|Below is an article I wrote about Richard Buckner and a somewhat semi-fictionalized acount of the first time I heard his music. It was written for the Baton Rouge Gambit as a promotion for the show I played with Buckner on September 14th, 2000. I don't know... I wasn't too happy with the job that I did and basically threw my hands up at the 3rd or 4th revision. Oh well... I can now say, however, that I've been paid extra to promote my own show.
Personally, I think my exchange with Michael Antrobus, Gambit News Editor is far more entertaining. And another thing... I never read the version they finally ran, but I glanced at it long enough to see three changes I didn't particularly agree with. And they told me they loved my piece? So... why change it? I feel that "directionless" sounds a whole lot better than "no direction." But oh well.... I digress.
Richard Buckner and Fred Weaver
Believe it when they tell you that music inspires nostalgia. I often find that records, regardless of lyrical content, trigger memories of specific days, drives, and even the way that as a child I lay awake for countless hours while the streetlight squeezed through my curtains to slice my room like a razor. The vividness of my memory often astonishes me and I can tell you that the first time I heard Richard Buckner's music was in Josh Shugarts' cramped, filthy college student apartment in State College, Pennsylvania. The three homeless people from town (every college town supports at least three) seemed to have chosen Josh's stairwell as their place to urinate because, well, I don't really know... There must've been 1000 stairwells, crawlspaces, and other potential bathrooms in the mile long strip of downtown next to the Penn State campus. Josh's apartment hung several stories above this
Let me just say that Richard Buckner supplies a beautiful soundtrack to distress. While his songs are often cryptically written (thus, often open to interpretation), they seem to tell devastating stories of impossibly emotional situations like the aftermath of betrayal or the tale of the late night all-but-hopeless heart yearning for reconciliation or, at least, reason. Suffice to say, there's not a lot of happiness in the compressed imagery of his lyrics, but aren't happy songs overrated (and often just a reminder of how unhappy we really are?) And to top that, his more recent songs often end abruptly, seemingly unresolved.
In an age where genre and subgenre seem to rule, it is hard to figure out just how to classify Richard Buckner. This is because, while some musicians seem to enjoy mining the same stylistic vein, Buckner has continually refused to rest on his laurels. Instead, his records have grown more sophisticated, both lyrically and musically. His first record, 1994's Bloomed, had him easily pegged as a member of the then burgeoning neo-country movement owing to the narrative lyrics and the sound - the twang in his voice, the weeping pedal steel guitar and the drummer-less acoustic ensemble playing.
On 1997's Devotion + Doubt, most of the songs were stripped down to just acoustic guitar and vocals while the rest featured decidedly rock drumming and accompaniment. Buckner's vocal phrasing and delivery changed, the twang softened a bit and the structures of his songs grew more adventurous than typical Verse/Chorus/Verse country and pop songs... These experiments, while never extreme or quirky, were often greatly effective at underscoring the depressing drama of the poetic lyrics - most of which seemed to be inspired by Buckner's ruminations on the failure of his first marriage.
1998's Since, broke even more ground, employing a who's who cast of indie musicians to provide an eclectic mix of textures. Here rock music became a greater focus (over half the tracks feature drumming phenom John McEntire) and the acoustic songs are more inventive than ever, with subtle piano, mandolin and vocal hooks place over odd chord progressions and voicings. The record's lyrics are more cryptic than ever, perhaps because Buckner wrote most of the record in his truck (Ever try to write a legible sentence or a complete thought while driving?) while on his seemingly endless touring schedule. While this makes the narrative elements less intense than before, the menacing and terse tone of some songs is particularly appealing.
Now back to my story... On this night, late in the summer of 1997, Josh and I found ourselves sitting across the kitchen table from each other. My brain was crippled from the gin and tonics that had by 3am given way to just plain gin. I had told Josh the truth earlier - that things had gone horribly wrong in New York City and that I was definitely moving. I was directionless, though. I hadn't yet flipped the fateful coin that directed me to New Orleans instead of Portland or Austin. We drank to the unpredictability of futures. We drank to the stack of Smithsonian magazines I'd just liberated from someone's trash. Then I played Josh the first song I'd written specifically for the acoustic guitar (not even thinking that I would one day tour as a solo performer). He immediately asked me, "Have you ever heard of Richard Buckner?" All lives were changing.