Gene in the 1980s, Part 3: This far, and no farther

A collage of images of Gene’s work and activities from 1979 to 1991
Top row: Promo pic of Gene Clark & Carla Olson, around the time of So Rebellious a Lover;
Middle row: McGuinn Clark & Hillman LP, 1979;
the ill-fated City, 1980;  Firebyrd, 1984; So Rebellious a Lover, 1987;
Bottom row: 1983: Gene on Sun Country, Canadian TV; CRY, late 1980s;  
Gene and mulletted John York on TV’s Solid Gold, introduced as “The Byrds”;
the 5 original Byrds at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, January 16, 1991.

Previous posts in this series:
1. Sparks in the Dark: Why Gene Clark’s Late Period Songwriting Should Not Be Undervalued (1980-1991) 
2. Dayglo Doom: Byrds Hit the Wall in 1980

This far, and no farther

In this, the final part of my series on Gene in the 1980s, I’ll examine the unfortunate stigma surrounding Gene’s work: it’s likely causes, the ways in which it was disseminated, and how it came to be accepted as fact.

Late last year I had a text conversation with an online friend who is, without a doubt, one of the most knowledgeable 1960s-music fans I’ve ever encountered. He has assisted with, and provided source material for, various reissue projects, and amassed a formidable collection of rare official releases and ultra-rare, unreleased recordings—the kind of stuff that's only shared between hardcore collectors. 

We were chatting about Johnny Rogan’s Requiem for The Timeless, Vol 2, which he hadn’t read. He then added, rather casually, that his interest in Gene’s career fades after 1974 or so. Normally, I wouldn’t be surprised or offended by a simple statement of taste, but I must admit I felt a momentary twinge of annoyance. As it was a text-only conversation (oftentimes the breeding ground of miscommunication) I wasn’t sure whether he simply wanted to humbly acknowledge a gap in his knowledge, or whether he was blithely dismissing a large portion of Gene’s post-No Other work—otherwise known as the original inspiration for this blog.

Now, as those who know me will attest, I am possibly a tad hypersensitive where Gene is concerned. Ehh, fair cop. But at the same time, I do understand that music fans often impose personal lines of demarcation, as if to say "I will go this far, and no farther" (an in-joke for fans of Columbo). Some Led Zeppelin fans cherish the first six LPs, but were left cold by Presence, and felt In Through the Out Door veered too closely towards mainstream pop (“All My Love”). Some (horribly misguided) Pink Floyd fans will argue the band became great only after Syd Barrett’s departure, and will summarily dismiss his contributions as puerile. So why then should it surprise me that Gene’s fans would draw similar lines in the sand?

But the exchange did make me wonder why his interest wanes after No Other. Why is Gene's '80s period a no-fly zone for Byrds fans? What is preventing hipsters who discovered No Other in 2019 from checking out So Rebellious a Lover or Two Sides To Every Story? At the risk of encouraging smartass replies, why is it that, for the vast majority of reissue labels and fans, both casual and hardcore, interest in Gene Clark’s career begins with Mr. Tambourine Man (1965) and tapers off sharply after 1974’s No Other (1977’s Two Sides to Every Story at the latest)?

Above: Gene Clark, circa 1986

Oh, there are pockets of fans who, like me, would love to hear Gene’s pre-fame recordings, like “Blue Ribbons.” Some, particularly European fans, remember McGuinn Clark & Hillman; saw the ‘77 show in London with the KC Southern Band. Others picked up Firebyrd and So Rebellious a Lover in one of their innumerable incarnations. But the sad, rather depressing, truth is that fewer still know or care about the smattering of posthumously released ‘80s gems that lay scattered across various now-OOP releases. This is yet another reason I miss Rogan, since he was the most well-known, high-profile champion of Gene’s ‘80s period. With his passing, hardcore Gene Clark fans have lost their loudest representative voice. For those who long to see the official release of tracks like “Communication” “Crazy Ladies” and many more, it is a bitter blow. 

To be perfectly blunt: barring a miracle, I don’t foresee any label taking a gamble on Gene’s ‘80s period. Ain’t gonna happen, notwithstanding the critical/commercial success of 4AD’s massive No Other box in 2019. 


How do I know? 

Well, when was the last time there was a major Byrds reissue? In the early 2000s, Sundazed did an admirable job, but that particular wellspring seems to have dried up for good. We never did get that rarities set devoted to The Notorious Byrd Brothers, did we? And Sony/Legacy seem to have given up on the Byrds around the same time; the second box set, There is a Season, was released in 2006. But apart from righting Roger’s notorious wrongs vis-à-vis the first box set (more on that later), There is a Season offered little in the way of rarities to entice hardcore fans. Since then, there’s been nothing of note, except The Complete Columbia Albums Collection, which was essentially one-stop shopping for the entire reissue program (1996-2000). So, if the Byrds aren’t contenders for archival releases, what chance does Gene have? I mean, who is left that would take on such a risky project?


That’s why Sierra Records’ ill-fated The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982 (2016) was such a heartbreaker. As social media coordinator on this project, I’m still ashamed of my failure to generate more sales for Sierra. I am both astonished by the widespread indifference that greeted this magnificent set, and  annoyed with those fans who clamoured for Clark rarities, but who didn’t get behind it, then had the audacity to criticize it when problems arose.  

The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982 is by far the bravest, most thorough and respectful Gene Clark-related archival release of my lifetime.  I tell myself that the vast majority of Clark fans had no conception of the riches it contains. Where past releases like Echoes, This Byrd Has Flown, and Flying High had offered a few tantalizing dribbles of previously unreleased tracks, this was the real fucking deal, the proverbial opening of the floodgates: a surfeit of legendary outtakes, much-bootlegged demos, oddities, experiments, and lost works. 

In the world of Gene Clark releases, it was unprecedented: an entire project that was built upon, and devoted to, a vast cache of previously unreleased, chronologically arranged material (a whopping 30 songs in all!) that was, at its core, the hardcore Clark-fan’s version of an alternate Flying High. It embraced a huge swath of Gene’s career and included many legendary tracks, many of which were either presumed lost, or came as a complete surprise. And it failed. 

You can’t say we never tried. But ask yourself this: in light of the fate that befell TLSS, what chance would an '80s-only collection have, after recordings sourced predominantly from the hipster-approved 1965-1974 period had failed to catch on? Gypsy Angel (2001), an album comprised of acoustic demos, was superior to UTSM but incurred the wrath of many because of the coarseness of the recordings. Others were turned off by the perceived deterioration of Gene’s voice, specifically the dental issues that added a lispy whistle to his voice. Personally, I think it added character and depth, and believe (as did Rogan) that it was a revelatory release. But yeah, the cover sucked.
Above: Gypsy Angel, 2001. 




Above: Screengrabs of Gene Clark
on Canadian television, 1984.

Conclusions

Based on my research, it seems obvious that an unfortunate stigma clings to Gene’s post-1980 work like skunk-spray on a dog. How this stigma developed, took hold, and came to be accepted as fact is the result of many factors—some of which are attributable to Gene’s choices (no argument there). Some are not. 

In my opinion, a deeper understanding of the stigma’s origins may help to dispel it, so that we may at least see another side to the decade. Yes, it was indeed the time of the 20th Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds—but Gene also wrote “Your Fire Burning” “Pledge to You,” and many others during that decade. 

Simply put, there are two sides to Gene’s story in the 1980s.



1980-1991 Seeds of Stigma

Psychodrama CITY 

What a difference a year makes: 1979’s McGuinn Clark & Hillman LP; 1980’s City, which both demonstrates the extent of Gene’s demotion in the billing (and corresponding lack of contributions), and also provides incontrovertible evidence to support the theory that, at the dawn of the 1980s, business types had eschewed use of telephones in favour of walkie-talkies. 

In 1978-79, Gene Clark was clean-shaven, looking good, and was apparently good-to-go: a home-run king back in the big leagues again, following a brief stint in the minors.

But at the same time, this was ground zero; the precise moment at which everything soured...
McGuinn Clark & Hillman never attained the supergroup status of, say, CSN (upon whom they were clearly modelled); nor were they featured in as many magazine articles as The Police, Blondie or Elvis Costello, but in a business that placed more value in the idea of three ex-Byrds together than one flying solo, each of them could count their blessings: they were signed to a major label (Capitol), had decent publicity, toured extensively, and had a modest top-40 hit.

But as we know, it all fell apart, and rather quickly at that, with Gene at the centre of the drama that unfolded in late ‘79/early ‘80. In an eerie replay of the events of March 1966, Gene left the band, except this time instead of getting off an airplane, you could say Gene flew—or was thrown—out of a skyscraper. Or at least that’s the impression we’re left with from the perfectly bizarre/dreadful/dumb (take your pick) cover art from City, the final LP from McGuinn Clark & Hillman (or, if you want to be technical, the debut LP from “Roger McGuinn * Chris Hillman featuring Gene Clark”).

Received wisdom tells us that Gene’s substance abuse and erratic behaviour led to his departure. Indeed, this quotation from Hillman, taken from Rogan’s Requiem for the Timeless Vol. 1, and used as a set-off quote set-off quote on the MCH Wikipedia page, places the blame squarely upon Gene:

"Gene started to go nuts again. We were trying to keep him in line, like 'Come on, Gene, don't do this! You're getting crazy again!' We tried to do this second album and it was really horrible. We couldn't even get him to sing."


Above: Closeup of the one image of Gene in a leisure
suit on the cover of City, which begs the asking
of the musical question: did he jump or was he pushed?


Unfortunately, anyone with an interest in getting two sides to this story was out of luck. As noted by the late Johnny Rogan in my interview with him, Gene never shed any light upon these matters; nor was he ever pressed on the reasons why things soured with Roger and Chris, or the veracity of claims made about his addictions and mental health issues.

But even if he had been grilled by a skilled interviewer in an on-the-record discussion, one needs to remember that during interviews Gene was not known for talking shit publicly about fellow musicians behind their backs, so it’s unlikely he would have offered anything more than the tried-and-true “musical differences” explanation. And I don’t think he ever discussed his personal substance-abuse issues publicly, which effectively stalled further inquiry.  We are left with only the hearsay of those who knew him, friends or otherwise.

Won’t Let You Down

It must have been obvious to all concerned that Gene was on his way out the door during the recording of City. Be that as it may, I have to question the wisdom of deliberately rebranding the group “Roger McGuinn * Chris Hillman Featuring Gene Clark.” Along with Gene’s no-shows at what were to have been MCH concerts, this was another not-so-subtle indication that all was not well with the trio. But in terms of Gene’s star power and cachet, this amounted to a shockingly public demotion. Gene seems to have lacked the kind of managerial/PR backbone that would respond to this display of disrespect in a decisive manner. There also exists, however, the possibility that Gene was fine with it; relieved to be out of the situation.

I submit that the damage to Gene’s reputation was considerable.

Let’s start with that dreadful cover. On the first LP, Gene’s surname sits dead-centre—just as he stood onstage with the Byrds 14 years before. On the second LP, however, Gene’s name, although centred, is dropped, placed beneath Roger’s and Chris’ names. Roger/Chris also benefit from a tacky red band which makes their grey-lettered names stand out more than Gene’s. Obviously, this was no accident. It was a message.


We see tall, corporate-looking buildings in a large metropolis, with individual photos of Roger and Chris tossing in the wind, appearing as if thrown from a corporate window. But where’s Gene?

Well, if you look carefully, a little picture of Gene—two, in fact—can be seen, close to the placement of his name. Notice, however, that Gene didn't get the inter-office memo and is not dressed in the official City business attire (i.e. white shirt/black tie, with optional walkie-talkie accessory) and opted for the leisure suit (about which I have questions, but that’s another matter entirely). So what happened? Did Gene miss the photo shoot? Or did he tell Roger that the idea was dumb, and he was out of his mind? What this cover was intended to represent remains a mystery to me, even today. I’m aware of the abandoned “songs about the city” album concept, but what is this image supposed to tell me? What am I to glean from it? Why is Roger on a walkie-talkie? (Yes, I know he loves gadgets, but why is he on a walkie-talkie?). Incidentally, that is the only image of Gene on the cover. He is not pictured on the back cover, or inner sleeve.

The consequences of Gene’s leaving MCH/MHfC were both immediate and severe: bereft of the security of label support or the prestige that came from being in a band with a recent top-40 hit, Gene got smacked down into the minor leagues. Again. 

The Firebyrds

I’ve no idea whether it was clear to those who knew him, but with benefit of hindsight, a disturbing pattern emerges related to Gene’s psyche. Time after time, Gene was drawn to the spotlight, the perks of fame & success, and yet once reached, he would go out of his way to perform shocking, bewildering acts of self-sabotage, that would often necessitate his starting over again, from scratch:

  • Quitting the Byrds (1966)
  • Dillard & Clark’s unnecessarily disastrous live debut (1968); cf. Johnny Rogan, Requiem for the Timeless, Vol 2, pp. 94-95 (the band was under-rehearsed; also, Gene & Doug were on a bender).
  • Disruption of Derek Taylor’s ‘Farewell to Hollywood’ party, (March 28, 1968); cf. Johnny Rogan, Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 2, p. 88.
  • Alienating David Geffen at Asylum (1974)
  • Alienating Al Coury at RSO (1977)
  • McGuinn Clark & Hillman (1979/1980) 

And so, after keeping a low, pretty much invisible, profile through much of 1980 and ‘81, Gene, gaw’bless ‘em, rolled up his sleeves and started over. He formed a band, dubbed it the Firebyrds—in keeping with the album he’d been recording on the cheap in fits and starts—and duly hit the road. 

I’ll level with you. I am not a fan of the Firebyrds period. When compiling the tracks for the Firebyrd Project, I found it a chore to wade through the surfeit of boots from the circa ‘84 shows. To my ears, Gene is on autopilot, performing robotically. As a band leader, I don’t think he put much effort into the (re)arrangements of the material. There was a looseness about these gigs that betrayed a lack of passion and commitment; a pervading sense of purposelessness. Joylessness. Firebyrds shows reek of boozy half-heartedness, akin to a bunch of NHL old-timers renting the rink for a weekly game of shinny. Maybe if I heard them on a decent recording I’d feel differently. Certainly their take on “She Loves You” was a nice effort. 

20th Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds/

Jerry Lewis Telethon/ Solid Gold

Was this Gene's lowest ebb? Yes. Cringey? A little. People remember this stuff, and not in a fond way. One might argue that it was this move, above any other, that did most of the heavy lifting as far as promulgating the stigma. Gene assembled a band whose members, in some cases, had no connection to the Byrds whatsoever (Blondie Chaplin? Rick Danko?). He traded on his legacy for the sake of some quick bucks/tawdry exposure. And after most of the recognizable names had fallen by the wayside, he insisted upon carrying on, appearing on lame shows like Solid Gold with his Byrdy band of Mulleteers.

With such an extraordinary assemblage of talent, one wonders why didn’t these still-talented orphans of the 1960s didn’t try to create something new, organic, and viable, with all-original material, instead of revisiting their back pages night after night? Had Gene toured with Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Michael Clarke, Blondie Chaplin, et al, and simply called themselves—well, I dunno, anything other than the Byrds (I’m now thinking The Mulleteers has a nice, pirate-y vibe to it) I don’t think the stigma would have become so deeply ingrained. Why? Because it would not have seemed like such a desperate, naked cash-grab, something rock fans as a species tend to look down upon.

These days, however, I'm inclined to look upon Gene’s actions from a compassionate perspective, as opposed to one taken by the judgmental, fist-pumping rock purist I once was. For fuck’s sake, the man had a family to support. And he did the best he could. He never tried to release a record with this lot, he simply toured to earn a living. Punters had the choice of either attending the shows or staying away.



Above: The controversial “20th Anniversary Tribute 
to the Byrds” tours inflicted considerable damage 
on Gene’s reputation. 
Clockwise, from top-left: Richard Manuel; Gene
and Rick Danko; Michael Clarke; Rick Roberts,
Gene, Rick Danko.


Above: Gene with "The Byrds" at 1986 Jerry Lewis Telethon.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this clip 
performance-wise, the misleading billing and cheesy/tawdry, 
decidedly unhip venue made it clear that Gene was struggling.

Above: Gene with "The Byrds" on Solid Gold,
late 1980s.  

As I said, looking at this from a more compassionate perspective, the mere fact that he stooped to this level indicates how bad his situation really was. But seeing a McGuinn dig like this (taken from from the archived Byrd Watcher site) must have been tough to bear.

— Roger McGuinn



Exclusion from Columbia/Legacy Byrds box set (1990)

I think it’s highly significant that after Gene left MCH, Roger McGuinn never worked with him again in a professional capacity (with the sole exception of Roger’s 1984 performance at McCabe’s, at which Gene joined him for a couple of songs). Otherwise, for all intents and purposes, Roger was done with him. 

Which makes it doubly sad that in 1989, when McGuinn, Crosby & Hillman took legal action over Michael Clarke’s use of the Byrds’ name, Gene positioned himself as sensible peacemaker, often adopting an “Aw, shucks, fellas, can’t we get along?” tone in the press. Gene hoped for a rapprochement that would never come.


Above: Los Angeles Times
, January 5, 1989


Even after this public mea culpa/not-so-subtle hint, Roger, David and Chris did not invite Gene to participate in the various legally inspired performative reclamations of the Byrds name in 1989, nor in the creation of new “Byrds” material tacked on the end of the 4-CD Byrds box set, released in October 1990. And apparently Sony/Legacy were perfectly content with Gene’s exclusion from the project.
Above: The reformed “Byrds,” with Bob Dylan at 
the Roy Orbison Tribute, February 24, 1990.
Imagine how Gene felt. (Photo by K. Mazur)


Having been selected as Columbia/Legacy’s designated “musical consultant,” one may reasonably conclude that Roger wielded considerable power and influence over what material made it on to the set. For many Gene Clark fans, the failure to include top-shelf Clark/Byrds material like “Here Without You” “If You’re Gone” and Set You Free This Time” appeared to be an act of pure vindictiveness, specifically designed to marginalize, downplay, and diminish Gene’s role in the Byrds’ story. Many, including Chris Hillman and David Crosby, criticized Roger for his role in this tawdry displace of hubris. From John Einarson’s biography of Gene, pages 294-295:

“I think that box set was slanted way too much toward Roger and not enough toward me, Gene, or Chris,” insists David. “I think that’s definite. And I don’t think Roger thought twice about it, he just did what he wanted to do. He is a very selfish guy.” Jim Dickson agrees. “McGuinn doesn’t think Gene was as important to the Byrds as he was. That’s why he put more of his stuff on it.”

“Crosby and I were not involved in that first box set,” insists Chris, “but David and I will be involved this time. There will be more of Gene’s songs. I’m not trying to undermine Roger, I wish him all the best, but let’s be fair here. We will fix it.” 

Chris maintains that the box set is an embarrassment rather than a crowning achievement to the group’s career. “The artwork on those four CDs looked like new age massage music. Also, the choice of songs was abysmal. Roger had a consulting fee and worked with someone at Columbia. Some of those gems from Gene were not included.”

Above: Apart from slighting Gene in its track 
selections, Chris Hillman quipped that individual 
covers in the 1990 Byrds box set would’ve been appropriate for 
“new age massage music.”

 Chris kept his word. The track list of the There is a Season box set did, in fact, include more of Gene’s music. It was a necessary righting of a historical wrong. It’s just a shame that Chris and David didn’t say anything while the first box set was being compiled…when it would have actually mattered. The appearance of the 2006 box did a boatload of nothing for Gene Clark, who had to suffer the ignominy of watching his legacy being erased in real time, and then attend an awards ceremony and smile alongside the guy who did it to him.

In any event, it’s my belief that Gene’s legacy was adversely affected by what was, in hindsight, a devastating one-two combination: 1) Exclusion from the 1989 reformation—from which any fan would logically draw a negative inference, given the inarguable popularity of the McGuinn/Crosby/Hillman alliance; and 2) His diminished presence on the 1990 box set, which might be seen, in retrospect, as an emotional coup de grâce. 

This was a pivotal moment in the rise of the stigma. When he passed away in May 1991, a mere seven months after the release of the box set, it would likely have been for many fans the first time they had  heard Gene’s name mentioned in the press in years. Roger McGuinn, on the other hand, flying high off the success of the Byrds box set, capitalized on the exposure and released Back to Rio in January 1991–the same month the Byrds were inducted in the RRHoF.

Post-1991 

Rip-offs/cash-ins etc.
In the years since Gene's death, little has been done to eradicate the '80s stigma that clings to Gene's music. To the contrary, some posthumous releases have, either consciously and inadvertently, done more to promote the stigma than dispel it.

How about we start with the numerous low-rent versions of Firebyrd that have polluted the Gene pool over the years?

In the above graphic, the top-left and top-middle are the original Takoma cover and its UK counterpart. The rest? The work of hacks, ignoramuses and profiteers. The unintentionally hilarious part is how incredibly bad these people are at what they do. 

In the middle row, far-right, we have a typically tacky re-release of Firebyrd (on Portugal’s Movieplay Gold label, 1999) that uses an early-1970s-era picture of Gene (the same picture that graces the cover of Flying High—which came out the year before; coincidence?). The graphics on this cover are closely mimicked by 2015’s Vinyl Passion release (bottom row, left), except whoever did the layout on this shoddy effort didn’t notice they had misspelled the title (“Fyrebird”). No problem, amirite? because the graphic artist, like, totally nailed the not-at-all cheesy flame font. 

Astonishingly, this same misspelling of the album title has been copied by subsequent opportunistic labels and grey-area vultures alike. EU fly-by-nighters are releasing poor-sounding, widely bootlegged shows of Gene Clark and the Firebyrds as “Gene Clark — The Fyrebirds [sic] Live at the Rocking Horse Saloon Hartford Conneticut [sic!] January 13 1985.”


Somehow, they managed to misspell both the band’s name and the state in which the gig took place. Quite a feat. Doesn’t get more disheartening than that, especially with Gene’s name in huge letters. 
Caveat emptor.

Under the Silvery Moon (2001 & 2003)

Above: The 2-CD edition of UTSM, which this writer 
acquired off eBay shortly after it was withdrawn in 2001.

Circa 2001, there was considerable buzz over on the old Yahoo Gene Clark List when news broke of Under the Silvery Moon, which was a well-meaning, if woefully executed, project thrown together by Pat Robinson, Gene’s former songwriting partner in the informal collective known as CRY (Clark, Robinson, York). I say woefully executed because neither Pat nor Delta Deluxe had shown the good sense (legal, moral, business) to contact the Clark Estate, either for purposes of apprising them of their intentions, or seek their input. Given the circumstances, with Gene’s name displayed in huge lettering, the Estate’s annoyance was clearly justified. The release was stopped through legal means, but not before an unknown number of 2-CD sets had been made, and subsequently sold through eBay. 

Not only had Pat neglected to go through proper channels, he had shown a disturbing lack of regard for quality control, having seen fit to release material that was not up to the standards of work released during Gene’s lifetime (a standard of QC that has been upheld by the Estate, whose respect for Gene’s work has been exemplary). Some of these songs were clearly work tapes, never meant to be heard by the public.

The recordings ranged from formal, full-band studio efforts (“Mary Sue”) to crudely captured demos (“That Part of You”) recorded/written with Gene (and John York) in the 1980s. The contributions by The Band’s Rick Danko and ubiquitous session pianist Nicky Hopkins were, in fact, minimal, so their vaunted presence on the cover seems cheap and misleading.  

Inevitably, Pat Robinson’s misstep ended up reflecting poorly upon Gene’s name, not his. The resulting debacle made it clear that, through no fault of his own, Gene had somehow managed to piss off everyone, including the hardcore fans who paid big bucks on eBay for copies of the withdrawn 2-CD set, who found the material subpar, as well as those who couldn't afford to buy/missed out on the eBay sale, who felt cheated out of their opportunity to own subpar material.

But seriously, anyone who missed out was not missing much. On many of the tracks, the sound was tinny, harsh, grating—and slightly wonky, indicating possible damage to the masters. “Mary Sue,” for one, has never sounded quite right to me. 

An abbreviated, single-CD version was prepped by Kai Clark, who gamely attempted to weed out the poorer selections and improve the sound quality. That version, released two years later in 2003, succeeded in many ways, but the damage to Gene’s ‘80s reputation was already done.

American Dreamer 1964-1974 (Raven)

Released two years after Gene’s death, Raven’s 1993 compilation, American Dreamer 1964-1974 was clearly a labour of love; an early attempt to put into proper perspective the importance of his legacy and the gravity of his loss (although one notes that the title itself is inaccurate, and should be 1965-1974, since no 1964 recordings are included). 

Musically, however, this is a fine compilation; a fascinating testament to not only the speed at which Gene became a world-class writer, but also the breadth and scope of his reach. It even throws a bone to the hardcore Clark fans with the addition of a bonus track: the Hinshaw mix of “Full Circle Song.” But the built-in cutoff date begs questions, doesn't it? "So that's it? No Volume 2? Did Clark fall off the planet in 1975? His other stuff wasn't worth adding to the project? Good to know..."

Flying High (A&M)

Similarly, 1998's career-spanning Flying High compilation, while a worthwhile effort that made a convincing case for a thorough reassessment of Gene's body of work, was noticeably skewed towards the 1965-1974 era. The 1980s appear to have been covered quickly; an afterthought. 

Presumably the compilers wanted to make a case for Gene Clark’s songwriting, and yet, astonishingly, over an entire decade (1979-1990) is represented by a paltry three songs—all of them covers: “Fair & Tender Ladies,” from So Rebellious a Lover (1987); Phil Ochs’ “Changes” from 1990’s True Voices compilation; and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” from Firebyrd (1984). "So he never wrote a worthwhile track after 1977, eh? Good to know."

As a fan, one can’t help but infer that the compilers did not see much worth in Gene’s 1980s recordings, released or otherwise. To be fair, the possibility exists that for some unknown reason (licensing issues?) the compilers were prevented from using certain material, but really I’m just guessing. Again, I’m loath to come down too hard on those responsible because I was not there; I wasn't privy to their decision-making process. Overall, it is a fine introduction to Gene’s oeuvre, contains many pivotal bonus tracks, and made available a clutch of tracks that had been hard-to-find or out-of-print for years (the Two Sides tracks, to name three). But really, they let Gene down with those last three songs. 


Epilogue 

I do not expect to change many minds with these pieces. Stigmas are often difficult to get past. Negative associations are hard to shake. I understand the attraction of the 1960s—the clothes, the vibe, the sensibility, and especially the music. I get the allure of the 1965-1974 period. And there’s no question that the 1980s were difficult for Gene, along with many of his contemporaries. But it is both foolish and arrogant to assume that any working artist, especially one of Gene’s calibre, woke up on January 1, 1975, and found himself suddenly bereft of talent; rendering worthless anything done subsequently.

Yes: behind the day-glo of the 1980s there was considerable darkness. 

One must look for the sparks in the dark.

Special thanks to Jim Tweedie/@zobalob for support & assistance during a rough time.

Comments

daragho said…
Very good piece, as always, Tom. Thanks.

My own thoughts on Gene's '80s recordings - the best of them are on Gypsy Angel, and some of the songs contained on that release are very, very good. The problem is the sound quality. Fine for a hardcore fan like you or me. But from a label's point of view, not up to scratch. They would sound odd beside the beautiful production of No Other or even Two Sides. If only some of the songs on Gypsy Angel had been worked up and recorded in a studio with a band at the time, who knows what might have happened Gene's career.
Unknown said…
sorry i may have posted this by mistake in another thread but if you think

Gene was not known for talking shit about fellow musicians behind their backs,

you mustve never heard him talking about mcguinn(and im not saying gene wasnt right)
Tom Sandford said…
And I’ll repeat what I said: I have no doubt Gene said things about other musicians. The difference is, he did not state nasty things publicly, on the record, unlike McGuinn.
Unknown said…
i took "behind their backs" to mean privately and not neccessarily on the record but i get your point.....i knew him a bit circa 1988 and he was generally generous in discussing other musicians(esp hillman) but after the first time i mentioned mcguinn i knew better than to ever bring him up again
Tom Sandford said…
No, it’s a fair point. I admit it was a little unclear, but I had hoped that on-the-record comments would have been the logical inference from the term “skilled interviewer” but can see it wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped, so I have gone back and edited it to reflect that.
I wasn’t trying to say Gene was a saint or anything, he was entitled to his feelings, of course, but I do admire him for not criticizing the other Byrds in OTR chats.
skipway said…
Interesting read, as always, Tom. You added to my Gene knowledge, e.g., Kai picking the tracks for the one-CD version of Silvery Moon. After excluding the titles that were on SRAL, his album w/Carla--except for Fair and Tender Ladies [?], he made the right choices, IMO. You Just Love Cocaine could have been excluded. Question: Did Pat sell those UTSM tracks to the issuing label or did he seek a label for the finished project? Question 2: you mentioned a live version of the 1st D&C album. Was that seriously contemplated? What was Gene's self-defeating action?
The Clarkophile said…
I don’t know what arrangements Pat made.

I didn’t mention a live album, I was referring to the disastrous debut of Dillard & Clark at the Troubadour.