We got our tickets, went up the escalator to find our platform. The buses were so behind by now, getting dark outside as 4:30 turned to six pm. I had to go to the bathroom really bad. Never has a room smelled as bad as the bathroom, the wet doggy clothes, the shit and piss and the odeur of unwashed humanity stuffed up your nose like a head cold with every breath one dared to chance. We shared a urinal like nine year olds. Diz got the giggles and I did too. Some man was hollering from one of the stalls about his pants. Someone better brung my pants back or I aint a coming out, he hollered. And we started laughing and could not stop.
I felt something warm on my hand and realized Diz was pissing on me turned as he was half around to keep and eye out for trouble and watch the festivities.
There was this little man who looked like Truman Capote’s railroad homeless bum doppelganger, this horrible squeaky voice that and eyes that looked at us so rudely, I could not get myself back into my pants fast enough. I’ll give you your goddamn pants, he kept saying. And you could tell by the tone of their voices that they lived in that bathroom or close by and the nature of their dispute was domestic not like the code among strangers that most travelers observed in a passing through commuter situation. I wanted to wash my hands but this gnome was between me and the sink so I shook them off, wiped them with some snow from my own dungarees and followed Diz to the door. The gnome saw me too and he must have sensed the fear of virgin blood because something in him, some aura reached for me and as I scurried out the door I literally felt myself escaping from his need like it was some green airborne gaseous mass of malarial infection.
He laughed and winked.
Horace, he shouted, You will get your goddamned pants. We went to the front of the line again. It was back up the stairs past lines of people, some who had sat down in their places. There was a plastic glass shelter with a door at the end of the tunnel. We stepped out into the snow again to watch. Anyplace with height in the city is like a hill in the woods where you can step out and survey your kingdom.
When the bus came we got on first, found seats and I will never forget the smile that Diz gave me as we rode around the chute toward the Lincoln Tunnel. He was so happy and like I said I knew something was up. The only thing was when I had another coughing fit my brother gave me the death eye again. What? I asked, but he didn’t answer. It snowed all night and Gene Clark and the Silverados sang all night too.
The concert hall, an old theatre space with a stage and pitched seats leading up to it, like a vaudeville hall served as much as a shelter that night. Stragglers dragged in covered with snow as we had, warmed up, sat down, clapped along and in the third set when Gene and the fellows opened up the stage and invited all comers sang along. He opened the first set with Strength of Strings. For each song it was only Clark at the microphone with his guitar. We got there just as the crowd had hushed for the first song and there might have been twenty five of us, weary and cold travelers by the end when Gene invited a folk music class and the instructor, a Mr. Donaldson, up to sing along a couple of hundred people filled the hall.
He could not figure out how to work the harp attachment so when he felt like it he would whip the harmonica after the pocket of his shirt. He wore a pocket t-shirt and a pair of jeans, like a bricklayer who’d picked up a guitar and starting singing songs as they came out of him. This was his way, to summon up the genesis of each song in the performance, as if no song was ever played the same way twice. Maybe it was an illusion. We had never seen him before, Diz my baby bro and I, but if it was it was a helluva sweet illusion. They took a break and began the second set with Babe Ruth.
I wrote this song last night Gene said. This led to a whole suite of brand new songs. The accompani-ists, because that’s what they were and there’s a talent to that. Roger White and one Duke Bardwell looked at one another and shrugged with these shit-eating smiles on their faces. For all of us it was like watching each song come to birth.
I wrote most of these last night, said Clark. And it was not someone bragging it was matter of fact like he was admitting to it. He laughed, And some of them still need some work, quipped Bardwell and Clark looked at him like he was angry and then let loose a laugh. Roger White was the serious one. He had a wandering eye and his hair combed over the other so his appearance was both spooky and angelic. Bardwell with Gene looked like a grownup Huck Finn with the impresario he met on the Mississippi raft. Bardwell was gregarious and introduced the songs. What’s that one called, Geno, he’d asked. You got a name for that one yet?
Hot chocolate was served. Diz met some girls and they invited us back to their dorm to spend the night.
We’re going to miss the bus? I said.
He winked and one of the girls smiled at me and it was in her bed that I spent the night.
But I have to interview Gene Clark!
Ooh I want to see that. I’m a journalist major. Are you too? The girl asked.
Diz winked again. It was from him I learned you never had to lie, just say very little and let someone else’s imagination take over.
I asked Gene Clark about being an artist and he listened and laughed.
You’re just a kid aren’t ya. I mean a college kid.
You quit the Byrds to be an artist.
That’s one way of looking at it. You didn’t want to be a pop star in Tiger Beat magazine.
Clark laughed. What does the pretty lady think?
No real artist calls himself a real artist. We’re studying that now.
Exactly. About how real artists can only survive in an environment where they can create real art. When the environment changes they move on.
Clark nodded like a boxer taking instructions in the corner the whole time she was talking. She had freckles and russet hair. She looked nothing like my mother and when we kissed in her room later that night she really did taste like some kind of flower, not the sweet smelly part but like the actual petal. We started talking in their van, as they loaded. Clark pitched in with the others. They just had their guitars and used whatever PA was available. They sang to one mike like some old fashioned country round up.
Isn’t that why you’re on this tour? Clark laughed. He had the kind of laugh that made everyone feel at ease.
Duke Bardwell pitched in, We’re out here because he tried to strangle the executive of the record company.
Tell em about that Gene.
Aww he’s just off the Elvis Presley tour. Duke here’s a little spoiled.
I ain’t complaining. I think what this kid is saying is right.
Gene, I never saw anyone write songs like this feller, Duke Bardwell said to me.
Tambourine Man: Gene Clark is co-published with the East of Bowery blog.