A Time to Gain, A Time to Lose...Time: ‘She Don't Care About Time’

‘She Don’t Care About Time’
(Gene Clark)
Hallways and staircases every day to climb 
To go up to my white-walled room out on the end of time
Where I can be with my love for she is all that is mine
And she'll always be there my love don't care about time 
I laugh with her cry with her hold her close she is mine
The way she tells me of her love and never is she trying
She don't have to be assured of many good things to find
And she'll always be there my love don't care about time 
Her eyes are dark and deep with love her hair hangs long and fine
She walks with ease and all she sees is never wrong or right
And with her arms around me tight I see her all in my mind
And she'll always be there my love don't care about time
And she'll always be there my love don't care about time

Above: ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ graced
the B-side of another time-themed song,
‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ — the group’s second #1 of 1965.

“Maybe someone can explain time” 

— ‘Some Misunderstanding’ (1974)

Recently, it occurred to me that the Byrds’ second #1-single of 1965 (‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ c/w ‘She Don’t Care About Time’) could be interpreted as a thematically linked statement about the nature of time. Now, I’m not suggesting this was a conscious artistic decision by the band (as in the case of the Beatles’ Liverpool-themed double-shot of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/‘Penny Lane’), however, I felt the observation was timely in terms of this discussion of one of Gene’s thematic standbys.

And the reason why? Time itself was a wellspring of inspiration for Gene’s songwriting. Ironically, like many writers before him, Gene found infinite possibilities for expression contained within finite periods of time. 

Time is inherently unknowable, untouchable; it exists beyond our grasp, even as it sits in the palms of our hands. But in the hands of a poet it may be manipulated, reshaped, controlled. It may be stretched like an rubber band, or molded like clay. It may also be ignored, rendered impotent.

Throughout his career, Gene used the mysteries of time as the ultimate barometer of his pain. Occasionally, time assumed the form of an invisible oppressor or hanging judge (perhaps even a proxy for God). Whether contemplating the ramifications of having too much (‘Lonely Saturday’) or too little (‘Here Tonight’), or simply throwing up his hands at the sheer complexity of its mysteries (‘Some Misunderstanding’), Gene enlisted time’s malleability as a measurement of loss, anguish, dread, passion, and joy. 

But Gene would not always cast himself in the role of time’s victim. There are instances in which he took it on, challenged it, displayed open defiance of its authority (‘Pledge To You’). With ‘She Don’t Care About Time,’ he employed a complex metaphysical conceit to achieve a kind of poetic end-run: time was simply left behind.

But why would time have been at the forefront of his mind in mid-1965? He was only 20.

The Byrds 1965: From Ciro’s to Heroes

On February 4, 1965, a brand-new L.A. band called The Byrds made their live debut at “Howdy Hop,” held at Ingalls Auditorium, East Los Angeles College. The most recent member to join, bassist Chris Hillman, had come aboard only four months prior, in October 1964. The band’s name had been chosen around the Thanksgiving 1964 dinner table, while riffing on Gene Clark’s suggestion of “The Turkeys.”
On March 20, 1965 they logged their first appearance at Ciro’s, a venue that would become part of their legend. Their debut single, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ recorded in January, was released on April 12. It would reach #1 on the Billboard chart in June.  

All of that, in the first six months of 1965.

Imagine, for a moment, experiencing those changes in real time, while also bearing in mind the bizarre event that lay ahead, when Gene Clark stepped off the plane before its departure from L.A. to New York (March 1966). I often wonder about the extent to which the group’s accelerating whirlwind of the professional obligations (performances, travel, fans, managers, writers, publicity agents, deadline-driven recording sessions) might’ve prompted Gene Clark to suddenly stop the ride (both literally and figuratively), to reflect upon time as something that had been irretrievably lost. 
Or perhaps he felt he had lost himself.

Ciro’s poster promoting
appearance by then-new
group on the Strip, The Byrds.

But at that specific time it had to have appeared, at least to anyone paying attention, that Gene Clark was on a roll. Seemingly entrenched as the Byrds’ principal songwriter, he was young, handsome, and blessed with an uncanny ability to write a steady stream of quality songs (the Byrds’ debut featured three Clark originals and two co-writes). Astonishingly, even while caught in the now-infamous cycle of touring-recording-touring that’s proved the undoing of many songwriters (the “sophomore slump”), Gene presented a clutch of impressive new songs for Turn! Turn! Turn!, the Byrds’ second LP. They toured England, met the Beatles, opened for the Rolling Stones in the US. And then, on December 12, 1965, the Byrds capped off one of the greatest success stories in rock, when the walked onto the hallowed stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre to perform their back-to-back #1 hits. 


Not a bad year’s work, really—but that doesn’t even begin to list Gene Clark’s personal accomplishments as a songwriter. At the very moment he took Sullivan’s stage that day, Gene had already recorded or written an entirely new batch of songs, all of which demonstrated stunning growth: ‘That’s What You Want,’ ‘Eight Miles High,’ ‘The Day Walk,’ and ‘She Don’t Care About Time.’ Each song was a proverbial giant leap forward, especially when compared to 1964’s likeable-but-derivative stompers, like ‘Boston’ and ‘You Movin’.’1 


From Ciro’s to Heroes: Screengrabs of Gene Clark
from The Byrds’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan
Show, December 12, 1965.

The Song Not the Singer 

In many ways, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ was the best of them all. It is fresh, imaginative and invigorating. And while the Byrds’ version is definitive2, this piece is intended to stress the song and its writer, not the singer(s) (with apologies to the Rolling Stones). Its construction is flawless. It stands as evidence of the Byrds’ true magnificence as a group: a moment in time at which their disparate backgrounds and conflicting personalities were overpowered by the glory of the music they created.


It was a personal triumph for Gene Clark. 


As a composition, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ dignifies any genre or arrangement—but you needn’t take my word for it. Think of any random song and try to imagine how it would sound, played in other styles. It’s not always an option. I often think of the song as a living entity unto itself; it breathes and speaks of the composer’s brilliance; it is imprinted with Gene’s DNA. It is not necessarily dependent upon, nor tethered to, a particular riff (with apologies to Roger’s Rickenbacker) or studio trickery that might prove difficult to replicate in a live setting. 

It is among the most sublime songs in the Byrds’ entire catalogue, and a revelation as to the scope of Gene’s poetic aspirations: at its core, it speaks to the irrelevance of time as a construct; one that is susceptible to a poetic end-run. Extrapolating that thought, one might dare to view it as Gene Clark’s bid for immortality.


Over the course of his career, Gene himself demonstrated the song’s versatility by presenting it in no fewer than three different guises, separate from the nascent power-pop version made famous by the Byrds: on 1973’s Roadmaster, it took the form of a slow country weeper (see link below); in the mid-‘70s, the Silverados recast it as breezy California MOR. 

In late-period live performances, Gene brought the song full circle. On the posthumously released Silhouetted in Light (1992) Gene performed it as it was doubtless composed—solo. It may be initially off-putting to hear the joyously winding melody stripped of its harmonies and youthful exuberance, “chiselled by pain,” presented as a sepulchral dirge. 

But listen again. 

It is a song written by a young man, played by his older self. In his voice one detects the toll taken by time along the road of excess. If the corporeal man failed to reach the palace of wisdom during his time, this stirring performance stands as a reminder that true artistry transcends time. 

And therein stands the palace of his poetic wisdom.


Above: The Byrds on the Ed Sullivan Show,
December 12, 1965.


The Byrds’ take on the song is a thrilling piece of power-pop that predated coinage of the term. McGuinn’s distinctive Rickenbacker riff and Michael Clarke’s serviceable take on Ringo’s ‘Ticket to Ride’ beat are both noteworthy. But it’s those trademark Byrds vocals, wrapped around Gene’s mesmerizing melody, that command most attention. In the hands of the Byrds, the song became an showcase for Clark, Crosby and McGuinn, in that no single voice sang lead (as opposed to, say, ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,’ which featured Gene as lead singer with Crosby and McGuinn adding backup). The Byrds, whom Crosby once said could sing like angels, were certainly blessed from above on the day they cut this song. The Byrds’ version, in fact, sounds so glorious that it might tend to overshadow Clark’s lyrical ambitions.

And what to make of those lyrics? It’s debatable, of course, but
 when heard against the circular clang of McGuinn’s riff, the image of someone dashing up a flight of stairs to reach a “white-walled room out on the end of time”certainly feels like an early stab at a psychedelic turn of phrase. But it’s much more than that. The majesty of the song lies in Clark’s inspired metaphysical conceit: those who dwell within the white-walled room are not so much untouched by time as beyond it, on another plane of existence. The white-walled room is untouched, pure, sacred. Time is no real threat to the lovers’ bliss; it is easily circumvented. Reality and, in fact, eternity, is what exists within the white-walled room, much like John Donne’s transformation of a bedroom into an “everywhere” in “The Good Morrow”: 
Above: Portrait within a portrait of the band
that created a masterpiece. Photo by
Dezo Hoffman.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,

Which watch not one another out of fear;

For love all love of other sights controls,

And makes one little room an everywhere. 

Here, “an everywhere” carries the same logistical significance as Clark’s “end of time”: the private moments shared within “one little room” and the “white-walled room” sustain the lovers everywhere they go, and through good times and hardship (“I laugh with her, cry with her”). 


The woman in the song is characterized as calm and confident (“she walks with ease”), understanding, and non-judgemental (“all she sees is never wrong or right”). She is satisfied by the substance of a man’s character, rather than searching out a man of substance (“she don’t have to be assured of many good things to find”). From these lines, one may also infer a great deal about the narrator’s character. Clearly he appreciates these qualities in her—especially the last. Perhaps he, like the poor boy in the Brigands’ 1966 song, ‘(Would I Still Be) Her Big Man’, fears being exposed as impoverished; that his worth as a man might be determined by his material wealth, or lack thereof. It’s pretty much the same idea (roles reversed) that Paul McCartney tried to communicate in ‘She’s a Woman’ (“My love don’t give me presents/I know that she’s no peasant”), only Clark accomplishes it without using such crude language. McCartney’s line had none of Clark’s poetic lilt, or courtly respect for his lover. Conversely, Clark may have written the line from the perspective of a wealthy man, who has fallen victim to someone attracted more by the man’s money than the man himself. Remember, the sudden deluge of composer’s royalties that came Gene’s way (after ‘I Knew I’d Want You’ graced the B-side of a number-one single, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’) might have, at some point, attracted the attention of materialistic women. 


The single greatest line in the song is saved for the end: “And with her arms around me tight, I see her all in my mind.” While it’s true that many of Gene Clark’s greatest songs deal with romantic heartbreak, documented here is a moment of pure romantic joy in which, if only for a fleeting moment, the corporeal world (felt in an embrace) connects with his lover’s essence (“I see her all in my mind”) in creation of a perfect moment on a sublimated plane—not in time, but beyond it, out on its edge, where even the very concept is both quaint and irrelevant.


An imaginative escape from clock-related responsibilities and obligations in the context of a song is one thing, but the real-life, clock-watching pressures of being a Byrd was quite another. So with the climactic December 12, 1965 appearance on Ed Sullivan, the Byrds made a powerful statement that put the exclamation mark on a successful year. The were now bona fide stars.


But astonishingly, less than three months later, in a moment that has never been fully analyzed, explained, or examined, Gene Clark inexplicably left the band. His time in the Byrds had run out. 


The Byrds - ‘She Don’t Care About Time’

Links to notable cover versions:

Chris Hillman          Flamin’ Groovies          Michael Carpenter & the Banks Brothers 

Richie Furay            Skydiggers           World          Cryan’ Shames 

Leo Koster               The Grip Weeds         

Gene Clark - “She Don’t Care About Time”
from Roadmaster (1973)

Gene Clark
“She Don’t Care About Time”
Recorded in 1990
Released on Gene Clark & Carla Olson Silhouetted in Light (1992)
and In Concert (2007)

Notes
  1. The big exception to this, however, is another World Pacific demo, ‘Tomorrow is a Long Ways Away,’ which stands as an intriguing predecessor of ‘She Don’t Care About Time.’ The song’s title suggests an acknowledgement of clock-related responsibilities of the near-future, but then Gene’s crooning middle eight suggests possibilities of a union beyond time: “If you will stay here with me forever/I want you to know that my love for you will never die.”
  2. There are three different recordings of SDCAT: 1) the 45 B-side; 2) Version 1 (included on first Byrds box set and bonus track on 1996 remaster of Turn! Turn! Turn!; 3) Version 2 (included on Sundazed’s The Columbia Singles ‘65-‘67, see image below). At some point I’d like to compare the performances of each, but will save that for a standalone post.

Comments

A. Y. Heisler said…
Beautifully said! And, indeed, a perfect piece of music in any incarnation. (Although I have to quibble with your characterization of Michael's drumming as "clumsy" or for that matter an attempt at copying "Ticket to Ride". The part is similar to "Bells of Rhymney" and actually I think it's one of his finest performances - in fact I'm still not convinced it's not Hal Blaine playing that part, since the early version is so different.)

A fine example of the way Clark eroticizes the urban landscape. Someday I may write a paper on this - I've always meant to.
The Clarkophile said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Clarkophile said…
Hi, Thanks for leaving a message!
I'm not 100% certain, but I think Hal only played on the 'Mr. Tambourine Man'/'I Knew I'd Want You' single. I've always thought the Turn Turn Turn album was all Michael. You don't hear the 'Ticket to Ride' influence there? Compared to Ringo's steady hand I think Michael was a little shaky. Still loved him though.
j. said…
Along with "Why," this is probably my favorite Byrds song. And you've nailed its everlasting appeal here. Very nicely written!

- PsychFan (Jeff)
ge said…
well those drums ARE perfect on that cut if you listen...whoever is playing!

[gram ended up with a marked dislike for michael clarke= a bit of gossip i retained.]

good post clarkophile! damn! was gene special...
ge said…
a tidbit re hal blaine's [great] style i wish i'd just mentioned--one way to recognise him is the fills he likes to throw in. j nitzsche mentions way back in the phil spector hits heyday, no one really wanted anything but simple heavystick pounding but hal'd throw in those tom fills regardless!! and the songs would soar their ways out on the radio
Anonymous said…
Terrific, insightful post, as always. This is certainly one of his all time classics. I'd like to read your take on "Set You Free This Time", which is an even more interesting song in some ways.

I posted a short tribute to Gene on my blog yesterday, which was the date of his untimely death. I hope you have a chance to check it out.

-smith
G Magill said…
Feel A Whole Lot Better will always be my favourite song - I must admit that "She Don't Care About Time" is also genius. I really appreciate this blog - Clark was special and worthy of a thousand blogs. Two glasses of red wine and Gene Clarke singing will reduce me to tears every time - there's just something in the voice that makes you realise that although he is a genius he knows what us mortals think and feel - us Clarkophiles are out here - thank you for giving us a voice!

Garrett

PS: The Cateran [Scotish Band] cover of this tune is not half bad!
The Clarkophile said…
Thank you for all the comments. They're much appreciated.
Don Thieme said…
This is one of my favorite early Byrds' tunes as well, right up there next to Eight Miles High and Turn, Turn, Turn.

Roger McGuinn's guitar solo is actually Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"! ! Gene Clark reportedly did not like it, so he recorded a different version without the solo later on.
david said…
The perfect Byrds song indeed! How much better would the TTT lp have been with this track ( and the day Walk as well)on it instead of Oh Susannah or Satisfied mind.It would have been probably the Best Byrds album. It is Michael playing drums on the track. Hal Blaine played only on the first single.Chris Hillman confirmed this on more than one occasion, once when I was fortunate to ask him about it after a show.He was adamant they played on everything except said single, and he was still annoyed they didn't get to play on that, but understood why.Michael's imperfections made him the perfect drummer for the Byrds at that time, and like gene, his contributions are often underestimated.
Anonymous said…
'I see her all in my mind;' could also be 'I see her only in my mind ('cept it don't scan).' The narrator's in prison for goodness sake; walking through hallways, climbing staircases everyday,and going up to his 'white-walled room.' 'She' don't exist, which is (talking about essences) why 'she don't care about time.'
It is a lovely song.

Brooke BFA
skipway said…
Hey, Tom! Thought-provoking as usual. One point: wasn't Gene's 1975 band called "Silverado?" I know it is frequently referred to as "The Silverados," probably most frequently. What say you?
Tom Sandford said…
That’s news to me, Skip. I’ve always understood it was Gene Clark & the Silverados.