His Royal Hipness

When verbal jazzman Lord Buckley held court— wailing away way-out humor with a touch of the divine
Lord Buckley
Surrounded by the accouterments of his stage persona, Lord Buckley—the 'Hip Messiah,' master of 'hipsemantic' jive—according to illustrator Drew Friedman.

Never trust anyone over 30, Berkeley student activist Jack Weinberg advised at the start of the 1960s—and young people took him at his word, especially when it came to cops, politicians, teachers, and the guys who programmed top-40 radio stations.

But they made exceptions for certain off-kilter, visionary figures—Buckminster Fuller (age 69 in 1964, the year Jack offered his advice), Marshall McLuhan (age 53), J.R.R. Tolkien (age 72), doddering folks who somehow, some way, not just got the zeitgeist but helped create it.

Such a one, many believe, would have been, should have been, the 'Hip Messiah,' that master of 'hipsemantic' jive, Lord Buckley, who would have been 58 in 1964, had he only made it.

Fuller offered idealistic '60s hippies a vision of Spaceship Earth. McLuhan showed how media were creating a Global Village. Tolkien told a tale of brave little hobbits saving the world from Evil.

What would Lord Buckley have given to the Love Generation?

Love.

Lord Richard Buckley lived for his nightclub audiences to whom he regularly vowed his love—audiences that he offended, amused, often floored, frequently puzzled, and occasionally antagonized.

"Would it embarrass you very much if I told you," Lord Buckley often asked his audience, then paused, "that I love you?"

Just part of his act? Maybe. But both onstage and off, Buckley lived for his audience. Offstage they were an audience of friends, whom he made easily; and family, whom he doted on—turning all of them into members of His Lordship's Royal Court, complete with titles.

The Buckley palace, whether in New York, Los Angeles, near Las Vegas, or in hotel rooms across the nation, became a legendary party pad. The home near Vegas was dubbed the 'Mattress Farm' because it bordered a pile of discarded Army mattresses. The Los Angeles home, which Buckley dubbed the 'Crackerbox Palace,' inspired a George Harrison song by that name.

The at-homes would often get off to a brisk start, friends have recalled, with the Lord and Lady (Elizabeth Buckley, a professional dancer 20 years his junior whom he married in 1946) greeting guests in the nude. According to comedian Tubby Boots, "If [Lord Buckley] wasn't naked, he was in tails."

Buckley certainly loved women. He would begin by kissing their hands gentlemanly, then move on up their arms—and keep on moving. He was married five times—or was it six? And he claimed to have fathered 11 or so children.

Lord Buckley
Lord Buckley working the audience in a Sausalito nightclub, circa 1958.

No, Lord Buckley was no introvert.

"He would always want people around, because he talked a lot," Harold Nicholas, one half of the legendary Nicholas Brothers tap-dance team, recalled. "He was always performing."

The ever-expanding Royal Court included Prince Owlhead, Lady Renaissance, Lady Buckley, his daughter Princess Laurie, and his son, Prince Richard Buckley. Comedian Jonathan Winters, a good friend, was Prince Jon. Then there was Prince Lewis, a man who "was there to lick feet, kiss hands, and do anything Lord Buckley asked him to," in the words of Lady Bunny, a stripper.

Lord Buckley can be seen as a '60s forerunner in other ways, too. Chief among them was his fondness for pot, whose influence undoubtedly contributed to his proto-psychedelic monologues—ten-minute-long obsessive rants that he whispered, shouted, and sputtered. His routines proved particularly hilarious to fans similarly under the influence.

Buckley's philosophy of life—he was deeply distrustful of authority, committed to pleasure, and devoid of restraint—clearly appealed to fans in the '60s. The Lord became an icon to such counterculture music heroes as the Beatles, Frank Zappa (who re-released some of his recordings), Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Captain Beefheart.