The Erratic Flight Pattern of the Byrds' Gene Clark

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Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds' Gene Clark
By John Einarson
Backbeat Books, 339 pp., $19.99, www.backbeatbooks.com

The pun has been too good for most music writers (including, sadly, this one) to not use in describing Gene Clark as "The Byrd Who Wouldn't Fly." But the reason that the singer/songwriter/guitarist/tambourine man left the nest in 1966 -- at the height of the band's success -- goes a little bit deeper than just his abject and career-crippling fear of air travel.

No, his own insecurities, difficulties grappling with intense fame, diminishing role in the group, and somewhat bullying by band mates David Crosby and Roger McGuinn were also reasons that the man who penned and sang "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," "She Don't Care About Time," "Set You Free This Time" and the epochal "Eight Miles High" (though he'd have to perhaps unfairly share writing credit on that one) departed.

The ensuing 25 years would bring career highs and lows, sporadic reunions, personal issues, missed and/or blown opportunities, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and more substance abuse problems.

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And in this comprehensive, detailed bio, the talented Einarson, who has also penned books on Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, Randy Bachman and John Kay of Steppenwolf, gives the man who helped innovate folk-rock, psychedelia and alt-country his due.

Gene Clark as tragic figure? Absolutely. But there's much more to his story, and it doesn't begin and end with his less-than-three-year membership in the Byrds -- he leaves the group not even one-third through the book.

Einarson painstakingly conducted by more than 100 interviews, including Clark's former bandmates, family members (Clark was one of 13 children), children, friends, foes, and lovers -- to give a full picture of Gene Clark as both an artist and an individual.

Sometimes, the details are a bit too much, especially for readers not wholly familiar with Clark's sporadic solo career. But if anything, it makes one want to seek out records like Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, White Light and So Rebellious a Lover.

Ironically, when Clark's demons seemed to be a bit under control (or at least somewhat manageable at times), the Byrds-obsessed Tom Petty covered Clark's "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" on his mega-selling 1989 Full Moon Fever record. The fat royalty check that Clark received, Einarson points out, actually enabled Clark to fall deeper into drugs, alcohol and questionable relationships, making a shambles of his career at the time in the process. And when he died in 1991 at age 46 of a heart attack, battles over his possessions and estate further sullied his legacy.

Today Gene Clark -- like fellow Byrds McGuinn, Crosby, and Chris Hillman -- is rightfully lauded as a musical explorer. And his death (like that of later Byrd Gram Parsons) his given him a respectable appreciative cult following. That he didn't live long enough to see his influence lauded and respect given, though, is unfortunate.


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