Today is Valentine’s Day. It’s also the birthday of Tim Buckley. Which is fitting since Tim Buckley provided significant sounds for the soundtrack of my first experience of love. I mean real, enduring love, not the early teen and preteen crushes. In a way, his album Blue Afternoon (1969) was the benediction for falling in love, when, in 1978, shortly before my 19th birthday, I gave it a close listen.
It’s a very romantic album, especially the first side. The album was praised to me by a friend who had married in 1969, so I think the album was part of his feelgood era. By 1978, the marriage was not doing well, but the album became an incentive for my own feelgood era. So, here’s to Tim Buckley on Valentine’s Day.
The song I’ve chosen, “The River,” ends the first side of the album. On that first listening the song that most spoke to me was “I Must’ve Been Blind”—a song which admits that, before finding out what love is really like, the singer “must’ve been blind.” It’s the kind of song that says, in essence, that before you know romantic love you don’t really know nothing. You think you’ve got it sussed, that you know what the world is all about—money? art? being popular? being good?—but you’re missing the key factor that will change you utterly. That’s how I see it because there was a big change in my 19th year. “So few know what it means to fall in love / And so few know how hard it is to go on livin' that way.” Like, it's easy to fall in love, but can you keep it up? Can you go the distance?
But the time when today's song takes over is the following summer, 1979, turning 20. That’s when I really found the time, for a season, to concentrate on love and loving. The woman in that story already knew this LP, so maybe she didn’t identify it with me the way I identify it, particularly this song, with her and that summer. More than a realization about “what it means to fall in love,” what that summer showed me was what happens when someone falls in love with you . . . or with me, I mean. I guess I don’t really know what happens when someone falls in love with you. Does it matter to you? What’s it do to you? Work that out for yourselves, and get back to me.
Here’s what Buckley says: “Oh, if you come to love me, you’ll stay forever / Inside my heart, inside my dreams / And time will fade / In time we’ll love.” The way this is sung, with that very deep tone on “come to love me” and the high moans on “will fade,” “we’ll love” gets me right where I live. It touches my heart like nobody’s business. Buckley had a great range, and a great voice for the expressive moan. He also did some notable scat singing, but I’ll get to that another time.
That “time will fade” part may be wishful thinking but there is truth to it too. Like looking up one day and realizing you’ve been five years, ten years . . . more than thirty with the same person. Where did that time go? “It’s the truth of life that chains us in between,” Buckley says and it’s a good figure, vague enough (what is “the truth of life”? Kids? Money? Art? Work?) but also clear. The truth of our love chains us to life. This is the hard part. The hard lesson behind all that lovey-dovey stuff. Otherwise, we could float away. A choice between the unbearable lightness of being or its unbearable chain.
There was a lot of pain too. Intense and long-lasting, that summer. I don’t want to go into all that but it wasn’t just about not making a clean break with other loves, it was also about real mourning for someone gone far too soon. And Tim Buckley was already gone before I ever listened to him. He died in 1975, in a bit of a creative tailspin and due to a bad run-in with heroin (another “damage done” scenario), but from 1967 to 1970 he was incredible, though not a commercial success, which makes him one of those burning lodestars from that period that was still exerting a big influence on me as late as 1979, my last summer in Delaware, for a time. Then I would move and things would start to change. Something about gaining contemporaries, I guess, after hiding my house away. I’ll always remember that house, that woman, this song.
Happy Valentine's Day!