When I awoke at dawn Gene Clark was driving and humming to himself.
We’re going to take a side trip to see the folks, he said and then we have a show at Wayne State in Detroit.
The car broke down; it would not go over thirty and the snow started again. Gene turned off the interstate and drove the local highways as the snow piled up alongside.
We had another chance to flesh out my article.
I wished I could sell records, he said to me at one point, wistfully. I got a couple kids and a wife at home. It’s just sort of like a bargain with the devil. I can only do what I can do. If you want to write I would remember that. Don’t try to write like someone else. Try to write like yourself.
Do you wish you were still with the Byrds?
It was the worst thing I ever did to leave. But I had to. The part of me that wrote all the songs got eaten up by all that.
The fame, he said. Just that one word, made his face look as old and expansive as a face on Mt. Rushmore.
He trailed off and I knew not to ask him anymore. A full hour passed and I spent it writing down everything that had happened.
In the gloaming we walked into Tipton and right up to his family’s house. He went around back to the kitchen.
Kitchen folks are always welcome. He sat down.
His mother called out, Look how long your hair is.
We ate until we slept. Then we awakened to the sound of a gospel singalong before the fireplace in the living room. Gene’s sister played the piano and he stood off to the side and harmonized.
He came from such a big family and it was so awesome to see it all with Duke Bardwell because he took everything in from an artistic standpoint. So it was a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of. Another sister took me aside and said how Gene had learned to sing with a gospel group. She had pretty blue eyes and they all looked like him but he had the star quality. They all talked like him too and you could see that the men were not given to talking and while he was there, Gene deferred to his father. He was the second oldest of thirteen and one of his brothers just hummed and slapped his knee and had to be attended to constantly. Whenever the music stopped and they tried to take a break, this grown man would howl like a puppy. You could see that he was touched.
Diz sat with him and whispered in his ear and they calmed down. You could see that this was something the family had lived with.
It was weird to watch Gene; he was glad to be home, because he could be anonymous but at the same time he was pulling away. It wasn’t because he had a brother with challenges and it was because his brother’s challenges somehow in a nutshell if you will summed up all the hardship they must have faced, living in the wilds of the Ozark Mtns as a family of fifteen.
Tambourine Man: Gene Clark is co-published with the East of Bowery blog.