Finished reading Mr Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds’ Gene Clark by John Einarson. Such a waste of talent, with an end that comes far too soon. I’m only a couple of years younger than Gene Clark was when he died at 46, and its hard to understand how much damage he did to himself through alcohol and drugs. He seemed to be caught in a loop of being in the wrong place at the wrong time from a career perspective, exacerbated by his tendency towards self-destructive behaviour, lack of self-confidence and unwillingness to promote himself. The fact that No Other wasn’t recognised as a masterpiece in his lifetime, and how much that must have hurt, has parallels with the career and personal decline of Nick Drake.
His music is wonderful, straddling a wide variety of styles. Despite not being a reader his lyrics have an incredible poetic quality about them. When I read this passage it struck me as to how much of a double-edged sword his creativity must have been:
“A typical hour when we came home,” David continues, “was three or four in the morning, after we did the recording sessions, went out to dinner, went to the Sunset Strip, then went home. One night we came home, the sun was ready to come up, and he sat down at the kitchen table and started dragging pieces of paper, napkins, matchbook covers, and he laid them out on the table. He asked me for a pen and he asked me for some coffee. So I got the coffee on and he started writing. He would be working away and he would stop, sit back and look at it, scribble something out and write something else. This went on all night. It was a marathon. At one point he asked, ‘Can you make me a sandwich?’ So I made him a grilled cheese sandwich and he continued to down the coffee. It turned out what he was doing was working on three different ideas at the same time, flipping back and forth between them, taking things from one and putting them in another. By about noon I was completely fuzzy. I didn’t need drugs; I was already spacey. But he kept on working. I said to him, ‘You’ve got to get some sleep! You’ve got to be at the studio at two o’clock, and he said, ‘Nah, man, I’ve got to get these done. I’m just about done. We were two hours late getting to the studio and had no sleep whatsoever. But he had finished what he was doing. He had completed these three projects together in the space of from about four o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon after being up the day before at the sessions all night on the Sunset Strip with about three bites of a grilled cheese sandwich and about a gallon of coffee. He was just so focused. When he got into something he had to see it through the way he wanted it. He would not settle for ‘that’s good enough’ and that’s why he couldn’t settle with what some people were doing in some of the bands he was in. He drove them nuts and they drove him nuts. It was a two-way street.
It was great to learn more about Gene Clark, but it’s such a sad story, with a terrible, pathetic ending.