Saturday, February 12, 2005

Tim Buckley-THE STARSAILOR IS COMING HOME DVD (VTN [Video Tape Network])

Dunno where you can get hold of this one (Jon Behar duped his copy for some dupe, mainly me), but it's (to say the least) an enlightening little bit of obscuro rockism that would have wowed me had I given this an eyeballing back in '77 but I got to see it in the here and now which is better'n had I waited an additional 28 years so I gotta be THANKFUL for such small favors.

At first, I didn't care about Tim Buckley one way or another. It was only until I found out that he was at one time involved in the Frank Zappa gristmill of tax writeoff productions that I deemed him important enough of my attention (remember, this was at the time I thought that Zappa and whatever he did was of such a wowwee how can anyone TOP THIS sense of juvenile mid-finger salutation that I was searching out just about ANYTHING that had the Frank Zappa Seal o' Freak Approval even if it was Tim Dawe). I eventually got hold of the oft-desired $1.00 "loss leader" sampler ZAPPED w/a selection of just about everything that came out of Zappa's Bizarre/Straight entourage at the time (sans the early Verve-period Sandy Hurvitz/Jeff Simmons wares by now totally forgotten even by Zappa, not to mention that 2-LP set where Lenny Bruce bores us to death only we're supposed to act as if we were learning something about ourselves and our society so I guess that "redeems" everything) and finally got to hear Buckley off his BLUE AFTERNOON disque and merely yawned. It was a pleasant yawn, but still tiresome hipster jazz/mode laidbackisms to THIS blubbered-out teenage pimple farm getting his jollies not only with Patti Smith albums but Amon Duul's DISASTER helping him lose status at the high school!

And, as if the godz of rockism were smiling upon me, about a half-year later DOWN BEAT printed a huge, no, humongous piece on Buckley written by then-editor and former Buckley guitarist Lee Underwood, and although the piece was marred by that very irritating and once-common seventies over-emote (y'know, "...if the public had only accepted Tim and just how down-to-earth honest he was and how he performed miracles and walked on water, maybe he wouldn't have died and we'd all be marching happily down the yellow brick road to true awareness...") it still gave at least me a reason to get obsessive/compulsive all over some musical act that was so "old" that he was beyond the cut out stage but that didn't matter one iota to me! Avant garde jazz was starting to make inroads into my listening parameters and everything from the AACM to Derek Bailey seemed like a whole new, exciting, throbbing world for me to discover, and reading about how Buckley was at one period starting to sing in mythical languages and scream while playing in odd time signatures as gongs banged and bells tinkled to the "new thing" captured my ever-mutating bounds of musical attention the same way people like the Velvet Underground, John Cage, Ornette Coleman and the Shadows of Knight were doing the exact same thing at the exact same nanosecond.

I did give it the ol' college try, but it took around a year for me to finally latch onto Buckley's two avant garde platters, namely LORCA and STARSAILOR. You can read reviews of both of 'em elsewhere on this blog (I'm too lazy to link 'em up), but to make a not-so-long story perhaps not-that-shorter, I merely listened to both, thought "hey, tis good," and filed 'em into my collection somewhere between NI KANTU EN ESPERANTO and GEORGE "GOOBER" LINDSAY SINGS I LIKE UGLY GIRLS...nice try, but there was a new era of music more attuned to my suburban doofus Amerigan living coming up while my excursions into past product seemed to be relegated to the groups that (at that time) seemed to be pointing the way towards the modern-day pounce that was beginning to be my new obsession! It wasn't until that excitement died down that I was again able to look at the past and see just what there was outside the punk realm worthy of my time and temperature. And it wasn't for YEARS that I would even think of giving Tim Buckley another spin, but thanks to some blog action (and my desire to TOP whatever was transpiring on said blogs, at least when it came to music/film that doesn't bore me to pieces) my attention was once again piqued, if only for a few more minutes.

Anyway here's this Tim Buckley DVD of stuff that I believe was taken mostly off long-circulating videotapes, and it's a very enveloping experience for the Buckley maniac while a mere passerby like myself can learn a thing or two about it as well. The early Elektra-era footage is pretty much what I expected...a more "adult" folk/rock toss that wasn't quite gonna settle well with the sweathog types, but then again I'm sure that the pseudo-intellectual folkies at the local high school weren't going to snuggle up to it as well. Kinda mature, perhaps "grown up" as in only someone over twenty-five would want to listen to this, but it's still fine seeing Buckley (on THE MONKEES) sing his mournful "Song To The Siren," later to show up not only on STARSAILOR but Pat Boone's almost-legendary attempt to cash in on the new youth music a few years before he grew his hair long, dragged his entire family outta mothballs and made a partially-successful comeback on television shows like NIGHT GALLERY. Still, I can't really enjoy this part of Buckley's career, since to me he comes of more or less as a less-addled, with-it Southern Californian folk/rock hybrid, perhaps a male Joni Mitchell (yeah, she's Canadian, but California folkiedom was bred in her soul despite Fairport Convention doing excellent versions of her songs) fortunately without any neuroses that I can discern!

The part of this DVD that's bound to capture the interest of your normal BLOG TO COMM reader is that of Buckley's appearance on (get this!) BOBOQUIVAKI! This was some show filmed at the studios of KCET-TV in Los Angeles and perhaps broadcast throughout the nation courtesy of PBS (which may still have been NET at this time), but whatever, BOBOQUIVAKI has that same weird PBS air that permeated all of their music shows throughout the seventies, giving people the feeling that they're hanging out at some hippoid den of peacenlove when they'd rather be hanging out at Max's Kansas City . Buckley and band are spread out across some typical abstract in-the-round stage as the audience sits cross-legged on the floor (!), but despite the airs of early-seventies mellow-downness there is a purpose to this broadcast, mainly in that it's perhaps the only surviving piece of STARSAILOR-era Buckley that's out there and fans of that particular piece of commercial suicide should be glad this footage wasn't destroyed after broadcast for the sake of "good karma"!

No pipe organ, tympani or even Bunk Gardner on saxes here, but we do get brother Buzz on horns, gong and tinkling bells while Buckley and the rest of the group do a pretty good subdued, sublime performance that, although not the screamer that I was expecting, is still good enough with the power and tension controlled yet downright overbearing. Camera closeups of Buckley's grimacing, and totally into-"it" face seem to take up a majority of the shots (though we do get some nice views of Gardner on trumpet), and while this ain't exactly the knock-out-drag-down I woulda expected had I seen this in 1978 (when the idea of Buckley singing "Starsailor" as the rest of the group howled along in an attempt to imitate the recorded version would have sent me into fits of eternal avant bliss), it's still a fine encapsulation of SoCal folkiedom meets sixties new thing jazz a la Pharoah Sanders that anyone out there woulda known wasn't gonna sell nearly the same numbers Joe South would, but thankfully Buckley and a whole slew of others (Hampton Grease Band, Stooges...) didn't mind. No wonder even ROLLING STONE was confused.

The rest of the DVD is taken up with early-seventies Buckley appearances (I believe the one where he does "Sally Goes Round The Roses" was filmed at Max's Kansas City...anyone know if this is so?), all from a period which Underwood said was one of pressure on Buckley to "conform" and make accessible music, and the choice of material and general staidness of these performances perhaps prove Underwood's point. Buckley's later records not only had none of the avant-garde wildness that at least perked my lobes, but they're equally nowhere when compared with Buckley's early folk musings which, although not my cup o' tea, at least have some motion and sway to their introspective demeanor. Maybe someday someone will uncover a cache of Buckley's under-the-table group with John Balkin on electric stick, but I'm not holding your breath until it happens or anything.

Oh, for some reason there's a whole batch of DONOVAN tee-vee appearance on this DVD as well. You know something bad's coming when David McCallum announces that Mr. Leech is "the voice of our conscious" when in reality he's the voice of our UNconsciousness (like in a BAD DREAM), and frankly I can't think of anything as boring as sitting through clips of Donovan singing socially-profound folkie musings while the audience gapes in awe as they look inside their souls and get into a whole lotta proto-John Bradshaw introspective goo before heading towards the nearest old cemetery to make gravestone rubbings. After awhile you kinda wish either some bikers (or better yet, whatever punk rock group was appearing on the same episode of HULLABALLOO Donovan was appearing on) would approach the stage and beat Donovan to smithereens with bike chains, but alas this does not occur.

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