Posts Tagged ‘Crosby Stills & Nash’

The Byrds Gene Clark far right

Bottom line:
Our series on forgotten bands continues with folk- and country-rock pioneer Gene Clark, who wrote the best original songs on The Byrds’ first two albums, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! Exhibit A: “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.” (On Fifth Dimension, he co-wrote “Eight Miles High.”) Clark went into country-rock full-time after leaving The Byrds in 1966, with excursions into roots rock, acoustic folk, romantic duets, and dense, prog-adjacent music.

The mystery to me is why this man didn’t ascend into Crosby, Stills & Nash with his Byrds buddy David Crosby or even in place of Crosby. Clark sang beautifully, though not as beautifully as Crosby, who may have been a UFO alien. Clark was a weak guitar player in his early years, and he would have had a problem keeping up with Stephen Stills and that other fella they hired, Neil somebody. But Crosby wasn’t exactly Jimi Hendrix or even Ron Elliott from The Beau Brummels. Clark was by far the more talented composer, plus he could take or leave hippies; Crosby couldn’t get enough of them.

Moment of glory:
Being a Byrd. That should be enough for most people. That’s him on the far right of one of the most famous album covers of the 1960s.

His story:
I’m going to keep this short because Clark, while prolific on his own, never got anywhere commercially, and I suspect that embittered him and led to his death at 47 from drinking. He reminds me of another unlucky natural, his contemporary Gram Parsons, who died under that Joshua tree so that U2 might live.

Speaking as someone who is talented but not talented enough, Clark’s story makes me uneasy. Good thing I keep my drinking (Manischewitz) under control (as in, only at Dad’s house*).

* Run-DMIrving once poured two colors of Manischewitz into one bottle because he was tired of two half-full bottles of the stuff taking up so much room in the fridge three months after he bought them for Passover.

The one album to own:
You already own them: Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! His solo work is interesting one track, not so interesting the next, but if you prefer country, try Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (“So You Say You Lost Your Baby”). If you prefer artsy rock, No Other (the title track). Something more Byrds-like? FireByrd (his joyful cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”). Frankly, you could sample the first three tracks on any Gene Clark album and probably hit something you like.

He was a complicated man. I wonder if anyone understood him.

That’s it for the sad forgotten bands. From here on it’s the upbeat, dynamic, eccentric, under-the-radar, gotta-dance, women-are-doing-it-for-themselves (and, in one case, deservedly forgotten) forgotten bands.


OK chief

I get a progress report each week on the current Clarion West workshop and this week’s instructor:

“It’s week two of the writing part of the Write-a-thon for 345 writers all over the world and week two of the six-week workshop for 18 writers in Seattle. This week, Neil Gaiman went flat out, energized the students, read them bedtime stories, and took them to the movies. We all hope he gets a nap soon.”

Movies? Bedtime stories? I don’t remember any of that at my Clarion! At my Clarion, the big event during week two was they finally gave us pencils and paper. Until then we had to open a vein and use our fingers to write on the wall.

Would you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express?
Oh did I get a great book on my birthday: Slow Train to Yesterday by Archie Robertson (1945). What I love about this book is not the stuff about trains but about the U.S. home front during World War II. After Pearl Harbor, gasoline was rationed, and people had to turn to trains for transportation. Because it was often impossible to get a ticket on the mainline passenger trains, which were packed with soldiers, civilians turned to the wheezy old short-line railroads.

Our view of the past is monolithic. Most of us would probably assume that everyone in 1942 was familiar with train travel. Not so – Robertson, in his travels, keeps finding fellow passengers who had never been on a train. They were only there because they couldn’t gas up their cars.

Robertson is not the greatest writer around, but he fires off the occasional le mot juste. He observes a dinky old locomotive, at the appointed hour, “shaking itself like a dog coming out of the rain” and rolling down the track. He describes a 30-mile rural railroad as “a backwoodsman’s train with less polish and more spit.”

Helplessly hoping
This afternoon I went back and fattened up some existing chapters. That was satisfying but it’s not pushing me forward. I sense I’m hesitating because I have a difficult scene coming at me. I’m stalling for time, but frankly, I don’t have that kind of time. I’ll try to floor it tomorrow.

Random Pick of the Day
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
In junior high I loved this album so much that I dressed every day like the effortlessly cool, laid-back boys on the cover. Listening to it now, I became impatient over the course of the first three tracks. In fact, I wanted to run those boys over with a cement mixer. But I fell in love again with the fourth track, “You Don’t Have to Cry,” and believe me, I am not the kind of listener who rolls over just because you sing like angels.

“Pre-Road Downs” is so good, it foreshadows Paul Simon’s solo career. By the time I got to “Wooden Ships” I was impressed by the melodic hard rock and suddenly understood a) why Jimi Hendrix had so much respect for this band, and b) the incredible musicianship on display here. “Long Time Gone” and the closer, “49 Bye-Byes,” sealed the deal for me.

It’s difficult to listen to famous albums you’ve heard a billion times and get anything new out of them. You have to peel back the layers of history and nostalgia and the discarded skins of your former self. Some of the songs in this lineup make me cringe – for example, the soporific “Lady of the Island” (“The brownness of your body in the fire glow/Except the places where the sun refused to go”). But this is, after all, an aural snapshot of its time. I wouldn’t want to read a transcript of my dialog from any day in junior high.

Crosby, Stills & Nash may be the first mature rock album. Whether that’s good or bad is beyond me.