George Harrison once said that we are not our bodies, just souls having a bodily experience. He believed that the soul cannot be destroyed. There has been no time when we ceased to exist and there will be no time when we cease to exist. Our soul will always be in our astral body.
A similar quote puts it more simply: “our body is a vessel for the soul”. My body is currently repairing itself having been broken in the right hip area. It’s complaining a bit and I’m not the most patient patient but I can understand that over 67 years, a body changes, grows older and will eventually stop working altogether. It’s done okay, though, my body. So, despite my impatience, I’m grateful to my body for housing my soul over the years. What’s giving me cause to reflect at the moment is whether my soul ages in the same way as my body. I can detect changes in my body but how can I detect changes in my soul?
I’m not sure that my soul has changed at all. Why do I say that? During my recovery from my hip operation, I’ve been listening to music. While I was in hospital, I listened to “Moondance” by Van Morrison over and over. Since returning home, I’ve listened to “Blue Afternoon” and “Lorca” by Tim Buckley. At first I thought I was seeking comfort in nostalgia and familiarity but now I’m not so sure. When listening to each of these records, I can feel my reaction, on a deeply emotional level, being exactly the same as my reaction was when I was 16 or 17 years old (when I first heard these albums in 1970 and 1971). I acknowledge that this might be memory and attempting to reconstruct a less stressful time but I’m not sure. My response is visceral, relating to my deep personal feelings rather than my intellect.
One of the interesting aspects of this is the way that I’m currently listening to music. Far too frequently, I “have music on” rather than deeply listen to it on headphones. With the post-operation tiredness that I am experiencing, I find it easy to sit in a chair and properly listen to music. It’s not easy to get out of the chair so distractions are minimised. I can sense that my soul is resonating with this music in exactly the same way as it did in 1971.
On the other hand, this just may be the codeine kicking in.
Tim Buckley recorded “Blue Afternoon”, “Lorca” and parts of “Starsailor” in September 1969. In addition, the live album “Live At The Trobadour”, released posthumously in 1994, was recorded on 3rd and 4th September 1969. Having recorded his first three albums for Elektra between 1966 and 1969, he moved to Straight Records, a label owned by his manager, Herb Cohen. However, he owed Elektra one more album and he gave them “Lorca”. The album, as I shall talk about later, is highly experimental but Straight Records wanted something more commercial. Tim Buckley dusted down some old songs, pieced them together to form a narrative and quickly recorded “Blue Afternoon”. In the meantime, his heart was set on breaking new boundaries and “Lorca” was a first step towards the sensational, unique sounds that he delivered subsequently, in The Second Best Album Ever, “Starsailor”.
“Lorca” was recorded in early September 1969 but not released until June 1970. “Blue Afternoon” was recorded in late September 1969 and released in November 1969. The release dates fit into his musical progression from folk troubadour (1966-1967) to folk/jazz improviser (1968-1969) to experimental free form jazz player (1970) to sex God (1972) to enigmatic eclectic (1973-1974). After nine albums in nine years, he died in June 1975. There have subsequently been 10 live albums released, mainly focussing on the years between 1967 and 1969.
The title track of “Lorca” is 10 minutes long and includes John Balkin playing a droning pipe organ, Lee Underwood playing a manic electric piano and Carter C.C. Collins on congas. There’s only one chord in the song (C minor) and it’s in a strange 5/4 time. Whereas it was possible on previous albums to identify the influences on Tim Buckley’s vocal delivery style, on this album, and this track in particular, he establishes his own identity. Lee Underwood described this by writing “The realization of self is the gateway to artistic authenticity”. Tim Buckley acknowledged that he was tired of writing standard songs with verses and choruses. The song would be remarkable enough with a run-of-the-mill vocalist but with Tim Buckley’s range of octaves and emotions, it becomes a thrilling exploration of the soul.
The only other song on Side One is “Anonymous Proposition”, which is over seven minutes long. It’s very slow and free form with inventive bass playing from John Balkin. The opening line is “Love me as if one day you’d hate me”, a line which has evaded my true understanding for over 50 years. Tim Buckley’s microphone has been placed very close to his mouth for this recording, leading to a feeling of sexual intimacy.
Side Two consists of three more accessible songs. “Driftin’” was recorded live at The Troubadour and is one of the most languid, gorgeous and moving pieces of music imaginable. The first few minutes consist of Tim Buckley playing his acoustic 12 string guitar whilst singing in the depths of postcoital confusion. As Lee Underwood’s sympathetic electric guitar adds some colour, Tim Buckley sings “All I want to be is what you mean to me”. When he repeats the line he holds the first word for 15 seconds before releasing the rest of the words and inspiring a magnificent guitar solo from Lee Underwood which sounds like it’s coming from the next room. In the denouement of the song, Tim Buckley is looking back on the encounter, dreaming that he has seen his lover coming into his room lit by “desert sunlight”. It’s a song that celebrates love whilst simultaneously profoundly regretting its conclusion. The free form scat vocals at the end sound like cries from a broken heart.
My reaction to this astonishing music hasn’t changed since Christmas 1971, when I was given the album as a present from my parents. I can remember lying on my bed, with the headphones, on, singing along to it before Christmas lunch. My voice isn’t quite as tuneful as Tim Buckley’s and I think my parents might have preferred eating their pre-lunch nibbles listening to Benny Hill’s “Ernie”.