Monday, 18 March 2019

The Firebyrd Project Part 3: Project update/Tolls and tales on Gene's road to The Firebyrds

Cassette tape from the Estate of Pat Robinson, 
from which the previously unknown, 
undocumented song 'Raven in the Dark' was discovered.
(From The Collection Of Whin Oppice)

Previously undocumented Firebyrd-era song surfaces

'Raven in the Dark' features Gene Clark's vocal and acoustic guitar

In a surprising and timely development, a previously undocumented Gene Clark composition from the Firebyrd era has been brought to my attention by Clark collector Whin Oppice.

'Raven in the Dark', featuring Gene on acoustic guitar and vocal, clocks in at 4:53, and is said to feature elements of two other Clark songs: the still-unreleased 'Crazy Ladies' (written circa 1977) and 'My Marie', co-written with singer-songwriter Pat Robinson circa 1986.

The song, which appears in the form of a home demo, is included on a tape consisting of 14 songs, presumably copied for Clark collaborator Pat Robinson circa 1984 (see image, above right). The Fuji DR-II tape, entitled "Gene Clark (Songs, Demos & Unreleased)" was among the items acquired by Mr. Oppice in a sale organized by the Mr. Robinson's Estate, after his death on August 16, 2016.

All of the songs on the tape are closely associated with Firebyrd era, including the Byrds' Preflyte version of 'You Showed Me,' which Gene revived with the Firebyrds in 1983 and 1984.

This marks the third occasion on which Gene name-checked the ominous black bird in one of his songs (the others of course, being 'Silver Raven' from 1974, and its Firebyrd-era sequel, 'Blue Raven', from 1984).

Because the title, 'Raven in the Dark' (with its image of a dark bird/Byrd flying unseen) constitutes such a perfect metaphor for Gene's experiences in the early '80s, I've decided that it will be incorporated into the ultimate title of the Firebyrd Project.

The remainder of the material on the tape is familiar/documented material, either from official or unofficial sources:
  • Tracks 1-3: NyteFlyte demos (since released on The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982)
  • Tracks 4-6: BUG demos (unreleased, 1984)
  • Track 7: Preflyte 
  • Track 8: This Byrd Has Flown
  • Track 9: Firebyrd
  • Track 10: Not sure which version this is, but various ones have surfaced over the years
  • Track 12-13: Firebyrd
  • Track 14 (reverse side of J-card): 'Rodeo Rider' (Firebyrd)
Sincere thanks to Whin, both for bringing this song to my attention and for sharing the J-card image.

Ahead of the reveal of my choices for bonus material in my imaginary 2-CD package, I have decided to write a brief overview of Gene's history as a live performer from 1965 to 1984. I felt that this would help establish context for what he was up against during this period of transition.

    The Reverse Arc of Fame: Tolls and tales on Gene's road to The Firebyrds

    Firebyrds Promo pic, circa 1984: L to R: Michael Clarke
    Matt Andes, Gene, Peter Oliva, Michael Hardwick
    One sometimes sees the pursuit of fame characterized as a long trip down a dark road, or maybe a difficult ascent to an ultimate peak.  These terms serve both as evidence of the time invested in the endeavour (sometimes known as paying one's dues), and the struggles encountered along the journey to the top—or, as John Lennon once described it to his fellow Beatles—"the toppermost of the poppermost."

    In the late 1970s/early 1980s—at a time when an evening spent catching live bands was considered a viable form of entertainment—venues held sway as a proving ground for aspiring groups to establish their credibility.  Being in a bar band was a little like being being stuck in rock purgatory: no guarantee of deliverance. An implied, ever-present danger existed that a band might become forever locked between two states: i.e. what one was (unknown amateurs) and what one aspired to be (famous). As John Entwistle mused in The Who's sardonic 'Success Story':
    Saturday night, I got a gig with the band
    Playing the electric guitar
    Someday I'm gonna make it
    Gonna be a super duper star
    Get a big flashy car
    And a house for my mum
    The big break better happen soon
    'Cause I'm pushing twenty-one

    Thus, over the decades, in what seems like a biblically inspired image, the most sacred of rock archetypes emerged: the godlike Brian Epstein saviour figure. How many bands, I wonder, were motivated by that one story? How many believed that if they worked hard enough, they too would ascend the arc of fame in that same way? How many bands believed that their saviour would emerge from the haze of cigarette smoke; one who stood apart from the sweaty, dancing melee, and felt compelled to use his tremendous clout to transform their lives?

    You never know who may be listening to you

    This archetype I've described above was so deeply set in our collective consciousness that it was used by Paul McCartney in the song 'Take It Away' (see video below) from the 1982 album Tug of War.  In it, the mysterious Epstein-like figure is referred to as "some important impresario" in a manner that both romanticizes and reinforces the rising arc of fame I'm describing herein.

    If you've ever read a biography of a successful rock band, invariably there's a chapter that focuses on the group's early days, playing the clubs and bars.  It was a right of passage that could foment the seeds of a band's success, or hasten its erosion and demise. Tales of the road—the excesses, the bad food, coffee runs in winter, the triumphs, the indignities, the hilarious situations, the ribald stories of sexual conquest—are the sorts of things that build character, solidify friendships and engender a sense of camaraderie within groups (the Beatles' adventures in Hamburg being the most celebrated, romantic and hilarious...the image of a cap-wearing John Lennon reading a newspaper in his underwear
    never fails to get a laugh out of me). The degree of fondness by which the lean times are recalled, however,
    often depends on whether these hardships eventually led to widespread success.

    Not everyone gets to look back at their salad days and smile.  Not everyone makes it to the toppermost of the poppermost.  In 1982, Paul McCartney could afford that (some would say smug) look back at his past hardships.
    Video below: You may recall the star-studded video of 'Take It Away' (from the Tug of War album) featuring former Beatles producer George Martin, a very badly permed Ringo Starr (!!!) and actor John Hurt in the role of the "important impresario"

    And that infrastructure is largely dependent upon belief in the idea that fame comes in the form of a rising arc: humble beginnings--> dreams of stardom-->early trials lead to success-->struggle, nagging self-doubt, unforeseen circumstances-->influential patron voices faith-->deliverance and stardom. The concept of the rising arc of fame existed for the Beatles in their early days, and to my knowledge, continues in various forms to this day (e.g. bedroom performances of cover songs posted on YouTube going viral, etc.).

    But for others (including Gene), the rising arc within the classic rags-to-riches narrative—in which hard work, perseverance, and raw talent leads up the path to the top of the mountain—was cruelly inverted. In truth, Gene was plucked from relative obscurity to join the New Christy Minstrels; the Byrds had a hit record less than a year after forming.  Compared to what he would face in later years, Gene Clark crested the arc of fame without breaking a sweat. Yes, the band toured—but only after they were stars. There was no trial by fire on the club circuit. For Gene Clark, the traditional arc of fame did not apply.  The lean times, the times of struggle, came long after he had already achieved world-wide fame and fortune.

    Compared to what he would face in later years, Gene Clark crested the arc of fame without breaking a sweat. 

    A nameless face in somebody else's show 

    The Byrds hit the big time without ever having to pack up their gear and leave the L.A. area. They had no experiences comparable to those faced by the Beatles in Hamburg. That's not a knock at them; it is simply the way things worked out: right place, right time, right connections. In any event, knowing what we know now, it's difficult to imagine those five guys—Clark, McGuinn, Hillman, Crosby and Clarke—embarking upon, much less less surviving, a rigorous travel schedule and years of struggle, without the benefit of a number-one record behind them. As noted by authors before me (and Gene himself in the perceptive kiss-off line from 'Echoes'), the Byrds were five individuals with vastly different personalities, temperaments and backgrounds; what hardships they did experience became, in their hands, another opportunity to promote further discord and alienation. Concepts of loyalty and camaraderie were virtually unheard of within their ranks (Clark and Clarke being the most notable exception). Theirs was a marriage of convenience.  Whenever the Byrds faced adversity, it was usually exacerbated from within.  If a gleefully detonated explosion amidships wasn't perpetrated with the intention of scuppering the ship on which the Byrds had sailed to success, it was surely to test its seaworthiness (I think Rogan's description of the chaotic video shoot for 'Set You Free This Time' is the perfect example of this).

    The Byrds flew to London after reaching the toppermost of the poppermost.
    Photograph: Victor Blackman/Getty Images


    In any event, the most immediate result of Gene's departure was the immediate cessation of all Byrds-related pressure (touring-related or otherwise). From that point forward it's worth noting that, while he did perform live on occasion (with the Gene Clark Group, in either of its incarnations) during the first couple of years of his solo career, Gene's earnings from his Byrds days enabled him to sidestep the stresses inherent with life on the road (except for a few notable occasions with his partner in crime, Doug Dillard).  At that particular point, there was no immediate financial need for him to eke out a living as a live performer, so it's not surprising that he did not spend months or even years on the road like some of his contemporaries. And after Columbia unceremoniously dropped him in 1967, he had no label support anyway.

    Surprisingly, this trend continued into the early 1970s—even in the face of the heavily hyped Asylum Byrds reunion.  It's really quite astonishing to think that during the course of his much-ballyhooed machinations to reunite the original five, David Geffen failed to include a specific touring requirement in the band's contract, if only as insurance on his investment in the event the album was a failure. Surely this was de rigueur, even in 1973? Just over a decade later, in 1984, the Jacksons embarked upon a successful tour in support of the critically ravaged Victory album.  One would assume that all concerned knew going in that the potential impact of bad reviews upon sales would be lessened by dint of their full commitment to promotion and live appearances. When the Byrds album faced reviews that were, generally speaking, lukewarm at best (prior to its becoming a staple of used record shops), no tour materialized, and the "band" went their separate ways.  Presumably, Gene was well paid for this experience (and rightly so); a feat managed without having to reactivate any of the touring-related stresses that contributed to his departure in early 1966.  It also kick-started a series of events that would bring about his magnum opus, No Other. In that respect, the Asylum Byrds album was an unqualified success for Gene.

    He's been the first, he's been the last 

    Above: In 1975, a decade after he had first
    attained worldwide fame and fortune
    with the Byrds, Gene was forced to hit
    the road like other struggling musicians:
    packed tight in a broken-down Dodge van,
    without the assistance of a label, or a hit record,
    to help him along. He would face
    a similar predicament only
    a few years later, in the Firebyrd era.
    But in 1974, the commercial failure of No Other changed everything.  It is astonishing to think that at a time when he had just created what is today widely regarded as his masterpiece, Gene was essentially forced into earning a subsistence-level living by packing up his gear, getting behind the wheel, and taking himself and the Silverados out on the road. And so while contemporaries like CSNY played to vast crowds in stadiums, and Dylan and The Band stormed across North America in triumph, Gene laid aside his pride and did his time on the road. [Note: In 2014, I wrote about Gene's post-No Other road experiences in a piece that was included with the downloadable bonus tracks for High Moon's re-release of Two Sides To Every Story. It includes quotes from interviews I did with Silverados bassist Duke Bardwell, drummer Marc S. Singer, and bassist for KC Southern Band and later the Firebyrds, Peter Oliva. You can download it here: Backwoods Gothic: Survival in the Rock 'n' Roll Wilderness]

    From limos and planes to small talk, cheap beer and wine

    By virtue of his performances alone, one senses that Gene's back-to-basics tour of colleges and auditoriums with Roger in 1977 and 1978 hit the right balance between the stresses and pleasures of touring. Recorded evidence proves Gene was a consummate professional, who added as much passion to Roger's material as to his own. The audiences are respectful, attentive, appreciative, seemingly aware of the legacies and ongoing relevance of the two men. Two guitars, two stools and two voices was all it took, and the results were uniformly sublime. It seems to me that Gene was happiest when performing his songs in an atmosphere of simplicity. The formation of McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, and the subsequent release of their eponymously titled album, however, catapulted Gene back into the limelight, and the torrent of activity appeared to undermine Gene's sense of balance: out were the two simple stools, in came a drum riser, bright lights, the Albert Brothers, Miami, a hectic PR schedule, endless TV appearances, limos, planes—and the coup de grâce: a large-scale tour.
    Back to basics with McGuinn-Clark (1977-1978):
    two stools, two guitars, two voices.

    (Living in) Hard Times: Bar Band on the Run (1984)

    Focusing on possible live bonus material for the Firebyrd Project

    Sadly, to my knowledge, there is no professionally recorded audio of Gene Clark's appearances, either solo or with the Firebyrds, in the designated period (approximately 1980-1984). Anyone thinking of undertaking this project needs to be aware of that fact from the get-go.  Release-quality board tapes do exist, but they're a poor substitute for multitrack recordings, being flat, sterile representations that cannot benefit from a proper mixdown.


    I Saw a Dream Come True
    (Living in) Hard Times
    In terms of our chronology, it appears that Gene's final, full-concert appearance with McGuinn, Clark & Hillman took place on or around October 12, 1979, in Alliance, Ohio¹At this show he performed two new songs, 'I Saw a Dream Come True' (a 1984 version of which appears on the downloadable bonus tracks included with the above-mentioned Two Sides release) and '(Living in) Hard Times', which appears on the fan-created 7-disc "box set" bootleg. Based on the quality of the songs, and their appearance in the chronology at a truly pivotal moment (i.e. marking the end of the MC&H era), both of these songs should be considered for the Firebyrd Project—but not necessarily these versions. To wit, I have concerns about these specific performances: I have not heard the October 12, 1979 version of the former, so I can't safely vouch for it. I have, however, heard the performance of the latter, and while I like the song, I have reservations about the quality of the source tape (unofficial, of course) that appears to make Gene's voice wobble as if struggling for notes. This might conceivably be due to a technical issue, either at the event (e.g. poor monitors, Gene was routinely used as the soundman's guinea pig) or in the copying/ transference/degradation of the recording.  That's for engineers to work out, unless a better-quality tape should emerge.
    Recommendation: If it is determined the wobbliness is due to an erratic performance on Gene's part, I would suggest a thorough search be undertaken for a nicer home-demo recording, or something along those lines.



    Gene reemerged with Jesse Ed Davis at McCabe's Guitar Shop on April 19, 1980, to perform before what was, by the sounds of it, a small handful of people. At this show he performed a lovely version of 'I Saw a Dream Come True'.  I invite you to check out this version, posted below by longtime Gene Clark fan Howard "Skip" Way:



    Gene is in good humour here—somewhat surprising, given the recent unpleasantness of having been phased out of McGuinn, Clark & Hillman (the City album, credited to “Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, featuring Gene Clark” had been released in January 1980).  He’s also in fine voice, with Jesse Ed providing tasteful, sympathetic backing throughout. Knowing what we know now, it is unbearably bittersweet to hear these two old friends, once kings of L.A. music scene, reviving past glories while facing the beginning of a brand new decade that would prove so difficult for both.

    Painted Fire
    While most of the set is made up of surefire winners and no-brainers (i.e. a logical mix of Gene’s better known songs with songs the two recorded together during the White Light and No Other eras), it’s nice to hear the two buddies revive ‘Stand By Me’, an outtake from sessions for the former. One can imagine the memories it conjured for Gene and Jesse a decade later. Some of the songs in this audience recording are marred by coughing, talking and other incidental sounds. The only new material in the set comes in the form of the lesser of his two parting gifts to Messrs. McGuinn and Hillman, 'Painted Fire' (the other being the superior ‘Won’t Let You Down'). I like this song much more than I used to, and I believe it's all down to the uncluttered instrumentation and Gene's gutsy performance of it here.  The City version is pure jive, by comparison.



    The more intimate venue may have indicated a backslide in terms of his career prospects, but Gene sounds unfettered and present. It stands as a refreshing counterpoint to the hokey piano-tinkling studio version produced by MC&H.

    If You Could Read My Mind
    She Darked the Sun
    By the tail end of 1983, Gene found himself in what had to have been a wearying position, one that was remarkably similar to the one he faced in 1975. With 1982's NyteFlyte project shelved after an unfocused stand at the Palomino (albeit one that produced a breathtaking version of 'If You Could Read My Mind') and the completion of five Jim Dickson-produced demos (recently released on The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982) that failed to draw attention from labels, Gene was forced to reassess his prospects as a recording artist.

    The sporadic recording sessions for Firebyrd hadn't yielded a finished product (or label interest), and Gene needed to earn a living.  In the wake of punk and new wave, it was probably wise for him to adopt a straight-ahead, no-nonsense rock band approach to touring. Eschewing the kind of rollicking bluegrass he'd played in '75, and (wisely) dumping any of the slick-but-forgettable MOR material he'd played in McGuinn, Clark and Hillman days from 1979, Gene opted for a basic unit: bass, guitars and drums (limited keyboard/occasional pedal steel by Mike Hardwick, until his eventual departure).

    Listening to tapes of various shows, and taking in the various lineup changes (it's unbelievable to think so much upheaval took place in 1983-1984 period), a clear downward arc takes shape in my mind. The first shows, while occasionally sloppy and frenetic, are listenable, pleasurable; Gene seems filled with enthusiasm for his new album, while the band creates a holy bar-band racket behind him (it is interesting to hear Gene and Michael playing songs for which they share a history, for example, 'She Darked the Sun', in an arrangement similar to the one recorded with the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1970, also included on The Lost Studio Sessions).  Upon reflection, I've decided that I was a little hard on Michael Clarke in my previous post.  Beyond his technical shortcomings, Michael brought a considerable amount of raw physical power to the table, a quality that's often lacking in more professionally trained drummers. Visceral power always works well in a bar-band atmosphere.  That's not a back-handed compliment, it's the truth.


    Blue Raven
    Dixie Flyer
    Gene seems excited about the new material (e.g. 'Blue Raven', 'Dixie Flyer') and makes multiple references to a "new album". At a January 16, 1984 show at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas, Gene introduces 'Tommy Kaye's 'Dixie Flyer' as "a brand new song off a brand new album"; during the introduction of 'Blue Raven' he says, "Here's another brand new song. Got a new album coming out in a couple of days," after which he pauses, and then, appearing to mock his own statement, adds, "Couple of days?  Yeah, right..." (The sarcasm may indicate Gene's frustration with finding a suitable label, but in any event, Firebyrd would be released in March of 1984). Interestingly, 'Dixie Flyer' did not figure in the final track list. Maybe he came to resent the amount of subpar material Tommy Kaye was foisting on him?  Who knows. But it seems worthwhile to note that Tommy's considerable influence upon Gene, apart from his ill-fated reappearance during the sessions with John Arrias later on, began to wane after his involvement with the Firebyrd L.P. Personally, I've never considered Tommy a major talent. Apart from No Other, I'm unable to name any other song or album on which his touch was instrumental in the creation of a truly great work. In many respects, I think Gene's insistence upon his involvement in Two Sides To Every Story was a major misstep.

    However, in regards to 'Dixie Flyer,' I'm of the belief that a live version of the song should be considered for inclusion in the set over the studio take released on This Byrd Has Flown. This is purely out of a sense of preserving historical accuracy—in that Gene kept it in the set until the final shows in January 1985—not from any personal fondness for the song.  Plus in these live versions, Gene's voice and personality are clearly and keenly felt, which is a refreshing change from the rather soulless studio version, which stands as ample evidence of Tommy's schlockier predilections.




    You know, I knew a fellow a few years ago.  I met him actually in 1965 in London, England, at a club called Blaises. I was playing there [August 6th, 1965—Clarkophile] with my old pal back here on the drums. And there were these two guys that came into the audience. And they both had on suede leather-kinda Levi's jackets and sunglasses and it sorta looked like John Lennon and George Harrison to me, you know. And that's who it was. And so afterwards, John had came upstairs, and he says, "I want to talk to you." And he handed me one bottle of wine. And he says, "Come on, we got some talkin' to do." And we spent a lot of time together up there. I really loved that guy. And I'd like to dedicate this song to everybody, and to John Lennon, because he wrote this song.


    —Gene Clark, February 3, 1984, Shirley MA, introduction to 'She Loves You'


    She Loves You
    Into the Night

    The spectre of John Lennon’s assassination hangs over Gene’s work in the 1980-1984 period. By all accounts, Lennon's murder hit him extremely hard and catapulted him into bouts of depression and deepening substance abuse. In the above-transcribed introduction to 'She Loves You' in 1984, Gene still sounds shaken and sombre. And there's something more than a little sad about hearing him say "I really loved that guy" to a roomful of buzzing barroom patrons.

    As we shall see in Part 4 of the Firebyrd Project, the Glass House tape, recorded in December 1980, features a soaring homage to 1964-era Fabs in the form of 'I'll Change Your Life'. Less easily identified and articulated, however, is the spooky aura that surrounds these songs.  It is a spookiness that I felt even before I found out they had been recorded in that awful month, that seemed to last a year.

    Just as he had incorporated an early Beatles number into his tour with the Silverados circa 1975 ('I’ll Be Back'), Gene worked up a breezy take of the Fabs' 'She Loves You'.  I find it very moving that on the two occasions in which Gene was forced to swallow his pride and head out on small-scale club-circuit tours ('74-'75/'83-'84), he reached back to the music that had initially transformed his life, as if drawing upon some sacred wellspring for sustenance and renewal. Consider this: at the same February 3rd, 1984 show from which the above Lennon anecdote was taken, Gene starts to introduce the next song, 'Vanessa': "I've always liked bad-girl songs," he says.  But he suddenly cuts himself off, presumably after getting a signal from a band member.
    "Oh, wait a minute.  Do we have to change a string?" he says. "Go ahead and change a string."
    But apparently, the changing of the string was taking longer than expected.
    "Well, this is a contest to see how fast this guy can change his string," Gene says, forcing himself to chuckle.

    You can sense that he's becoming uncomfortable.

    "You know what..." he begins to say, but does not complete the thought.  Instead, he pauses, and says simply, resolutely, "Okay,"—to a bandmate, the audience, or to himself.
    At that moment, Gene begins to strum chords and rhythm that might easily have been the intro to 'Tried So Hard'.
    "In the meantime, I'll play a li'l country song," he says.

    But he is not playing 'Tried So Hard'.

    The song is Lennon's 'I'll Cry Instead' from A Hard Day's Night.  Of the numbers played that night, this impromptu cover (never repeated) comes well before his introduction to 'She Loves You' and the heartfelt story about being upstairs at Blaises when John Lennon handed him one bottle of wine and said, "Come on, we've got some talking to do."

    Obviously John Lennon was on his mind that evening.

    'She Loves You' should be included in the set.  It's a mature, clever arrangement, one that maintains the energy of the original while not sounding at all juvenile when sung by a man fast approaching 40. By eliminating the accented stops, the song seems to glide through one's consciousness and take on new significance.
    'Into the Night', another cover (written by Liz Anderson and Jeff Rollings) comes across like a rather shameless knockoff of Quarterflash (or something as objectionable).  Somehow Gene makes it work².

    "Well, now, the problem is the Firebyrds have all just quit now...  Naw, I'm gonna do about two or three songs here with this little Ovation guitar..."  
    Gene Clark, Continental Club, Austin, Texas,
    January 16, 1984


    As 1984 wore on, attrition took its toll, as members came and went and performances became less professional.  It must have been hard to sustain any level of camaraderie with so many hired guns passing through the ranks (Peter Oliva and Michael Clarke appear to have served longest at his side, but gone were the Andes brothers, Matt and Mark; Trace Harrill,  Michael Hardwick...and other names that I've lost track of at the moment).

    Elsewhere, Gene's voice, after bearing the brunt of singing virtually every song night after night in front of a loud rock band, begins to falter. To me, he sounds exhausted and quite naturally less committed to the performance, going through the motions, in pure survival mode: get there, get onstage, get off. When one hears audience tapes of Gene's heart-rending solo performances of classics like 'Here Without You' and 'Silver Raven'—not to the rapt attention and heartfelt appreciation he deserved, mind you, but to the hootin' and hollerin' of beer-swilling denizens of joints named Woody's Roadhouse and Jumbo's, it's hard not to be gutted by the pathos. At a show in early 1984, a guy in the audience yells out "Lou Reed! Sweet Jane!" In the YouTube clip of 'She Loves You' posted above, the band is introduced as the "Thunderbyrds"—which, quite understandably, draws Gene's ire.

    After all he had accomplished, Gene Clark did not deserve this kind of ignorance.  These aren't examples of dues-paying; these are examples of a genius being cruelly disrespected.

    Sadly, in listening to these shows, one does not get the sense that Gene and his band were gaining any noticeable momentum. The performances from the late '83/early '84 period are, on the whole (based on the ones I've heard) tight and hard-hitting. But there's no evidence of buzz, that any momentum is being gained with these trips down the bar-band road³. And we already know that no Brian Epstein figure would magically emerge to pluck them from the bar circuit and lift them onto top-40 radio. Indeed, a disturbing trend seems to emerge.  For the average Byrds fan (not to be confused with a Gene Clark fan), 'Vanessa' seems to have been the tune you tolerated while waiting to hear a rousing version of  'So You Want To Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star' (ironically, a song that Gene neither wrote, nor played on, but saw fit to put into the set).  And judging by his next career decision—to embark upon the "20th Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds" tours—Gene appears to have made that same observation.

    For the time being, Woody's Roadhouse was as good as it was going to get.  The Firebyrds were now consigned to bar-band purgatory: set upon a treadmill that would never get better or easier, and could scarcely become worse, for as long as Gene decided to continue.

    At some point, Gene had to have wondered why he was subjecting himself to this kind of humiliation. Bars are proving grounds. What did Gene Clark have left to prove? Inevitably, those aspects of Gene's music that made him a bona fide artist, poet, and star of distinction, were forfeited. Thus, any regard for nuance, subtlety, intonation, dynamics and enunciation—the very things that made Gene's music so deeply personal, yet simultaneously reflective of universal conditions of loneliness, despair and doomed love; the things that made it feel like he was speaking directly to (or for) you—were lost in the din of clinking glasses and scattered hoots.

    Also lost in this environment: the fact that the still-mighty Gene Clark—a founding member of the Byrds, a guiding hand in the development of significant sub-genres like psychedelia, country-rock, folk-rock, and power-pop; an esteemed writer whose visionary poetry graced dozens of timeless classics in the '60s and '70s; a man who had met and earned the respect of peers like the Beatles—had been relegated to the role of coaxing drunken barroom patrons out of their chairs. "You know, there is a dance floor out here..."



    Notes
    ¹According to MC&H drummer Scott Kirkpatrick, Gene did not make the trip to Europe in February 1980 for a scheduled tour (but reportedly "sat in" with them upon their return, at the Roxy, in March, 1980).

    ²Based on the uniformly high quality of the arrangements/performances as heard from various shows, plus the fact that both songs were recorded in the studio (though never finished), one has to wonder if 'She Loves You'/'Into the Night' is another example of a stalled/aborted/unreleased 45 in Gene's career.

    ³John Pattison of Toronto shares his recollections of seeing Gene and the Firebyrds at the Brunswick House in February, 1984. [Edited for clarity.]
    "It was the ground floor of the Brunswick House.  Couldn't have been more than 50-75 people there. It was very downmarket surroundings for such a legend. Funny thing is, I knew he was an important legend even at that time and was astonished at the humble surroundings. I was in awe of what he did with the Byrds (still am) and to this day I am in awe when I'm in the same room as an original Byrd (have met all 5).
    John Pattison saw Gene and the Firebyrds on the ground floor
    of the Brunswick House, at the corner of Bloor St. W.
    and Brunswick Ave., Toronto, ON, in February 1984.


    "The Brunswick at that time was maybe a bit of an odd place for Gene. I believe they had a live music policy but it was a place where university students drank at long tables with jugs of beer. I recall the vibe of the night was as if it was an oldies band, playing some old hits. Not taken the same as if it was the Horseshoe [Tavern, a more celebrated venue, which featured up-and-coming acts]. 
    I do distinctly remember thinking that the circumstances were below Gene's stature but I was happy to see him, of course. It felt as if the audience didn't really, for the most part, grasp that this man had made a huge contribution to music. I almost wanted to say to the crowd, "Do you know who this guy is?"
    Hard to believe that 19 years earlier he had been at the top of the pop world and hanging out with Lennon/McCartney.  To be fair that was at a time when the Byrds were too recent to be the legends they are now. 
    I was a big Byrds fan but found few fellow fans at that time. The room was small and Gene was only about 20 ft away from me. I don't recall what they played other than the Byrds hits.  For sure there were songs I did not recognize. Would love to see an old set list now. I don't remember totally but I was not acquainted with Gene's solo stuff except for Dillard and Clark. I only knew the five Byrds records. He definitely played some Byrds stuff from after the time he left the band.  He played "So You Want To Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" for sure. It was kind of a drunken boisterous crowd. When I saw him in '86 at the Diamond it was much more fitting of where he should be and he had some high level people with him, e.g. Blondie Chaplin on lead guitar etc."


    1 comment:

    1. Thanks for including my McCabes video. Although belonging more to the '70s than the '80s, Jesse's phenomenal guitar technique, which had taken some big leaps since he and Gene had worked on White Light, plus their chemistry together, makes this gig one of my 3 highlights of the '80s. The other 2 are In Concert documenting Gene's appearance in 1985 on a WV radio show and 3 rehearsal tracks in Gene's home with Carla, and of course his collaboration with Carla, So Rebellious a Lover. I agree with the live candidates and will withhold judgment on the studio tracks until you get a final list. Good start, Tom!

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