Tambourine Man: Gene Clark – Part 7

Drew Hubner

Gene Clark released his first solo album more than a year and a half after Eight Miles High. He recorded it with some of LA’s best session musicians including Leon Russell, Glen Campbell and Clarence White, all of whom were unknown at the time, all of whom would go on to fame that would eclipse Clark’s own as a solo artist.

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photograph by Ted Barron

In a curious move the vocal stylings of the Gosdin Bros. were added to the album in the studio and they received co-billing on the album. The album failed to chart, as did the single: a Baroque pop beauty called Echoes. This began a pattern of self-sabotage for our hero that continued to the end of his career. His next project was disbanded. Another with Doug Dilliard produced two great albums but whenever they tried to play and support the work, both principals would appear so drunk that it was a fiasco.

After the freakout on the plane at the height of Byrds popularity, these disastrous gigs with the Dilliard and Clark Expedition were what seeded Clark’s growing reputation as a flake in the industry, someone who was capable of creating beautiful music that was admittedly a little weird, who was a disaster in all other aspects of publicity and promotion. After the flameout of the Dilliard and Clark something else significant to our purposes happened for Mr. Clark. He got in the sports car he had bought from his first Byrds earnings and drove up highway 1. Let’s imagine the morning after the latest fiasco at the Whiskey or the Troubadour. He got in his car and drove up Highway 1. He had on a pair of jeans, a tshirt with a pocket on the chest and a corduroy jacket. His guitar slung in the back seat.

He was looking for peace. He drove until he found a little place called Mendocino.
Geno himself would later admit that leaving the Byrds was a mistake, how he freaked out on the plane, and walked off a cross country flight on the eve of an appearance with Murray the K in New York. He went home to Missouri and spent a number of weeks there. The situation was so fresh that none of his family was aware that he had quit the band. They expected a celebration and got a young, confused 23 year old. He later tried to rejoin the band twice officially and played with various members for the rest of his life. Arguably his revival of the name in the 80’s was just as legitimate version of the band as the Skip Battin era, as he had two original members and McGuinn’s last 70’s version had only one. It’s also interesting to note that the biggest selling Byrds album after the golden era was their reunion album from 1973.

What Geno tried to explain to me once was that it was the spotlight, the white hot glare that really forced him out. There were a lot of little factors that added up to the same thing. Crosby riding everyone, the competition over songwriting credits, the unending demands of the press and touring, the drugs, the alcohol, the fact that none of these young men were much older than 25. None of them had gone to anything close to college. All of them had gone from scuffling to having more money than they could ever know what to do with, and more girls, more drugs. Whether the level of stardom they reached would ever be achieved is one argument; certainly the class of 1966 was the first: The Stones, the Beatles, Dylan and the Byrds: The class of ’66.

It was just impossible for them to go on as a band. After that all of them went into hiding. The Beatles quit touring, as did the Stones until ’69 and dylan disappeared. The only band to appear in 1967 was the Byrds at Monterrey Pop which was a one-off festival. This appearance was famous for the level of rancor shown between members. In all interviews it’s clear that McGuinn is still angry at Crosby for his paranoid rap about the real story of the Kennedy assassination. This sort of paranoia would resurface around Kent State and the Lennon killing. Clearly Crosby took a little too seriously for McGuinn’s taste the whole spokesmen for a generation thing. He has never let go of it in fact, see the most recent CSNY tour where the band tried to reclaim the mantle for the geriatric set.

Dylan has disclaimed spokesman status a number of times. Jagger’s painful performance in interviews in Gimme Shelter regarding the aftermath of Altamont expose the weirdness of this phenomenon. Humbler folks like Clark and Keith Richards have never taken it seriously, though both had drug problems every bit as bad as Crosby’s, they never bit the meglomanic fruit. In Melville the whiteness of the whale signifies many things not least among them the unknowable quality of such a great beast as the great white leviathan. I was reading Melville at the time of the No Other tour and brought along a copy. I brought it up to Gene and he laughed. There’s a theory, he said. It was unknowable. The spotlight was so white hot, so bright that in its glare you forgot who you were. And it turned you into something else. Half man, half rock star.

Like in Moby Dick it was something that was knowable but really too big to articulate in terms of human understanding and communication. Just because you lived it did not mean you could talk about it in any coherent way, or communicate what it was like to anyone who had not experienced it. This is why Moby Dick is such a shape-shifting baggy monster of a book. Melville was trying to show what it was like to an audience which could never know. It was bigger than all of us, Gene said.

Tambourine Man: Gene Clark is co-published with the East of Bowery blog.