Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why Do Great Songwriters Live Such Tortured Lives? Part 2

I have always been a big fan of The Byrds. Last year, I got excited again about their music because of the release of the compilation, There is a Season (Available at Amazon and highly recommended).

As part of this revival, I also read the Gene Clark biography, Mr Tambourine Man. This sparked an interest in the music of Gene Clark and his career after the Byrds. After reading the book, I began to see Clark and the history of The Byrds in a different light.

 Anybody who remembers the early days of The Byrds, probably thinks first of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, tinted granny glasses, and Dylan covers. Gene Clark was the lantern-jawed guy with the Prince Valiant haircut banging the tambourine in the band.  Although he looked a little uneasy on stage, he was the gifted songwriter who wrote most of the band's biggest hits. These include Feel a Whole Lot Better, Set You Free This TimeHere without You, She Don't Care About Time, and Eight Miles High. Unfortunately, he had a fear of flying and this combined with band politics and jealousy over his songwriting income led to him leaving the band in 1966. 

His solo recording career was full of bad timing, missed opportunities, and an inability to capitalize on his song writing success with The Byrds. Although he wrote and recorded some great songs, he never had a real solo hit. The record companies didn't promote his records and his inability to tour because of the flying issues worked against him. He came close a couple of times, but he never received the fame or recognition he deserved.

At the same time, his personal life was a mess. He enjoyed the typical rock star life full of drugs, drinking and hangers-on. This life style led to serious health problems. In 1988, he had an operation to remove part of his stomach and intestines. After that, with his finances at a low point, the party wound down and he became fairly sober. It looked like his life and career might be turning around.

In 1989, in a bizarre twist of fate, Tom Petty, who was a big fan, put Feel a Whole Lot Better on his album Full Moon Fever. It quickly created a $300,000 song writing windfall for Gene. This ended his sobriety and the party began again in earnest. Not surprisingly, this had a negative effect on his health. In May of 1991, at age 46, he died from a combination of drinking and a bleeding ulcer.

Gene Clark was one of the best songwriters of his generation. Unfortunately, a combination of bad luck and a destructive lifestyle led to a sad ending to his story. I am sure his musical reputation will be continue to rise. He wrote some great songs.

The best way to explore the work of Gene Clark is to buy American Dreamer, which is a very good greatest hits collection. His best solo CD is White Light. Recorded in 1971 and produced by Jesse Ed Davis, it includes the song, Spanish Guitar. Reportedly, Bob Dylan is a big fan of this song. Neither of these CD's are available on iTunes, but they are on Amazon. From what is available on iTunes, this is a playlist of essential Gene Clark:
  1. I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better--Byrds
  2. Set you Free This Time--Byrds
  3. She Don't Care About Time-Byrds
  4. Here Without You--Byrds
  5. So You say You Lost Your Baby--Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers
  6. Elevator Operator--Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers
  7. Gypsy Rider
  8. Full Circle--Byrds version
  9. From a Silver Phial
  10. Silver Raven 
Nest Post: Warren Zevon


  1. Good post Bump -- along with the last few -- you've hit on a good theme. How has Bob been able to avoid the depths of despair reached by these guys?

  2. I put on No Other on a rather large rhapsody mix this Fall for a drinks-on-the-back-porch evening. I forgot all what I had on the mix, but each time The Gods of Random Play would play something from No Other, it keep getting my attention. It is a very layered, sometimes odd, sometimes complex sound... Gene Clark was from and is buried near where I grew up in Eldon MO. I did not know this until No Other sent me in search of more info. on the man that figured out to put some of the dark and light recesses on vinyl . Anyway I have spent a good deal of my hangover from the REK day enjoying your ssite...many thanks for a great blog and some interesting reading...look forward to seeing more.

    E. E. Lawson.