Silent Crusade

"Silent Crusade"
from Two Sides to Every Story (1977);
also available on 2-CD Flying High compilation
written by Gene Clark

I am told that my life is a clipper
The sea of time has tossed about
And I know that there's only one skipper
Who can guide that ship about
Do the wakening eyes of the wondering soul
See within and then without?
Silently the truth speaks more loudly
Than what falls from my mouth
Seems my dreams are the wings of a spirit
This vessel’s sails can't fill without
From its wind comes the light of inspiration
And the darkness of doubt
Gales of anger that wane into the calm
Please take me drifting far away
From the wordy and worldly explanation
Of this space we call today.

Sail away
Sail away from the shore.
Situations, weigh the anchor once more.
Sail away
Sail away from the shore.
Situations, weigh the anchor once more.

1977's Two Sides To Every Story appeared three years after the commercial failure of Gene’s grand artistic statement, No Other. In a perfect world, Two Sides would have been welcomed as a triumphant follow-up to its ambitious, critically acclaimed predecessor, and serve to galvanize Clark’s status as a songwriting force to be reckoned with, ultimately catapulting Gene into the forefront of 1970's singer-songwriters, and overdue superstardom.

Alas, it was not to be. Two Sides To Every Story sold poorly and was slammed as "plodding," "lame," and "lugubrious to the point of laughableness" by Paul Nelson in Rolling Stone (RS 239).

It was also Gene’s final album for a major label (RSO).

So what happened with Two Sides? There are no shortage of possible explanations, but here’s my take on it. Thomas Jefferson Kaye’s production--so crucial to the Spectoresque bombast and breadth of No Other--was, on this occasion, flaccid, lacking spirit, grit or vision, unable to coax anything resembling energetic performances out of the assemblage of musicians. The ill-chosen rock tracks, "Mary Lou" and the inexplicable remake of "Kansas City Southern", did not rock, and in fact sounded like a very average pub band playing to an empty house on a Tuesday night. The more laid-back tracks, like "Hear the Wind," seemed sluggish, bogged down in what I would characterize as late-‘70's burnout. I still maintain the position that if this song had been performed in more sprightly arrangement, in, say, the style of Neil Young’s early ‘70's hits like "Old Man" and "Heart of Gold," it would have been a breakthrough hit for Gene.

The failure of No Other must have devastated Gene. He wrote or co-wrote the entire album, with the exception of one song which was co-written with Doug Dillard. It’s my theory that in the period after the failure of No Other Gene suffered a crisis of self-confidence which left him doubting the value of his own writing and, by extension, his own value as a person. Why else would he ditch impressive songs like "Wheel of Time, "Denver or Wherever" and "The Daylight Line" in favour of recording three covers, only one of which succeeded ("Give My Love to Marie")? "Wheel," "Denver," and "Daylight" were superior to any of the covers and the majority of Clark originals on the finished album. I’m unsure if "Crazy Ladies" was written prior to the recording of Two Sides, but if it had been, this would be a further evidence that Gene had simply lost the ability to objectively gauge the value of his songwriting skills.

"Silent Crusade," for those who toughed it out and continued listening as Two Sides limped to its finish, provided a possible explanation for what was happening with Gene in the post-No Other period. One of the recurring metaphors in Gene’s writing is the sea. Here, Gene likens himself to a ship tossed about on the sea of time. If one remembers that since he left the Byrds in early 1966 Gene had been recording and performing sporadically as a solo artist and had failed to log even one commercially successful album (or single, for that matter), this image is quite apt.
Part of Gene’s genius as a lyricist was his ability to convey abstruse concepts in a just a few words, epitomized in a line like, "Do the wakening eyes of wandering soul see within and then without?" Posed as a question, Clark accurately conveys the "darkness of doubt" to which he will shortly allude-- the inference being he should be able to look within his soul with the same clarity that his eyes apprehend the world around him. It is common knowledge that Gene’s drinking and drug use escalated during the 1970's--after all, what musician’s intake did not?--but his lyrics hint at something uglier: addiction.

"Silently the truth speaks more loudly than what falls from my mouth" is a line which fascinates me. I think it’s an reference to the kind of delusional games that substance abusers play with themselves. Gene finds that there is a disconnect between the honesty going on within him, the concern that his drinking might very well be a serious issue (he may have even been told this by concerned friends and family members: "I am told that my life is a clipper...")–-and the actual words which he speaks, perhaps in denial of these same concerns.
The inner voice recognizes both the "light of inspiration" which obviously serves to fuel his songwriting, as well as its dreaded opposite, the "darkness of doubt", which I take to be an allusion to writer’s block possibly exacerbated by alcohol use.
But where is the calm in all of this? Where is the sense of inner peace and contentment? The wind propels the ship into waters where the light is conducive to writing, or headlong into "gales of anger."
There seems to be only feverish work or chronic desperation to choose from.
These are the two sides to the story.

Clark’s awareness of the need for inner peace leads to the crux of the song. He pleads for "this vessel"–his soul, to be taken to seas of calm, seas which transcend "worldly explanation." This desire is initially posed in the guise of a weary supplicant, but immediately becomes a direct command–a silent crusade--inside himself: "Sail away from the shore."
The heartbreaking final image, "Situations weigh the anchor once more," constitutes a denial of the hoped-for deliverance, and an ominous indication of how deeply the self-doubt (and quite possibly addiction) ran in Gene during this time. The use of the word "situations" is obviously a euphemistic catch-all phrase for all of his problems, from his disintegrating marriage to his slumping career, to his ever-growing abuse of booze.

"Silent Crusade" documents a quest for self-awareness and self-reliance growing impotent under the tightening grip of addiction.


David Brogren said…
all reasonable views, but I have a bit of a different question here. Funny I saw your post as yesterday afternoon I played the new version of No Other (with the additional demos) for a friend who didn't know a whole lot about Gene.

I had read years ago, that No Other was originally conceived as a double record. In the recent biography, John E, blows up that theory categorically. But to me the evidence is somewhat unconvincing. I was in college in 74 and in my crowd we thought No Other an absolute masterpiece. I really liked the followup as well, though positioned on RSO it was a wonder those disco people ever released anything by Gene. I thought is was well played and recorded. I agree with you that several of the covers were somewhat awkward, but hey, at the time there was very little new Gene Clark coming out and it was welcomed. It turned me on to James Talley (Give my love to Marie), and that alone is cool. In any case, I and my friends always felt the last three songs on Two Sides, never fit the mold of the other songs. We felt they likely were some of the 'missing' parts of No Other that we had heard about in the press or in the rumor mill. Truthfully, while I respect John's book tremendously, I am not sure he ever answered the question to my satisfaction. I listen to No Other arrangements side by side with those last three songs on Two Sides and hear the same styles with less laden productions. I hear the same lyrical Buddhist bents. Yes I too hear the cries of the sea. Note Gene was staying at McGuinns on the ocean when he wrote a good deal of No Other (or so I recall and stand to be corrected). But anyhow, part of the disjointed nature of Two sides is in part, to me, the lack of connection my favorite songs have to the rest of that record. For me, Hear the Wind, Past Addresses and Silent Crusade sure sound like they may have been written at a similar time to the No Other material, hence they are totally out of sync with what he had gone through between the release of No Other (fall 74) and the release of Two Sides (Spring 77). Sorry to ramble, I think your work is a good read and thoughtful.
David Brogren
The Clarkophile said…
Hi David!
Thanks very much for leaving a comment. Interesting theory about the last three songs on Two Sides--personally, I'm particularly keen on developing a sense of continuity/unity in Gene's more philosophical pieces, similar to what you mentioned about the Buddist leanings.
It's great to hear from someone who experienced No Other in real time. (I was only 11 when it came out; I was still in Elton John mode.)

I've always felt, in terms of production values, that one song presaged the big sound of No Other--that being "Shooting Star"--and one song song sounded like a continuation of No Other, that being "Sister Moon."

Again, thanks for your comments.

Tom S.
Anonymous said…
I think that "Two Sides...", easily is Gene's second best album after the masterpiece, "No Other".

Gene should have signed to a alternate label such as Charisma, Harvest, Deram, Regal synophone, Bronze, Manticore, Virgin etc., skipped his pop-star-dreams and quit the drinking and his career would have been something completely different.

He was a genious writing and performing songs but sadly indeed he fail dealing with life, as many genious with him.

Paul said…
It seems that Two Sides may have been deliberately underproduced in reaction to the commercial failure of No Other. The Byrds reunion album was underproduced and sold well, even if critical reaction was (unfairly) poor. I also do agree that Clark (and perhaps Kaye as well) was confused and frustrated by the failure of No Other. However, despite the production, Two Sides may be among Clark's worst albums, but it is still pretty darn good. "Home Run King" sounds more deliberate and simple than Clark is known for, but it's a solid song with terrific banjo by Doug Dillard. Dillard and Byron Berline (fiddle), along with Clark's vocals make the traditional "In the Pines" absolutely essential. "Kansas City Southern" is a nice, bluesy remake which sounds much better live on Three Byrds Land in London. "Lonely Saturday" is pretty simple, straight country loneliness with fine steel guitar from Al Perkins. "Give My Love to Marie" is an absolute folk tear-jerker. The best part of the album is the last three songs, "Hear the Wind", "Past Addresses", and "Silent Crusade", each of which might have been at home on No Other (or White Light). That only leaves "Sister Moon", which is nice but seems to drag a little, and "Mary Lou" which just seems to sit there. A good, but flawed, album. Rolling Stone may have panned the album at the time, but All Music Guide gives it a good review. I agree that "Silent Crusade" is the one song on the album which, especially lyrically, really hits home.
carlo said…
re TSFES i'm afraid i warned friends off it on release-i couldn't see those not totally committed to gc being pleased with it-however at the present time i probably play it more often than any of his others .
one thing in the arrangement of shooting star that has always struck me is the long fade at the end which is almost identical to it'll take a long time by sandy denny,probably recorded around that time with sneeky pete and others [in uk though?]-another writer heavily influenced by the sea [and alcohol sadly]
Anonymous said…

There really isn't a bad album by Gene, all great if you love the guy's work. TSFES is one of the better releases. Very underrated and never got the credit he deserved.

R.I.P Gene