PARABOLIC REVELATIONS OF THE LATE LORD BUCKLEY LINER NOTES
Special thanks to Prince Eaglehead (Ed Randolph) and Roger Armstrong
of Ace Records for providing LBC with the text for this page.
Death of a Peer
by Francis Newton
NIGHT-CLUB satire is a golden activity in America these days. Bob Newhart ("the man with the button-down mind") outsells Presley on LP. Mort Sahl, his poisoned fangs smothered in the embrace of TIME magazine, clocks up grosses which inspire Variety to its hippest headlines. Norman Granz, the jazz impresario-night-club satire and jazz go together like rugby and beer- sold his Verve record label for over two and a half million dollars, largely on the strength of his foresight in signing up Shelly Berman, Sahl and other night-time gravediggers of contemporary America. If Lord Buckley (the title reflected a persistent strain of anglomania in this very American artist) had lived, perhaps he too would have earned a lot of money. Now he will never be tempted to conciliate the squares.
When I saw him, he came on at the Gate of Horn, Chicago, at 2:30 a.m. to a public of artists and night people; for at the time even the habitual cabaret audience is elsewhere. He looked like a colonel cashiered from the Indian army in 1930, or rather like somebody imitating one; spruce, elderly, smoothly attired (no other word will do) in evening dress and vaguely unconvincing: oozing a bonhomie which was not wholly false and a cynicism which was not true. He began in the age-old style of the cabaret ham, plummy and hoarse, the eye magnetic, the smile fixed. And then suddenly, within a sentence or two, we were in a wholly different world of controlled satirical growls, imitation trombone phrases and the mock-simple baroque of Negro hip-talk, interspersed with attacks on the H-bomb, little nonsense songs and dreamlike surrealist conversations. Then back to hip-talk versions of the miracles of Jesus and the Marquis de Sade.
The few who knew him classified him wrongly with the "far-out" comedians of the Fifties, probably because he also breathed out jazz as Spanish shepherds exhale garlic. He was older. His technique was that of the show-biz pro, not that of the glorified amateur: he timed his act like a striking rattler. Sahl is not thinkable in Montmartre cabaret of the Toulouse-Lautrec period. Buckley was, which is perhaps why he was the better act. Above all, he was not a critic but a preacher, "The Hip Messiah" as he told the puzzled New York nuns from his death-bed. He dreamed of a big rock-candy world where the cats and chick have a perpetual ball, bathed in the ray of equality and love: Gandhi's and Jesus's as well as Venus's,. It is a sentimental utopia, but then both America and show-biz have soft centres. Nevertheless, it is a genuine utopia.
He had a stroke in November, 1960, on the verge of success, when the New York police withdrew his cabaret card, a well-known device for shaking down artists. He left behind a Volkswagen minibus, a few numbers played in his honour by Monk and Gillespie, a record or two in the States, and a lot of tape of which this selection forms the cream. May he have a ball wherever he is.
"Death of a Peer" was first published in "The New Statesman" of 11/12/60. It is reprinted here with minor alterations, by courtesy of that Review.
The World of Lord Buckley
by PRINCE EAGLE HEAD
(Ed Randolph to the Outside World)
To be hip is to know what is going one . . . like Kruschev is hip: so was Gandhi, so is Mort Sahl. And I'm half hip. This is better than being a hip square, which is a dangerous animal. Hipsters talk hip but aren't, because if they were they'd know that it's unhip to talk hip. The late Lord Buckley was the hippest without being a hipster. When he performed on television or in a night club he did his usual commercial act and that was it. Whenever he performed his own creative material it was too "far out" for any but "inside" or show business audiences. The trouble was he was talking the language of a generation yet to come. So, engagements were scarce . . . and so was money.
if he was so hip you may wonder why he didn't capitalize on his talent by doing more commercial material. So, go ask Van Gogh, man . . . as his Lordship might have said. Buckley paid his dues a few times over, so he saw the truth in situations instantaneously, and he wasn't willing to spout banalities to earn a dollar. He never wrote his ideas down, yet I never heard him do anything less than a complete sequence, first attempt, even in his own home and for a few selected guests. He'd get an inspiration for a performance and "take off" on it. He'd polish and vary it every time he did it, but always "out of his mind." I must have heard him perform The Nazz a hundred times, but it was always different and fresh.
Lord Buckley build a serio-comic world where all men and women are Lords and Ladies. A bell-hop was "Prince", a telephone operator "Princess" and the bandleader invariably "Your Grace", He was proving out his world, "that it is possible to live graciously and to be beautiful and love people." Like The Nazz, he was "turning these other kitties eyes on through his eyes, so they saw everything pretty, too." He said "the guardian of the great stash of God-the people-God-is in the people."
In the end, as the most loyal and lovely Lady Elizabeth Buckley understates, "They goofed the Lord out!" But his Lordship used to say, "The jazz a cat blows, wails long after he's cut out . . ." And so it will.