Anyone with more than a passing interest in Spanish culture knows that Federico Garcia Lorca was “Spain’s greatest 20th century poet” (copyright, every single guidebook ever written about Spain) and that he was murdered by the Fascists at the start of the Spanish Civil War, either for being a Leftie (which he wasn’t) or a homosexual (which he was) or both.
The circumstances of his death remain somewhat murky, despite Ian Gibson’s groundbreaking and methodical Assassination of Federico Garcia Lorca, and his remains have never been found. A 2016 article in The Daily Telegraph reported that archaeologists had located Lorca’s “grave” at the bottom of a long-disused and buried well, but access would prove difficult. Lorca’s descendants continue to oppose exhumation, while Fascists, of whom there are still quite a few in Spain, generally behave like naughty children when asked about the several hundred thousand murders their fathers and/or grand-fathers committed, looking at the ground and shrugging petulantly while denying any knowledge of – let alone contrition for – the massacres. So much for good old Christian values of honour and decency. Sure, there were atrocities by the Left as well, but as Paul Preston demonstrates fairly convincingly in The Spanish Holocaust, they were far fewer, and that counts for something in the numbers game. Plus, the Left usually fess up quite proudly and say that he (or she) had it coming, because he/she was a brutal, exploitative landowner, or a priest (almost as bad in pre-Civil War Spain) or at very least a member of the International Brigade who stupidly joined the wrong party (step forward, George Orwell) and, well, you know, you have to break a few eggs if you want to make a tortilla.
To be honest, I’m no fan of Lorca’s work, and it seems I’m in good company: Luis Bunuel found the plays “ornate and bombastic”, and he was Lorca’s friend! Bunuel also described The Love of Don Perlimplin as “a piece of shit”. I wouldn’t go that far. I saw Yerma (or The House of Bernarda Alba – I forget which) at the Theatre Royal in Stratford East many years ago. It was an imaginative, energetic production, and we had a box close to the stage, with a great view, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea what the play was about, despite it being translated into English (perhaps BECAUSE it was translated into English). What I’m interested in here is not Lorca the poet or playwright, but Lorca, the album by Tim Buckley, the man with “more octaves in his range than you have brain cells” as one wag on rateyourmusic puts it, and the relationship – such as it is/was – between Tim Buckley and his estranged son Jeff.
Tim Buckley had the voice of an angel, and recorded a handful of astonishing albums in the late 60s and early 70s, ranging from the relatively conventional but lushly orchestrated Goodbye and Hello to the super-sexual white funk of Greeting From LA and Look At The Fool, before he died of a heroin overdose in 1975, aged 28. Apparently he wasn’t an addict, it was his first time. Believe that if you want. He also fathered a son, Jeff, at 19. They only met once, because Buckley senior couldn’t hack marriage or fatherhood and he moved out before Jeff was born.
Jeff Buckley grew up with his mother, but went on, nonetheless, to record a great album, Grace, that showed how much of his father’s vocal talent he had inherited, and staked his place in rock history by popularising Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with what will always be the definitive version of that now-cliched X-Factor standard. He also gave some incredible live performances (see Live in Chicago, on YouTube, from which this cover of Vinegar Joe’s Lilac Wine comes).
I had tickets to see JB at the Shepherds Bush Empire around the time Grace came out, but I got food poisoning and missed it. Soon after that, Buckley junior was dead. On the evening of May 29th, 1997, he went for a swim in the Mississippi, fully-clothed and wearing his boots. A week later, his body was discovered. The autopsy showed no signs of drugs or alcohol, and suicide was ruled out, but you have to ask yourself, what kind of idiot goes swimming in his boots?
Three deaths, all of them shrouded – to varying degrees – in mystery. What does it all mean? What is the connection? I don’t know. But Lorca is the Tim Buckley album I turn to most. Along with Starsailor it’s the most extreme and demanding of his albums. In truth, the title track is too extreme and demanding even for me, and my middle name is Extreme and Demanding, but Anonymous Proposition and Driftin’ are quite simply two of my favourite pieces of music, ever. There’s little more than a voice and a bass guitar, with the sparest of acoustic guitar (electric on Driftin‘) some congas way down in the mix. It is simultaneously stark and lush, a bit like the landscape of Extremadura.
The explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard has no apparent relation to either Buckley, or to Lorca, and he couldn’t sing. Still, in The Worst Journey in the World, he describes how, as part of the fateful Scott Expedition to the South Pole, he made a journey across the ice to collect penguin eggs, and how the killer whales would swim up below and smash the ice to get at the ponies. Clever bastards, those orcas. Tim Buckley has the same quality, his voice slithering along, seemingly going nowhere, then suddenly erupting, breaking the ice and hitting the high notes mere mortals cannot reach. Yeah, he was a clever bastard too, and he had a killer wail.
Dai the Llama’s verdict: I’ve never heard of any of these people, but the puns seem pretty laboured, and I’m not convinced that killer whales are that intelligent. You certainly wouldn’t want one as a pet, or a guard for your sheep. Llamas are infinitely more reliable. Also, why no mention of the Richard Harris movie to which the title of this post alludes? If I remember rightly, it was a pretty decent Jaws cash-in.