This is the story of the first rapper and, quite possibly, the first performance artist. A big hearted, mystic, self-ennobled aristocrat (complete with pith helmet and Dali-esque moustache) who, against the backdrop of the McCarthy era and its residue of official, self-justified corruption, valorised and satirised the "great and the good" with the hip, egalitarian be-bop language of his "Church of the Living Swing".The only church with belly-dancers for priestesses and psalms of cool jazz!
His wild litanies meant that Mahatma Gandhi became "The Hip Gan", Jesus - "The Nazz" and Cabeza Da Vaca - "The Gasser", in the fine company of Shakespeare - "Willie the Shake"(they called him that because he SHOOK everyone!) and Einstein - "Hip Eini"
'Lord Buckley was the Godfather of Rap'
Richard Buckley was born in the lumberjack district of Tuolomne, California in 1906. This was two weeks before the San Francisco Earthquake and some have said that this was the planet's delayed reaction to 'His Coming'!The seventh son of a seventh son and one of eleven children born to a Mancunian father and a Cornish mother, his star was to blaze across America until its eventual destruction by the cruelty of the authorities and its burial, in obscurity, in the history of American comedy.
'The most sensational comic of all time'
Buckley created a whole new form of expression, blending travelling- preacher timing with be-bop vernacular and word-jazz with the classics. Growing up professionally in the 'Walkathons' of the 20s and 30s, through mob-driven Chicago and on to pre-hippie California and finally storming New York, Richard Buckley influenced the cream of modern comedy, some, like Robin Williams and Lennie Bruce, have acknowledged their debt but many have not. The late, great DJ Wolfman Jack who starred in 'American Graffiti' readily stated that his whole act - timing and delivery, was lifted from Buckley.
'He was the fuel to my success'
'Dick' Buckley had arrived in Chicago in the late 30s and hung out there doing stand-up, compering strip shows and getting trashed with Ed Sullivan (who said, 'To know Buckley is to be owed by him') and he was renowned for wild publicity stunts even back then. He was performing at the Suzy Q and persuaded the owners to hire a hearse and drive around the city with Buckley lying in an open coffin in the back. Many motorists were somewhat surprised to be confronted at the traffic lights and junctions by the 'corpse' arising from the coffin with a large sign saying, 'The body comes alive at the Suzy Q!'
Although his running buddies were bohos, jazzmen, whores, showgirls, gamblers, poets, writers, in fact, the usual suspects from the fringe of Life, he was also immensely popular with the gangsters, particularly Al Capone. Al later bought him his own club, Chez Buckley, which lasted only one night! To end his act, Dick had taken all the fur coats of the 'molls', piled them up on the stage, doused them in lighter fuel and after setting them on fire had somersaulted down the bar and left the club for good. Fearing the worst he left town but Capone was so amused that he paid for all the coats and never 'pursued' the matter.
'Buckley was the only man who ever made me laugh' - Al Capone
Just prior to this event Richard Buckley became 'Lord' Buckley in a curious occurrence. His businessman friend, the appropriately named (by Buckley) Midas, having gone to a bankrupt circus to buy a pony for his daughter, had bought the whole circus stock as well. He called Dick who came down with his entourage. They found a trunk in the costume area and opened it to find a purple silken robe with faux jewels sewn artfully around the edge, it was huge - having belonged to the elephant. Buckley wrapped it around his body gazed into the mirror, genuflected and said, 'Your Majesty', after which he swept into the snowdrift streets of Chicago with his entourage holding the 'trail'. This was the birth of Lord Buckley and the infamous 'Royal Court' in which every participant and supplicant was 'titled' by Lord B. himself. A Bohemian troupe that arrived in California in the early 40s and were stilled based there in the late 50s, although there was much 'touring' in-between. Their various residences included the Crackerbox Palace (immortalised in song by George Harrison) which was a large hen-house furnished wall, floor and ceiling by mattresses that genuinely had fallen off the back of a lorry. The Castle followed, which was renowned for its 'naturist' parties and the creation of 'The Church of the Living Swing', which was the first 'Love-In', staged in the Topanga Canyon Gallery in 1954.
Four years later Buckley, now married to his sixth wife, the Lady Elizabeth, (he could only remember actually marrying two of the previous five but he had), took part, at the invitation of Dr.Oscar Janiger, in the first legal trials of LSD-25 along with artists such as Jackson Pollock, Thelonious Monk (didn't affect him at all), Anais Nin, Robert Mitchum, Cary Grant et al. He took well to it, describing his awakened state as the 'Fargonasphere'. He later rewarded Janiger at a party on his ranch with a stream of consciousness performance, which lasted a whole weekend!
'It's all so very alive and jumpin' and in the pauses one can hear atoms exploding out there in the Milky Way where the grass comes up every once in ten billion years and there are no moth balls or Frigidaires, no box office receipts, railroads, crucifixions, rosy or otherwise....it is all very far out, your Majesty' - Henry Miller
With several albums released the 30 years of slog seemed to be paying off and a season at The Jazz Gallery in NewYork had been booked - the big time at last! However, after the wild years of challenging performances, wild partying (Buckley once got an unknowing policeman to light his joint - this was a very big deal back then - 10-15 years for possession!) and generally annoying the police, politicians and civil authorities, the net was closing in. During the McCarthy era in America all performers had to have a cabaret card without which they could not work, however, corrupt police adopted the pernicious practice of confiscating the card in order to get pay-offs. The NYPD were the worst. They had worked the scam on Billie Holliday, Charlie Mingus, Charlie Parker and all the up and coming names of the Jazz demi-monde, artists who were particularly vulnerable, due to alcohol or drug dependencies.
Lord Buckley was a very radical performer, anti-war, pro civil rights, egalitarian, irreverent, spiritual (if not religious) and generally enabling people to question - EVERYTHING!
His last performance was at the Jazz Gallery when the NYPD moved in and pulled his card on the false pretext of undeclared drunkenness in Reno, Nevada 20 years before (I kid you not).
This was what Buckley would have undoubtedly called the 'bending end' (not on the razor's edge but on the horn of the storm!) and, in uproar, the recently deceased George Plympton and Harold 'Doc' Humes (then editors of The Paris Review) formed the Citizens Emergency Committee to help end this practice. They eventually succeeded and the whole cabaret card requirement ceased to be law. To the relief and joy of American artists everywhere. This was, sadly, too late for Lord Buckley, the beautiful, heroic Bardic angel who had popularised Jesus as "The Nazz ":….
'Nazz is walking down the boulevard one day, comes across this little kitty with a bent frame, he says,' what's the matter with you, baby?'. Little cat with the bent frame say, 'My frame's bent Nazz, it bin bent from in front!' Nazz looks right down into the windows of the little cat's soul and says, 'Straight!' Up went that cat like an arrow, everybody walking round saying, 'Look what The Nazz put on that boy, you dug him before, re-dig him now!’
Buckley called this style the 'living language of the beautiful American Negro', and his act included The Gettysburg Address, Poe's The Raven', The Black Cross (a civil rights anthem) and Marc Anthony's speech to the Romans.
“Hipsters, Flipsters and finger-popping daddies, knock me your lobes! The bad jazz that a cat blows, wails long after he's cut out.”
So sadly, in days of his card being taken and unwilling and quite probably unable to pay a bribe, Buckley died in New York with his family around him. Some say from malnutrition after years of partying, some say kidney failure, others pneumonia but I suspect - a broken heart!
His life was celebrated at a memorial service where Dizzie Gillespie and Ornette Coleman serenaded the Lord in the only way he would have wanted and the entirety of the New York underground, as well as many more famous faces, paid their respects to The Hip Messiah.
“There is a great power within, and when used in beauty and immaculate purity can cure and heal and cause miracles. And when you use it, it spreads like a magic garden and when you do not use it, it recedes from you” -
Lord Buckley (paraphrasing the letter of the conquistador, Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca to Ferdinand the First of Spain. 1518.)
- Ladies and Gentlemen!
When he laid it down…it stayed there!!!
“People are the true flowers of life and it has been my privilege and pleasure to have walked in your garden”-
Recommended Buckley listening -
The Lord must be heard!
Buckley's Best (produced by Frank Zappa)
The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade
His Royal Hipness