this piece, most of them from The Tim Buckley Archives. If anyone spots any mistakes please let me know. The lyrics are from my own hearing, so let me know if there's anything wrong. Does anyone have any more information about the release dates of "Blue Afternoon", "Lorca" and "Starsailor"?
When I originally wrote this in June 1999 I quoted all the references I'd nicked things from. However, most of them have now moved. There are two essential sites:
Tim Buckley Archives
If you really want to know the truth, don't take my word for it, buy Lee Underwood's fantastic book "Blue Melody"