UPDATE (Oct. 2015): The clip of this from “Coming Home” has since been removed from YouTube. I’ve posted a non-film version here as a substitute. You are strongly urged to check out “Coming Home” when you get a chance.
One of the most powerful uses of a song in a film. This is the ending of Hal Ashby’s Vietnam War drama “Coming Home” from 1978. The scene features Jon Voight’s paralyzed Vietnam War veteran talking to a group of high school students, while Bruce Dern’s veteran character commits suicide by swimming into the sea.
Apparently, Dern’s suicide scenario was one that Ashby often thought of. The use of Buckley’s “Once I Was” was especially meaningful, because before Buckley’s death from an overdose of heroin, was Ashby’s choice to play Woody Guthrie in his biopic “Bound for Glory.”
Man, I love Tim Buckley. He’s often lumped in with other folk artists of the era, but I think that’s entirely wrong. While he strummed a guitar and often sang lovely and sad ballads, Buckley could turn on a dime and be the scariest, most intense motherf–ker in the room. That voice, when it rises and cracks and wails, comes from a private hell that I don’t want to ever go near. Incredibly powerful stuff.
Here is the earliest known recorded version of Tim Buckley’s enduring and classic ballad. It’s quite different than the version that was eventually recorded for Buckley’s 1970’s “Starsailor” album. The version here (performed for “The Monkees” TV show in 1968) is more of a straight-ahead ballad, instead of the bizarre and heartbreaking version that appears on “Starsailor” that sounds like it was recorded by someone really ready to cast themselves on the rocks in despair. A great and underrated song that keeps gaining more resonance as the years continue. In just the last few years, Robert Plant, Bryan Ferry, and Sinead O’Connor have all done covers. The most famous cover, by This Mortal Coil, has already been posted on Dave’s Strange World.
Talk about intense. From the posthumously released live album “Dream Letter: Live in London 1968,” Tim Buckley could go from a whisper to a scream at the drop of a pin. A great acoustic performance of an already great song that segues into a Supremes song at the end. Most of the people from my generation are more familiar with Tim’s son Jeff, who like his father, died tragically at a young age.
FYI – Buckley was director Hal Ashby’s first choice to play Woody Guthrie in “Bound for Glory,” until Buckley died of a heroin overdose in 1975. David Carradine did a fine job, but I always wonder what Buckley would have done in the role. Ashby paid tribute to Buckley by using Buckley’s “Once I Was” during Bruce Dern’s suicide scene in “Coming Home.”
Arguably, the most famous cover of Tim Buckley’s most famous song. Director David Lynch apparently wanted to use this for “Blue Velvet,” but because he couldn’t afford the rights had to make do with the Angelo Badalamenti-Julee Cruise song “Mysteries of Love” (not a bad substitute by any means, in my opinion). Lynch eventually got to use this in 1996’s “Lost Highway” and it also appeared in director Peter Jackson’s 2009 film adaptation of “The Lovely Bones.” Comedian Patton Oswalt made mention of this during his famous KFC Famous Bowls routine.