GENE CLARK - ZENMASTER. BY STEVE BURGESS.

PUBLISHED IN DARK STAR #3, 1976

"...In the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings
And exchanged love's bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge
And in a moment they were swept
Before the deluge ..."
Jackson Browne: "Before The Deluge"

That song is an elegy, a dirge, a lament. For Jackson Browne,
boy-child of spiralling sixties circumstances - Ciro's where The Byrds
parcelled light up into musical segments, and Sunset Strip where the
strange young girls offered their youth on the altar of acid - it is a
statement on a generation. From an outsider. And, consequently maybe,
earnest family-man Jackson has presented us with a capsule of truth. No
matter which flank you choose to attack the song on, superficially naive
though it is, he has the angle covered. For so many resigned their colours,
returned to tug at society's skirts that the deluge, the personal
apo-calypse of a generation (whatever a generation is) is now seen by
Dylan's Mr. Jones as a passing cloud, an aberration, another youthful
media-hyped gangbang. Not so, but why bother to prove it now. The Byrds
took it to the limit. And The Eagles are goin' back.

Rock is a communications system fallen into disuse, like smoke
signals. When Love and The Byrds hit the Strip, electric rock was still as
brand-showroom-new as the dishwasher of the future - maybe rock will be the
dishwasher of the future - and, as baffling new musical and linguistic
vocabularies hit the West Coast like some pack of outlaw hikers, a
revolution hit the music industry, if nowhere else. California dreamin'
became a new parlour game: cigar-chomping hack tunesmiths no longer poured
their soft-headed conception of teenage life and love over the radio
landscape and suddenly it seemed everyone from wholemeal highschool kids
cutting out on Mary Jane-wanna to crawling kingsnake nightpersons had a
band whose music soundtracked their personal reality.

Then gone in the spin of a wheel; somehow image got a foot in the
door, maybe never left L.A., where all the world is but a billion-dollar
sensurround movie set ... never quite made it to San Francisco, Tubes
notwithstanding ... glitter and rouge spread like margarine, Faye and
Peter, Britt and Rod, Vincent Price and Alice Cooper and everybody all
moneybound on the Las Vegas Flyer. Goodbye to the kid next door with the
red Stratocaster and let's have a warm welcome for dry ice, perspex drums
and leather-look machismo. Frank Zappa once held forth: "A freak cares what
he looks like, a hippie doesn't". Guess there were a lot of freaks about.

The humble, bumbling hippie has a financial empire built on his
shoulders, and, with Vietnam out of the way, teenage America could lapse
back into the trivial, although it kept the stash and the stereo and
demanded, "Feed me". Mr. Jones still didn't know what hit him but, with
hindsight, it seemed harmless enough.

In music, a few people didn't know when to shut up and behave, which
of course, might help their record companies to shift a few more units.
And, probably, their audience is confined forever to the few survivors of
the deluge, to use "Jackson's Metaphor", unless, somehow, like the
Starship, they can cross upmarket. Like playing Russian Roulette with five
loaded chambers.

Gene Clark left The Byrds after "Eight Miles High" and shut up, only
to find himself a unique style of self-expression.

But to hell with sociological background (pause) , ladies and
gentlemen (fanfare), Gene Clark, Zenmaster. (Applause).

Harold Eugene Clark, born Tipton, Missouri, 1941, a simple country
boy of a large country family, no doubt spent a lot of nights listening to
whippoorwills and winds; mournful mountain music is his stock in trade. He
professes to making surf music in school, graduating to a twelve-string
folk thing on the same circuit as journeymen Brewer and Shipley, before
being appropriated by the New Crusty Nostrils to play on two albums and
that monument of disgusting ephemera, "Green Green". No doubt fully
revolted, Gene cut out in L.A. and hung around the Troubadour where
Beatlemaniac McGuinn regularly performed select-ions from the furry four's
song-book. Gene began to sing along, the story goes, as did another ex
pre-packed folkie casualty, chubby David Crosby. After a few amply
documented false starts and many cigarette butts, The Byrds appeared,
stomping cuban heels and blast-ing ozone all over the airwaves.

Gene was genuinely the moody one, gaunt, rattling tambourine,
supplying their best homegrown material, yearning even then. Witness "Here
Without You". Like Rothmans, The Byrds became international, had to go
places, but Gene balked, he'd seem an aircrash first-hand; no way did he
want to fly, "...the pressure did me in." He rejoined a couple of times but
couldn't cut it, and decided that solo was the way to be, a personal singer
wanting to make a personal statement. For The Byrds, "5D" came and went
while Gene meticulously constructed the world's first country-rock-super
session album, "Gene Clark And The Gosdin Brothers", with Chris Hillman,
Mike Clarke, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell and Clarence White. It was finally
released in early '67, the same week as "Younger Than Yesterday". There
were few completists, scholars and connoisseurs around then: Gene was
simply forgotten and the new Byrds album had the same effect on Gene as
Kryptonite used to have on Superman. No contest.

Gene stepped up the gigging, ran into Doug Dillard and between them
they collected an amorphous gaggle of musicians to form the Expedition, a
band woefully out of step with public taste, a true contemporary country
band in a world that wasn't exactly overjoyed by The Byrds'
perverse-seeming, Parsons-inspired leap into country with "Sweetheart of
the Rodeo", a move in which Doug had a small picking hand. It seemed both
Gene and Doug had room to stretch out in their framework and the first
album seemed to bear this out. (A&M SP4158 1968). For this, Gene
collaborated heavily with Bernie Leadon, only "Out On The Side" was written
alone, and that stuck out like a frozen nose. Nevertheless, it's an
incredible waxing, lively and confident; it's companion piece, "Through The
Morning Through The Night" (A&M SP 4203) which emerged in 1969, wasn't so
strong, a diverse conglomeration pushing two ways. Gene was being forced
into a stylistic corner by ripsnorting bluegrass with which he was
uncomfortable, although "Polly" is a breathtaking wispy song in a style he
would later explore, chart and claim, and his readings of the Everly's "So
Sad" and Lennon-Macca's "Don't let me down" fill the room with the Clark
primal melancholy. Gene then split; and the Expedition went on to become
wholly unnecessary as Country Gazette and Pseudo Burritos.

By now Gene had already thrown away the key on two albums worth of
material recorded before the Expedition, and he now embarked on another
round of aborted projects: A single with the original Byrds - "One In A
Hundred" which surfaced on "Roadmaster" (after the "White Light" cut) - and
a session for the third Burrito's elpee which produced "Here Tonight" -
variously on "Roadmaster", "Close Up The Honky Tonks" and "Honky Tonk
Heaven - which would have eclipsed everything else on it; maybe that's how
it got shelved. More backlogs, brick walls; Gene moved to Mendocino, where
something happened to Gene; no doubt it was always there, but communing in
solitude with his twelve-string in '70 and '71 exposed a tradition to which
Gene Clark belongs, musically unparalleled but with clear literary and
spiritual precedents. It is apparent. It is there on "White Light", a
verbal facility once devoted to love songs, turned in on itself, twisted
into alien blueprints of personal philosophy.

"White Light", produced by Jesse Ed Davis, released 1971 on A&M SP
4292, is a blazing, multi- faceted statement. Always the unstated enemy of
the rational, the orthodox, Gene now attacked perception itself; by the
time "No Other" was made, Gene finally had no need of even that, but by
this time those who had listened to "White Light" could make that
transition. However, the white-walled room "out on the end of time" became
no longer a metaphor but an actuality as Gene emphasised one-ness with the
universe, the white light once talked of by acid-heads, the living nirvana
in which all references cease to operate. In fact the way of Zen...

The album opens with "The Virgin", with his new-found, almost
Shakespearian, use of language directed towards connecting "The Virgin" - a
virgin only in the abstract - with "wisdom's karmic ocean"; the revelation
that "lifeforms are insane" becomes "the melodies of meaning/ the sad song
she learned to sing". Like an Old Testament prophet, he pushes his created
character through a re-birth with which she must come to terms, and asks,
"was this her revolution, just a child in love's crusade?"; she is pushed
past a point of disillusionment, on the far side of which lies only
insanity or acceptance. Gene clearly sympathises, and, himself, accepts.

In "From a Spanish Guitar", Gene, unique for a rock musician,
presents himself as no more than a mouthpiece for the elements, for
children and the insane, all of which "flow safe through my soul and my
brain and a Spanish guitar". By giving voice to these things, but allowing
them to express no opinions, they make no point but to assert their
existence ... as in Zen, they must be understood on their own terms. Later
Gene returned to his obvious belief that music is, in itself, sometimes one
of the purest everyday forms of the Zen philosophy, (since the conversion
of sound into meaning is such a subjective process), in "Strength Of
Strings" only in a purer form, since, there, all that protests its
existence through Gene is the music itself.

"White Light" itself is a difficult riddle; seemingly too personal to
penetrate, it paints pictures of a village and its people "enlightened by
the land", but also seems to encapsulate Gene philosophy. Anyone familiar
with Zen will be familiar with the precept: "Those who know do not speak,
those who speak do not know". I, as the writer of this would find this
insoluble if it wasn't for the facts that, through Zen, I need not examine
it ... nevertheless; in "White Light" that maxim is interpreted: "The
communion of the forces take delight with the theory that no tongues can
read or write ... white light." Indeed.

But, like all creations, Gene's songs need an audience; one
acclimatised to the oblique and the metaphorical ... once there was a spate
of extravagant claims that rock lyrics were capable of standing as poetry,
mostly confined to the hysterical drivellings of indulgent jazz critics.
Not so, poetry is dehydrated, disciplined ideas, economy is necessary; rock
lyrics have a tendency to dissipate, to fall apart in the mind - if they
haven't done so in transit from speaker to ear. In between these poles are
the media of print, sources, texts. We have to cast an eye over what are
ref erred to as "cult" books, things that, in conventional terms, hit the
impressionable reader right between the frontal lobes and which he is
conventionally supposed to grow out of: like bluegrass, rock, dope, and
sassafras tea. Mixed blessings come of them, secretaries gobbling Von
Daniken, active lives reduced to infinite indecision by overdoses of I
Ching, Manson taking "Stranger In A Strange Land" as a blueprint and an
excuse ... but also the permanent redirection of aimless lives through "The
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", "On The Road", or Guthrie's "Bound For
Glory", and the rediscovery of a sense of wonder and sensory excitement
through Brautigan, Tom Robbins or even the catch-all "Zen And The Art Of
Motor-Cycle Maintenance". That word again. Read through a cross-section,
and, ultimately, depending on where your ethics come from, you will find
strong traces of what could be called "Nihilism" - lack of responsibility -
but which I prefer to term Zen - a sense of continuity; of what is relevant
and what is ephemeral, dead wood.

On the psychotropically-steeped West Coast of America, cults
regenerate infinitely, and the biggest, brightest, five-star legend is that
of Don Juan, brujo (medicine man, wizard, sorcerer, shaman, choose one),
the great brown hope of the acid generation as it sits around debilitated,
thirsting for new texts. Don Juan, new readers start here, is the hero of a
series of four books by Carlos Castaneda, who supposedly met the old Hopi
Indian at an Arizona bus depot while researching for his PhD and became his
pupil, embarking on a decade-long struggle to become a brujo himself,
through learning to "See". Castaneda has now admitted Don Juan to be a
figment of his fertile imagination, confirming the suspicions of many who
found Castaneda's stupidity and credulousness (in the books) to be
literally, too much to be true. Nevertheless, the teachings of this
fictional ultimate guru represent an extraordinarily clever and successful
attempt to recycle whole fertile areas of Western and Eastern thought into
one hybrid discipline and philosophical system. Castaneda, with one
sustained metaphor, kept millions dreaming in the wake of the soured
Alternative American Dream, stopping off along the way at Nietzsche, Sufi
Tales, Tim Leary, the Bhagavad-gita, the I Ching, Crowley and the Tarot,
Vonnegut, and, particularly, Zen. A priceless con; and one that loses
nothing from the fact, because that metaphor has created a new vocabulary
for others to communicate with. The ends justify the means; Don Juan
enables Castaneda to fly and refuses point blank to categorise whether this
is fact or an illusion; as far as he is concerned it is ir-relevant, the
distinction means doodly-squat. This is Zen thinking. It's also a good
commentary on the value of the books. The Eagles wrote "Journey Of The
Sorcerer" and "Visions" about Don Juan and announce them from stages
everywhere as "for all you Castaneda freaks". Garcia sings "I was blind all
the time, I was learning to see" ("Help On The Way") with an inflection
that leaves no doubt about its meaning. And Gene Clark wrote "Silver Raven"
- a creature with origins in Don Juanology - and sang it on tour with Roger
McGuinn, a year before it came to rest on "No Other", the album which gives
Castaneda's Folly a practical expression. Castaneda gave Gene Clark,
Zeamaster, a framework to work in.

Nevertheless, "White Light" sold like umbrellas in the Sahara, in
spite of favourable critical action, although these plaudits were more
directed to the honest grainy sound than actual content, and '72 saw Gene
clearing the air for his no doubt rather nebulous new direction. He
assembled a stalwart band of faithfuls - Clarence White, Sneeky Pete,
Spooner Oldham, Mike Clarke and Byron Berline - and in April to June cut
eight tracks for a projected album which eventually metamorphosed into the
Dutch semi-compilation "Roadmaster" (A&M 87 584 IT). The reasons behind
Gene dropping the whole project like a hot burrito are uncertain, certainly
the character of the songs, with the exception of the ugly,
out-of-character "Roadmaster" and the oblique, post-apocalyptic "Shooting
Star" (obviously a "White Light" holdover), suggest a man working through
an old catalogue of songs which he had by then, outgrown. This obsession
with setting business in order led Gene and Jim Dickson to enter Columbia's
L.A. studios that year to re-mix and re-record vocals for Columbia's
projected re-release of the Clark/Gosdins album. In the space of a week
they transformed the thing into "Early L.A. Sessions" (Columbia KC31123), a
lovingly documented artefact, but minus "Elevator Operator" which
supposedly did not stand the test of time and brought the playing time down
to a ludicrous 23 minutes. Essential seminal stuff nevertheless,
particularly "Tried So Hard", "Keep On Pushing" - to which the label
enigmatically appends "Doug Dillard on electric banjo" for some obscure
reason - "So You Lost Your Baby" and the eerie "Echoes": This was Gene's
first foray into the human psyche, and one which once frightened your
commentator truly rigid for a deeply personal reason, because "Echoes"
reflects the fact that lovers reach points from which they can no longer
continue together, but for no nameable reason, and with no loss to the
forces that held them together, as I was finding out, regretfully, at the
time I first heard the song.

'72-'73 also saw the renowned re-formed Byrds debacle on Asylum SYLA
8754, the label to which Gene had recently signed. To some it seemed that
the album was to be used as a vehicle to shoot Gene to stardom status, but
he wasn't having any, content to dredge up "Full Circle Song" (also on
"Roadmaster" and probably dating, therefore, from as early as '68) and
"Changing Heart" which neither adds nor subtracts anything from Gene's
philosophies, unlike "Full Circle" which is his expression of the Eastern
notion of a cyclical universe, as portrayed in the I Ching and Tao Tse
Ching. Gene also paid tribute to Neil Young by recording "Cowgirl In The
Sand" and "See The Sky About To Rain". both sensitive, if detached,
readings; the best that can be said for the album is that Gene fared better
in the ego-centric paws of producer Crosby than did McGuinn and Hillman.

However, deByrded McGuinn was now truly out on the side along with Gene,
who left his North California eyrie to share a house with him in '73, and,
during this time, to sit in on the "Adventures Of Roger McGuinn" tour,
where he per-formed "Silver Raven" to a few select, but disinterested
audiences. And with that, Gene Clark left the musical community to its own
devices.

The facts pertaining to the release of a record album by Gene Clark
on Asylum SYL 9020 late in the year 1974 are plain and clear enough;
fifteen musicians, eight back-up singers and producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye
helped him make it in L.A. and San Francisco over a period of six months.
The cardboard, paper and plastic object they spawned is conversely,
something that over-reaches itself and becomes impossible to rationalise or
focus on. The cover is deliberately and monstrously inappropriate; every
image, the whole conception, is totally dislocated from the content of the
music. And so it becomes irrelevant, and, mocking the whole concept of
record sleeves as it goes, winks out of existence slowly, leaving the
listener no clues to help deal with what it contains.

The lyrics are printed on the inner sleeve, and that's another red herring.
These lyrics should not, and cannot, stand that sort of scrutiny since most
don't make any conventional sort of sense; they are inseparable from the
music and must not be approached, it would be like trying to read the
maker's name on a rainbow. And Zen teaches that words are a clumsy vehicle
for communication, since they can only present ideas as tiny particles of
information, and not as totalities. So ignore it, and there's only the
music left.

Like "Astral Weeks", "No Other" comprises only one multi faceted
song. Play it, and the twin speakers become twin facing mirrors, endlessly
regenerating, a link with infinity; its subjects are reality and time and
spirituality and dreams and how to come to terms with the world. And for
this it is a totally unique work; rock has always had its intellectuals
with palpitatingly eager audiences ready and willing to snarf up their
ephemeral pap as significant. Maybe I do Gene Clark a disservice to treat
his music this way, as heavy duty profundity. At least I am convinced this
record should be taken seriously. It's not merely entertainment.

Side one opens with "Life's Greatest Fool", a mid-tempo rocker
building slowly to piledriver level, Gene declaiming a long series of
dislocated images and observations, some obvious, some mysterious
cats-cradles, asking, "Could these be reasons why man is life's greatest
fool?" The term "fool" is ambiguous anyway, since it could be taken to mean
"innocent" as in the Tarot, and, paraphrased, the song asks whether man is
misguided to continually question and attempt to explain what he perceives.
The alternative is the Zen outlook ... and Don Juan tells Castaneda that he
must cut down on the internal dialogue if he is to "See". Gene Clark
re-affirms this, and gives a model for this point in the image of the
"Silver Raven", the next track, and a creature from out of Castaneda's back
pages. In this song, the raven contemplates a coming, nebulous, apocalypse.
Four times Gene asks whether he has seen (Seen?) these things, seen "the
old world dying". "Silver Raven" celebrates the insularity of man's view
that he is in control of his world, and advises spiritual unity with the
elements.

"No Other" follows. and sets these conclusions out again almost in
the form of an I Ching hexagram: "Then the pilot of the mind must find the
right direction". Distilled, the song says that to personify love as "God"
and to commune with him alone, is to Deny "the tide of life that flows in
each direction". Gene sees God as a form of human collective consciousness;
"All alone we must be part of one another", and the side closes with
"Strength of Strings" in which Gene claims that music works through him
rather than vice-versa. "Strength Of Strings" is a vast, elegaic, panoramic
hymn and everyone performs as if posessed. It is its own explanation, a
self contained world, in which "I am always high, I am always low, There is
always change" - the Eastern notion of a cyclical universe again, first
explored in "Full Circle Song".

"From A Silver Phial" leads off the second side and is essentially a
love song, the first of two. "Phial" is a highly explicit song about a
particular woman and communicates nothing at all, except for a lingering
impression strong enough to make you feel that you know her from somewhere.
The virgin? Visionary use of words "... said she saw the sword of sorrow
sunken in the sand of searching souls" more use of the universal symbolism
of the Tarot. A Zen love song. Like love, it is beyond rational thought,
and contrasts well with "Some Misunderstanding" which follows, in which
Gene talks directly to the listener about fate and the future. He seems to
be exposing his fallibility as a philosopher, examining his position in
detail and expressing his human fears, but returns to a basic philosophy -
"We all need a fix at a time like this but doesn't it feel good to stay
alive". "Fix" is used for its ambiguity, its overtones of smack, but
primarily in the sense of a bearing, a direction. The rest of the album
acts out the directions ... The penultimate song, "The True One" is lighter
in sound and context than the rest, a throw-back to simpler times in its
construction, a recollection lyrically of Gene's rock star past, which he
plainly regards as mis-spent - presumably because of its emphasis on the
material - and presented as a long stream of mottoes and aphor-isms, like a
Sufi tale. It also contains an observation of reality; he plainly believes
himself to have evolved into a different reality, separate and distinct,
the true one.

And finally, in "Lady Of The North", the second love song, he sings
of his alternative reality as a change in the wind that must come, natural
and destined. The song has an immense rhapsodic grandeur, an illusion of
free flight. "Ah, fine lady of the North, like silver on the ocean shore

"No Other" is now deleted. Gene Clark has no recordings currently
available in this country.
The album he has been working on for the past year, reputedly a
"Country-Motown" synthesis, does not appear. Asylum have no release
scheduled.

Gene Clark was "pretty happy" with "No Other". "You could call this a
transition for me. I'm moving into another, bigger arena."

Good grief, some of us think "No Other" is one of the finest albums
ever cut. Where can he take us to next? Trust the man who knows the
Strength of Strings.

STEVE BURGESS
DARK STAR #3
DARK STAR PUBLISHING 1976