In the scarlet light of Valentine’s our paper hearts are blind
from “Valentine Melody” by Larry Beckett and Tim Buckley (1966)
(Tim Buckley was born on Valentine's Day 1947; he died of a drug overdose at the age of 28.)
1) December 1966. While at school in Schenectady, a friend tells me about a new singer-songwriter whose voice is “angelic,” and he’s our age. His name is Tim Buckley, and he’ll be appearing on a bill with Frank Zappa at the Balloon Farm on St. Marks Place. Over break, I climb the stairs of the Balloon Farm toward my balcony seat. Leaning against the wall on one of the landings, alone, is a kid with curly black hair. Our eyes meet and I say, “You’re Tim Buckley.” He smiles and walks away with a wave. The next time I see him he is on stage, singing angelically. In the middle of his set he starts “One For My Baby,” but stops in the middle, says he can’t go on, and walks off the stage.
2) March 1968. Buckley is performing at the Fillmore East, but we’re stuck in Schenectady. We listen over and over to Goodbye and Hello, and I say, “He should know what he’s doing to us." I call the Fillmore and say, “Let me to speak with Tim Buckley."
“He’s on stage right now. Can I give him a message?”
“Yeah, tell him that we hear him in Schenectady.”
“Far out, I'll let him know!”
3) July 1968. Cliff Safane and I (two-thirds of a folk/jazz group “The Shuttle”) obtain press passes to the Newport Folk Festival through the Union College newspaper. Cliff has brought his bass clarinet with the hope he could jam with Tim Buckley. We introduce ourselves to Tim in the outdoor backstage area, and arrange to meet him at his hotel.
Over lunch, he tells us that he had been called for his draft physical shortly after signing his first album contract with Elektra. “It’s what I always wanted, to make a record” he says, so he did everything he could possibly do wrong at the physical. “They pointed to a room down the hallway and I walked in that direction, straight into a wall.” He has perfected collecting a huge glob of spit on his mouth, which he did repeatedly at the physical. “The Army guy told me I was either the stupidest guy they’d ever seen, or the smartest; either way they didn’t want me.” We talk about Steve Noonan and Jackson Browne, who, along with Buckley, were dubbed the “Orange County Three” by Cheetah magazine. (More about Steve Noonan to come.)
After lunch Tim pauses on the stairway above the lobby, waits, eyes imperious, until he attracts some attention. Slowly around his mouth a huge wad of spit congeals and remains.
Back in his room, Tim improvises an extended scat, his voice melding with the chords on his 12-string. Cliff unpacks his bass clarinet and joins in. This is way above my musical pay grade, so I lean against the wall like Frank O’Hara at the end of “The Day Lady Died.” Later, Tim's girlfriend drives us back to the festival grounds. She introduces herself: “I’m Jainie. You know: ‘Jainie don’t you know….’”
4) July 1975. On July 7, I write a long (for me) poem, including:
...on the corner, they are talking about the horse who broke her leg today
I watched the match race with my father, read the early editions,
Foolish Pleasure vs. Ruffian, colt against mare
the nation watching, wearing "He" and "She" buttons
they didn't know if they could save her
my father remembered when they used to shoot them right at the track
when he used to go with his father
I overhear someone say Ruffian has been "put to sleep"
and it affects me
though not as much as Rod Serling and Tim Buckley
who also died recently
and who meant a lot to me
earlier Cliff called from Boston
to talk about Buckley, it was not only that he died at 28, a year older than us
but it reminded him how much has changed
since they jammed at Newport in '68, the night before his performance
the Newport Folk Festival is gone
the women we were with then are gone
and Buckley had been driving a cab, though there was talk of a comeback
and Rod Serling, who'd taught me irony and voice
I kicked myself for not having visited him
he was a college professor at the end and probably accessible
Serling was 50, younger than my father,
and next month I will turn 28....