My interest in The Byrds is generally limited to the period in which Gram Parsons worked for the band. It was just a brief stint, enough time to record the masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo, before Gram’s demands grew untenable for the group (higher salary, renaming the group ‘Gram Parsons and The Byrds,’ threats to Roger McGuinn’s leadership). Less than a year after joining, Gram struck out on his own.
At any rate, suffice to say I’d neglected the solo output of the original, founding members of the Byrds. That’s where this Gene Clark album comes in. An on-again, off-again founding member of the group, this album is the result of a period he spent living on the northern California coast with his wife and children, nestled in the hills of Mendocino, and the songs capture that ‘loner sound’ few guitarists do well. Songs that sound like they’re sung for the wind, for you, and no one else.
This track is the standout on the album, mournful though it sounds. Dylan supposedly said once that it’s a tune he’d have been proud to write. But he didn’t. Gene Clark did.
Sin was clearly on Gram Parson’s mind (or his deeds) when he and bassist Chris Hillman left The Byrds and holed up in their San Fernando Valley estate, “Burrito Manor,” to write the first Burrito Brothers album.
Saw this Rolling Stones doc this week at a schoolroom-style showhouse that opened up last year on South 3rd in Williamsburg, just off Bedford. It’s called the Spectacle Theater. It’s BYOB and has room for an audience of 25, plus folding chairs—and there’s space up front for those who want to sit on the carpet. Real homey.
There was a nice introduction by a fellow who teaches film at The New School, David Meyer. (He also has a book out about Gram Parsons, which I’d like to check out). He told us the Stones suppressed this film as soon as it came out, showing as it did the debaucherous spectacle that was their 1972 Exile on Main Street tour. It wasn’t as lurid as I’d expected—but the Stones are almost invariably shirtless, pulling shirts (and pants) off the groupies in their bus, smoking weed (and other things) and there’s a needle scene too.
Completely unexpected, however, was the film credit to Robert Frank (yes, that Robert Frank) who filmed the whole thing, along with a team of kids armed with cameras and mics. The shots are spectacularly bad, frequently washed out, but musically there are some truly electric scenes. Go about six minutes in on this clip and you’ll see Stevie Wonder launch the Stones into ‘Satisfaction.’ A great moment in rock’n’roll.
Gram Parsons died of an overdose at the Joshua Tree Inn in 1973, age 26, on one of his many trips out to the desert. Next week I’m going to be staying at the Inn, which is still there, believe it or not…this seemed like a fitting tune for our visit.