That night in the dark van, as the stark winter night trees made shadows on the old winding and cracked highway, Gene told us of how writing songs and singing them, sometimes performing even made him feel something like he did as a child when he played Indian in the woods from his friends. He told us he was of Apache origin and that the name Clark was an English name given to an ancestor by an overseer, Like a slave name, he said.
According to Clark’s biographer John Einarson, Clark’s sister said that their father never pursued his heritage because, when I was growing up, Indians were just another form of nigger. His sister also believe he had a manic depressive personality. It was the hereditary thing, she said. The in-marrying.
Gene Clark, however spoke proudly of his Apache heritage. His celebrated & and infamous friendships with Keith Carradine and Jesse Ed Davis reputedly included knife-throwing exhibitions that never failed to make mixed company fearful.
Something else that Gene Clark told me about was what I want to call the whiteness of the spotlight (apologies to Melville) and what Gene referred to as the class or curse of 1966. It was not clear to me which word he used to refer to it, maybe he used them interchangeably. I could have asked him for a clarification but I never got the chance.
He told me he wrote Eight Miles High after a conversation with Brian Jones, either in Pittsburgh about England or in England, about Pittsburgh. This also wasn’t clear. I think we were both a little stoned on Diz’s old Thai weed and my notes reflect that. When he wrote the song anyway he was still a Byrd, for the moment.
Tambourine Man: Gene Clark is co-published with the East of Bowery blog.