Gene Clark was definitely “The Byrd Who Flew Alone,” as the compelling new DVD that unravels his complex story is titled.
He was also the one who flew under the radar, which is why I surprised to see the disc on a shelf at Other Music in the East Village. I knew of its existence but figured like most things that surrounded the Tambourine Man, it would be hiding out in some corner of the Internet as it drifted into the lore of the band and its mysterious songwriter.
Yet there it was and thus it went, quickly hopping into the dusty player I barely remembered how to operate. But I got it spinning and made the proper selection and well … for anybody interested in American rock ‘n roll, and particularly in its first and greatest exponent, this disc is a heartbreaking must.
From the first rare glimpse of animated Clark leading his mates through an early non-lip synched version of “Feel A Whole Lot Better” to his drawn out doom, this DVD portrays the life a true artist like No Other.
Few sources are left unturned. David Crosby is almost rational … almost. Roger McGuinn is practically emotional. Chris Hillman, who shared Clark’s country boy roots, provides the most insight among his former feathered friends but sources – brother, sister, wife, sons, bandmates, producers – all combine to try to explain the seeds of his genius, the mysteries of his life and the designs of his demons. And there are a surprising number of performances, starting with a jaw dropping look at him as an inspirational New Christy Minstrel.
I saw Gene Clark twice, the first time when he was a member of McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. Their record company enforced pseudo-disco approach did not showcase Gene or do much for me.
The second time I saw Clark he was the leader of the loosely titled “Twentieth Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds.” Those days are detailed by John York, a member of the that amalgamation and a Byrds bassist for two albums and longtime Clark collaborator. My recollection of the show at the Lone Star was that Gene looked like a worn out farmer and had the presence of prophet. To see him launch into “Eight Miles High” at five feet away was transcendent.
Like all decent American lads, the Byrds were a part of my musical upbringing. At 12, I was playing the bass intro of “Mr. Tambourine Man” with my fellow Ravens. By senior year of high school I was in a Byrds-themed band that twice played before over a thousand people. Two members of that group are my bandmates today, the keyboardist then is our producer now and the drummer from that high school group has provided percussion on one of our recordings.
It was a Gene Clark fan club contest that led me back to playing. I had not touched the bass in at least 20 years but I thought we could put a group together and enter. I even took lessons. Unofficially, we “won.” The Gene Clark covers we did were impressive enough to be played on the radio and get us hooked up with a real record company. We have recorded a Byrds song for them previously but we are now working on a Gene Clark classic. It’s been a while but we Don’t Care About Time.