'The Day Walk' Part Two: The Hollywood Walk of Fame

'The Day Walk' (G. Clark)

Recorded September 14, 1965

The Day Walk

In your green room sit with a candle lit on a charcoal pit of dreams
You carry on
Though the streets are hot you can still allot that you can walk out and forget
There isn't time to take along.

But you're now into something that you were immune to before
And there wasn't a sign you just fell into line at the door

And the question stands in the palms of hands
Of the wretches/righteous picking pieces of their minds up off the floor.

On the mantel-place there is still a trace of the plastic face you hung
Your moments on
And the sudden scare of a landing there
On the scene that you don't care to even see when you're alone.

But the day is too short and you can't find support in the slums
You had thought you'd decide to just stick out the ride as it comes

But the emptiness of a thing that's less than what it was thought to be
Has left you wondering just how much more.

On August 21, 1965 the Byrds returned to Los Angeles from the British tour, but there would not be much in the way of time off.  Consider this: In the three-week period immediately after their return to U.S. soil, the Byrds played a welcome-home gig at the Hollywood Palladium (“The Byrds Ball”), recorded several key tracks (‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’, ‘The World Turns All Around’ and the remake of ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’), taped appearances on two TV shows (The Mike Douglas Show and Shindig) and, astonishingly, still found time to catch Dylan at the Hollywood Bowl and hang out with the then touring Beatles.   

And it was just over three weeks after their return, on September 14th, the Byrds once again convened at the familiar surroundings of Columbia Recording Studios, Studio A, Sunset and El Centro with producer Terry Melcher to cut another Gene Clark composition. 

Boasting a muscular ‘Satisfaction’-inspired riff, Chris Hillman’s startlingly in-your-face bass, Michael Clarke’s most confident performance to date, and Gene Clark's Dylanesque surrealism, ‘The Day Walk’ was the Byrds' most ambitious song to date.  But at the song’s philosophical core lay the groundwork for Gene’s departure only five months later. Indeed, one might even say ‘The Day Walk’ constitutes Gene Clark’s resignation letter by proxy.  But it was a letter no one read for over 20 years: notwithstanding its obvious superiority to other material brought in and/or championed by McGuinn and Crosby for the upcoming Turn! Turn! Turn!, the Byrds, true to form, ditched the song; it remained unreleased until the Murray Hill Never Before collection came out in 1987.  By then even Gene himself had forgotten the title, and impulsively dubbed it 'Never Before.'

The concept of writing songs about the perils of fame is nothing new.  It was the fodder for many songs written by rock’s pampered, self-piteous elite.  The Byrds themselves would go on to write a wry anthem tangentially associated with that subject (‘So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’). But how many of these songs were written by a 20-year-old who had been a star for less than six months?

For Gene, the idea of becoming a star was much more attractive than the unfolding reality.

Sung in an indifferent, soporific drawl that positive reeks of pot smoke, the opening verse is directed at an unnamed “you”, which, for purposes of discussion, is assumed to be the narrator speaking to himself.  The lyrics describe a scene in which an individual bides his time offstage before a television appearance (“In your green room sit with a candle lit”).  The “sit/candle lit” line is a nice use of internal rhyme, with an image that might connote peacefulness, contemplativeness and solitude.  Juxtaposed with the immediately adjacent image of a “charcoal pit of dreams,” however, one senses a dream that once burned bright is now a scorched black hole.

The idea of allotting time in one’s busy schedule for an walk outdoors is presented as a means of solace, and yet it is plagued with the knowledge that one’s presence is always required elsewhere; that such moments of solitude are fleeting at best (“You can still allot that you can walk out and forget there isn’t time to take along”).  The line is clumsily written but sounds cool when sung, and contains almost enough dry humour to pull it off. 

There is no handbook, nor list of dos and don’ts, to handle the sudden onset of fame.  Pressures from management, fans and fellow bandmates, along with whatever demons within one’s soul conspire alongside these disparate forces, inevitably take their toll.  One need only look at Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Pete Ham, all of whom were sensitive men, ill-equipped to deal with sudden fame, to appreciate Gene’s predicament, masterfully captured in the chorus:

But you're now into something that you were immune to before
And there wasn't a sign, you just fell into line at the door.

Equating celebrity with a virulent disease from which one had previously been immune is an utterly brilliant commentary on the vicissitudes of fame.  Hollywood history is filled with stories of people who fought, betrayed, cheated and lied to maintain their status.  If the idea of comparing fame to a sickness indicates an inchoate awareness of its ultimate perils, passive, lemming-like acceptance of its allure (“you just fell into line at the door”) intimates the insidious manner in which one was first drawn to it.

The meaning of the next two lines is difficult, insofar as the lazy delivery of the backing vocals makes accurate transcription of them a challenge:

And the question stands (sands?) in the palms of hands
Of the righteous (wretches?) picking pieces of their minds up off the floor.

Gene was very fond of the word “stand” around the time of the Turn! Turn! Turn! album; it is used in two of his three contributions (‘Set You Free This Time’ and ‘If You’re Gone’).  So while sands running through palms of hands is, admittedly, an archetypal image Clark was doubtless aware of, the idea of a standing, unanswered question seems to be the more likely choice here.

In his brilliant book, Requiem for the Timeless Volume 1, Johnny Rogan assumes the word in the second line is “righteous,” while many others are of the view it is “wretches.” I tend to agree with Rogan, so consequently all of the discussion will be based on that understanding of the lyric.

The righteous, with whom resolution of the unknown, unanswered Question rests, are preoccupied elsewhere, “picking pieces of their minds off the floor”.
This is an interesting image, which might possibly refer to the desperate, ego-driven cogs caught within the Hollywood star machine.

In the next verse, Gene continues the pattern of internal rhyme (“On the mantel-place there is still a trace of the plastic face you hung your moments on”) in a manner that further suggests exposure to, and wanton participation in, the prerequisite artificiality of showbiz, suggested in the “plastic face” hung on the mantel and presumably donned when apropos, like Shakespearean happy/sad theatre masks. (It should be noted that this image predates, by some months, the face kept “in a jar by the door” famously described in McCartney’s much-analyzed, much-celebrated ‘Eleanor Rigby’.)

The next two lines feature more inspired internal rhyme, and use the analogy of a precarious airplane landing to communicate a fear of landing “there, on the scene that you don’t care to even see when you’re alone.”
What “scene”?  Where is “there”?  Presumably this is an allusion to Britain (specifically London) or, possibly, if written while in Britain, the Sunset Strip, both of which were the hotbed of popular music at the time.
Either way it’s interpreted, the line suggests an aversion to the assorted scene-makers, hangers-on and hipsters whom glom on to celebrity in search of reflected glory.

Still out on his walk, it is apparent that time, or the lack thereof, is still an issue, as is the inability to find benign souls of substance and support in Hollywood, which is now likened to a slum:

But the day is too short and you can't find support in the slums
You had thought you'd decide to just stick out the ride as it comes

It is in the final two lines that that the previously unclear question – the question that once stood in the palms of the righteous – is now asked and addressed in the payoff line:

But the emptiness of a thing that's less than what it was thought to be
Has left you wondering just how much more.

The soullessness of fame (“the emptiness”) is discovered to be hollow (“less than it was thought to be”), all of which leads to The Question: How much more?  How much more of this can be absorbed before one’s dreams disintegrate in the embers of a blackened charcoal pit?

For Gene Clark, the answer to The Question was five brief months.



I was only thinking of this song playing "The Byrds Box (1990) the other night and what inspired it.
Thanks for the insight.
Tom Sandford said…
Hi Caroline,
Ah, the 1990 box set, the one where Gene got the short shrift. I know it well!
At least they had the good sense to include The Day Walk!

Thanks for leaving a comment.

Andrew said…
Thanks Tom,

I hear "Though the streets are hot you can still allot
But you can walk out and forget there isn't time to take along". I take this to mean that the protagonist may allot the dreams but is also able just to walk out on to the street and forget. I'm with you on the "righteous" "wretches" works O.K.but it's the righteous who need to expand their way of thinking.

Cheers from downunder,
The Clarkophile said…
Hi Andrew,

You may very well be right. I struggled with some of the lines and hoped for the best -- this, after trying a number of things to get the best possible transcription. For example, a friend OOPS'ed and slowed down the recording so I could hear the vocal channel with greater clarity.
In the end, I just went with what I felt it was...but by no means am I saying mine is 100% accurate. Your interpretation makes perfect sense to me too.

Thanks for leaving a comment!

paddy said…
I am still blown away when I hear what displaced this song for inclusion on "Turn Turn Turn". This is one of Gene's best, and it sat on a freeking shelf for years!
Tom Sandford said…
Hi Paddy,

It is pretty exasperating, I know. Just imagine The Day Walk and She Don't Care About Time on TTT instead of embarrassing dreck like Oh! Susannah.
Unknown said…
Why did they shelf this song? Anyone know?
The Clarkophile said…
It's hard to pin it down to one thing, really. The track feels an overdub or two away from being finished, in my opinion, and Gene might've been hesitant to push for any more of his songs for inclusion on TTT--hence the inclusion of questionable additions like Stephen Foster cover. By the time 5D rolled around, they were happy to use 8MH, but obviously felt that The Day Walk was old hat, especially since Gene was no longer in the band. Thanks for leaving a comment. I would've responded sooner, but have been having trouble with Blogger of late.