'Dream Brother' is a dual biography about the lives and music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. Author David Browne answers some questions about the book.
Caroline Hennessy: Why did you decide to write about Tim Buckley's life as well as Jeff's?
David Browne: During the course of my research, it became increasingly apparent that even though Tim was clearly not around during Jeff’s childhood, the wayward father had nonetheless left quite an impression on his son. Based on Jeff's journal entries and letters, and my conversations with family and friends, it became clear that Jeff was well acquainted with Tim's rather dramatic rise and fall in terms of his life, career, and music. He knew all his father's music, and he knew the music business hassles Tim had encountered. So the question became 'Exactly what did happen to Tim Buckley?' Even many of Jeff's closest friends didn't know Tim's full story, to my surprise. So I felt that in order to comprehend Jeff's views on music and the music business (his scepticism, wariness, and so forth), the entire Tim story needed to be laid out. As a journalist and storyteller, the dual approach was admittedly both appealing and challenging.
CH: Did you know Tim Buckley's music before you started work on 'Dream Brother'?
DB: To some extent, yes. I had actually purchased 'Look at the Fool' in a cut-out bin in the late 70s when I was just a kid (and, frankly, found it confusing and disappointing - it wasn't the folk-jazz I was expecting). But I had to wait until the CD revolution of the early 90s to own the majority of his records. I loved some of them ('Happy Sad' and 'Dream Letter'), enjoyed others ('Greetings from LA', 'Goodbye and Hello') and found others impenetrable ('Starsailor' and 'Lorca'). Even before I heard about Jeff, I was intrigued with Tim's musical journey; he really did push a lot of musical envelopes back then, and those sort of characters genuinely fascinate me.
CH: What reactions, if any, have you had from family/friends of Jeff and Tim to the published book?
DB: The reactions are still coming in, but so far, they have been very positive. From members of Jeff's family to his friends, everyone has said that they feel the book was fair and accurate and comprehensive and not sensationalistic, which is exactly what I was aiming for. One friend from his Sin-é days called me to say he cried when he finished reading it. A few of Jeff's friends have told me that they may need to take some time before they read it, because part of them is still grieving, and I understand that fully.
CH: What kind of access did you have to Jeff's own writings?
DB: His mother, Mary Guibert, made me copies of pages from several of his journals, and much to my gratitude, she didn't ask to see exactly what I was going to excerpt (or to review the final manuscript, by the way). Other friends from various points in his life also shared with me letters and postcards he had sent to them.
CH: How long did you spend researching 'Dream Brother' and how many people did you interview?
DB: The total research and writing time was close to three years, with about two and a half for research and six months of non-stop writing. Roughly, anyway. I interviewed approximately 130 people, some of them multiple times. Most of the Tim - related people were hard to track down (one of his musicians currently sells real estate!), but almost all of them were instantly open to talking with me. Conversely, the Jeff circle were easier to track down, but a number of them needed many months to decide whether or not to talk to me, since they were still dealing with the after effects of his death. Luckily, just about every major player in Jeff's life came around and let me into their offices or homes, for which I will always be grateful.
CH: Do you think that people you interviewed projected their own wants/desires on these men, Jeff in particular?
DB: Yes, and each man probably encouraged that to some degree. Jeff in particular had many different circles of friends, from many different sectors of his life. Friends from his downtown New York art circle saw him as victimized by the business; those on the business side felt he basically handled everything just fine. My job was to talk to as many different people as possible and try to find the truth, which was probably somewhere in between those two perceptions.
CH: How do you think he would have felt at having his 'Sketches' released?
DB: Given that he and producer Tom Verlaine worked on the material until the last minute, with Jeff polishing up vocals and instruments, it's somewhat hard to say. But he was such a perfectionist in the studio (the 'Grace' album was many, many months in the making) that I'm sure he wouldn't have been pleased if his label had released the recordings during his lifetime. My personal feeling is that I'm glad they're out there and that they were packaged and polished up with care.
CH: Did the fact that you had interviewed Jeff in the past make it easier to write the book - or more difficult?
DB: Having interviewed him and seen glimpses of those different sides made my job a bit easier to some extent, but Jeff was a complex person, very conflicted and possessing many dualities: Goofball or tortured artist? Confident music maker or work in progress? I still remember a conversation I had with one of his girlfriends, at which she remarked, 'Well, good luck figuring him out!' And I thought to myself, 'Gee, if SHE is saying this to me, I really have a job ahead of me!'
CH: What is your own personal favourite memory of Jeff Buckley?
DB: During our interview, I happened to mention that I just read Stairway to Heaven, a book by former Led Zeppelin road manager Richard Cole. His moodiness instantly dissipated, and he grew all excited and did an impression of a British roadie, and we talked about Zep lore (like the famous shark meat in the groupie story). The non-tortured music/pop-culture fan in him came shining out, and it was nice to see.
Dream Brother: The lives and music of Jeff and Tim Buckley by David Browne is published by Fourth Estate, £17.99 stg