The Epoch of Belief & Incredulity: ‘The Day Walk (Never Before)’ Part one
The Byrds – ‘The Day Walk (Never Before)’ (3:04)
Recorded September 14, 1965
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
Charles Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities
|Photo taken from Christopher Hjort's excellent So You Think You Want To Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star, |
The Byrds Day-by-Day 1965-1973
The epoch of belief
The period during and immediately following the Byrds’ ill-fated British tour in the summer of 1965 was both a positive and negative epoch in the life and art of Gene Clark. On the upshot, one can detect obvious emotional maturity in the songs Gene composed during this period, later to grace the Turn! Turn! Turn! album. Apart from the winsome proto-power pop of ‘The World Turns All Around Her’ (which itself featured a more mature message about wisdom gained from experience) Gene’s new batch of songs featured a sharp turn away from Beatles-inspired boy-girl pop, and set sail for the murky, untested waters of Dylanesque wordplay (‘Set You Free This Time’) and non-traditional lyrical structure (‘If You’re Gone’) tossed into a brooding stew of mid-tempo, minor-key melodies.
Gene began to embrace topics/images that – in stunning parallel with the Beatles (cf. ‘In My Life’, 'Norwegian Wood') – abandoned puerile, all-or-nothing notions of love and loss for stranger-than-known, shades-of-grey destinations out on the end of time. In this new sphere of creative freedom, his proclivities for abstract metaphor and syntactical experimentation offered compelling evidence of Clark’s burgeoning poetic genius.
But this new artistic voice would occasionally betray a regrettable tendency for self-conscious imitation of Dylan – and there was no shortage of Dylan imitators in 1965. Indeed, so pervasive was the influence of The BobBard™, that even John Lennon, AKA The Coolest Guy Who Ever Lived™, went through a brief period of Dylan-worship, evidenced by the peaked cap he donned for Help! and the loping, lugubrious vocal affectation he employed on ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’. For better or worse, Gene’s obsession with Dylan would last much longer than Lennon’s, and did not reach its zenith until the shambolic Gene Clark Sings for You demo sessions in 1967, in which lyrical content superseded melody for Gene. However, heading into the fall of 1965, this was new ground, and Gene’s artistic vision was arguably more adventurous than the Beatles’ at this juncture.
The epoch of incredulity
On a more personal level, the British tour may have had such a deleterious effect on Clark’s psyche that it actually served to plant the seeds of his eventual departure from the Byrds a mere six months later. As we shall see in part two of this discussion, such weariness and vulnerability is apparent in the songs written and recorded during and immediately after the tour.
But why would the British tour have acted as a catalyst for both positive and negative change in Gene Clark’s life? History tells us that ‘Eight Miles High’ was the locus of triumph and despair in Gene’s life thus far, insofar as his greatest achievement with the band came at the very moment he suffered a mental breakdown that precipitated his departure. But ‘Eight Miles High,’ the meltdown at the airport on Tuesday, February 22nd 1966: these were the manifestations of unrest and psychological torment, not the root causes. And the causes, as we shall soon see in our discussion of ‘The Day Walk’, were already taking their toll – even as he displayed marked growth as a poet and songwriter.
From idols to peers
One can assume that meeting the Beatles and the Rolling Stones was a huge confidence-building experience for Gene, who was at that point still three or four months shy of his 21st birthday. After all, at the same time the Byrds were at number 1 with ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ the Stones were at number 2 with ‘Satisfaction’ and the Beatles at 3 with ‘Help!’ How could he not have been chuffed and emboldened by this sudden fame and success? His idols were suddenly his peers. Naturally, this confidence spilled over into his songwriting and became evident in his willingness to explore new territory, even if it meant writing the occasional cringe-inducing line.
The British tour would go down in rock history as the inspiration for ‘Eight Miles High’ but it’s important to remember that during this trip Gene also penned ‘Set You Free This Time’. Here we have a contemplative song about Gene’s pet topic, romantic loss, and yet it is somehow different from earlier efforts like ‘Here Without You’ and ‘She Has a Way.’ In many of Gene’s other songs the narrator would play the role of the defeated suitor dumped by a callous, impetuous woman, usually in favour another man. But in ‘Set You Free This Time,’ the tables are turned, karma's a bitch and our narrator has the confidence to take complete control of the situation; to decide his fate rather than wait for it to befall him. Even using the words “this time” indicates refreshing self-awareness, along with the confidence to declare that the resolution of this particular situation will differ from the norm.
The imagery in 'Set You Free This Time' is spatially symbolic (one of Clark’s many recurring motifs); the narrative undeniably adult. The word-heavy lines constitute syllabic overspill, obviously born of pent-up frustration and resulting release. The plot features intrigue, innuendo, irony, subtext and something almost unheard of in a Clark song about a broken relationship, emancipation and deliverance.
By comparison, ‘Boston’ and ‘You Movin’, Gene’s rollicking early pastiches, recorded only a year before, are the aural equivalent of baby pictures.
And he was still just 20 years old.