Here’s the deal. As it was happening -- nothing happened, and when it happened it wasn’t happening anymore – I have to knock out this note before the day wiggles away. Lately, living has been bent from the front, so next go round I’m pinning this date on my wall, whip it around my prehensile wits; flip the switch that says stick. So done, so be it, now shout yeah! All the what’s and who’s and why’s jump out from everywhere and serenade the guru of gone! Happy Birthday! Belated or not, to the original gasser, the original hipster saint, the most far-out cat that ever stomped on this Sweet Green Sphere, who’s wailin', groovy hipsemantic orations tramped through the wiggage in our graciously affluent playground: the wordland we call the English language! The man, the years, the most flip embodiment of a life lived cool … none other than His Majesty, His Hipness, Lord Buckley! Birthday 102 …and though he found “the theme of the beam of the invisible edge” back in ‘60, they’re still digging his scrabble and his mad heart, looting strange truths from the head, all truths, even the feral truths, scribbling, splattering jive laid down to his bop ... as his Royal Flipness’ once said - “they supersede and carry on beyond the parallel of your practiced credulity.”
Though Lord Buckley is known for his "hip-semantic" interpretation of history, literature, and culture, sporting a waxed mustache, dressed to the nines and expounding on life in the manner befit of British aristocracy, intoned by way of Jazz riffs versed by hemp-headed hepcats, Lord Buckley was actually born in a coal-mining town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on an Indian reservation in Tuolumne, California, in 1906. Richard Myrle Buckley worked as a lumberjack as a kid and entered the world of showbiz by way of the medicine, carnival, and tent show circuit, eventually gigging in the speakeasies of Chicago during the 1920s, emceeing dance marathons and vaudeville shows, even playing on Broadway during the Depression. By the 1940’s he was working steadily in Jazz clubs, befriending many of the greatest musicians of the era. During the Second World War Buckley toured with the USO Shows and became close friends with, of all people, Ed Sullivan. By the 1950’s the unclassifiable Lord Buckley was cast as a comedian, his humor combined his incredible detailed knowledge of the language and culture; his true hepcat persona became one part stump preacher, one part raconteur, another part grifter and huckster, producing one of the strangest comedic personas ever invented.
The stories about Lord Buckley seem to endlessly dance a thin line between fact and fiction. Supposedly he was married 6 times and was befriended by Al Capone, who helped Buckley set him up is own noble nightspot. Even Buckley’s death is something of a mystery. He died at 7:30 PM on November 12, 1960 at Columbus Hospital in New York City. His death certificate lists 'natural causes' as the cause of death-- but, like many larger than life characters, there always seem to be more to the story then meets the eye, or at least we hope there’s more. Various reports on his death have listed everything from a heroin overdose to a beating. Some have suggested Buckley was harassed to death by the police after his New York Cabaret Card was suspended, taken from him by the police in October as he was about to perform at the Jazz Gallery on St. Mark's Place, and the stress caused him to have a stroke. Others say he was poisoned. The best explanation I ever heard and the one I most believe is that he was just too heavy a cat and he simply fell off the planet and is out there in orbit, checking on the cosmos making sure everything is copasetic.
"Lord Buckley is a secret thing that people pass under the table," novelist Ken Kesey once said. "You ask writers who they think is the best writer and they all mention someone above them. Gradually you get up at the top, and you get to Samuel Beckett and not many people have read him. But a lot of people have been influenced by Beckett. I think the same was true of Lord Buckley. There were a lot of people influenced by Lord Buckley who have never heard his material."
Composer David Amram, (whose classic film scores include Splendor in The Grass, The Manchurian Candidate and the landmark 1959 documentary Pull My Daisy, narrated by Jack Kerouac), described Buckley as “…the combination of Walt Whitman, Charlie Parker, Baudelaire and Laurence Olivier. Like Whitman, he was always lyric and grandiose. He reminded me of Charlie Parker as he created new stories out of thousands of unique patterns with spontaneous flights of fancy and one-time-only improvisations drawn from the moment. He seemed to relive Baudelaire's spirit as a mad, burning, passionate poet, always romantic and worldly, in spite of the overwhelming setbacks that would have destroyed almost anyone else. Like Olivier, he could create and become any number of unforgettable human beings and make you remember them forever. Lord Buckley was much more than his defined role as a comedian and entertainer. He was a visionary and a true American original who influenced a whole generation. All who heard him recognized him as an underground genius of spontaneous American poetry and humor. He captured the great joy and the great melancholy of the 1940s and 1950s."
If you are in New York check this out:
Featuring the Church of the Living Swing Ensemble, David Amram, Steve Ben Israel, Professor Irwin Corey, Tom Calagna, Oliver Trager, and many more, the 102nd birth anniversary of the greatest hipster, Lord Buckley
Bowery Poetry Club (212-614-0505)
308 Bowery @ Bleecker, (right across from CBGB's)
F train to Second Ave | 6 train to Bleecker