Suppose you’d had your fill of worldly excess—ambition, competition, show biz personalities and hangers-on and that wide array of intoxicants, both human and chemical, that fuel and wreck the lives of creative people? Suppose you’d made it through all that and gotten away? Lived the rural life with the love of your life and made a little money writing about music, finished up that book you always wanted to write about that genius of a best friend you had when you were young—the one who didn’t make it through—and otherwise explored the philosophers and seers and played guitar and piano and lived to be, miraculously, 70?
That’s my friend Lee Underwood. I didn’t know him back when he was onstage and I was in the audience—this was in the late 60s and early 70s—but afterward, a decade after Tim Buckley’s death in 1975, Lee and I struck up a correspondence. Lee was Buckley’s mentor and lead guitarist. That’s him, all in blue, to Buckley’s right in this video.
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How I loved that music! And how grateful I was to the artists who made it—an enduring wonder to me, this business of making soul-stirring somethings out of thin air. Lee was part of it, and although Buckley was the star—the falling star, as it turned out—little that mattered of what he created would have been created without Lee’s influence and accompaniment.
Now he shines on his own. He’s written a book of poems called Timewinds, a kind of summing-up of his feelings toward this whole crazy journey. The book is filled—no, it overflows—with his wonder, gratitude, humility, humor. The poems are varied and unclassifiable, but his life is in them; that’s something you can tell for certain. Not the facts of his life, but the truth of it, the bemusing confusing laughter-inducing truth of it.
If you’re wondering what provoked that little rhetorical flourish, try reading Timewinds and see if you don’t find yourself feeling playful about the language, like someone who’s just been convinced to take off their shoes and run under the sprinkler. These are poems written by a musician. They are full of rhythmic play. Sometimes he asks us just to forget the “meaning” and go with it, as in “Crack-Whack,” which is accompanied by the instructions: To be read aloud as fast as possible.
It begins like this:
It’s all a matter of break-it-out, heave-it-up, crack-whack,
Take another tick-tack, cracklesack-backpack
And let the MUSIC jack-smack me right back up there where
Time’s a lightning storm, life’s a madcap windblown bonfire,
Raw, lean, tough, rough, mean and wild as cometflames on a hot night,
Blowing fierce and fire, never tire, energy jump-thumping,
Heave-leaping high as mind over matter, billowing air,
Whaling thunderdrums, blazing guitars, squealing saxophones,
The Banshee voice, piano pounding-sounding-hounding
My Quietude into seek-seeing madman’s looney-bin delight-sight
In this sweet night turned bombshell blue, and
You really don’t know the rolling-eyeballs table-dancing half of it!
I won’t call that a representative poem, since the poems in Timewinds are as varied as a parade in a Dr. Seuss book. Some are serene and knowing, others overtly spiritual or gently sensual, most as musical as blowing chimes. In the end, as a whole, they’re the poetic music—or the musical poetry—of a happy man.