November 2012

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When it comes out in the autumn of 1974, Gene Clark’s No Other seems to me like an album everybody should hear, nothing short of a masterpiece.

I beg for enough space to review it at appropriate length in what used to be Melody Maker, to a wholly unsympathetic response, people regarding me as someone who’s taken leave of their senses who should be approached with caution and a very big stick. I’m told to stop my infernal whining and write 100 words on the album, which I do, sulkily, most of them superlatives.

The extravagant claims I make on its behalf, however, bestirs few people enough to actually go out and buy the thing. Many more simply ignore the album altogether and it quickly sinks without trace, barely a copy sold.

It has been unfortunately thus for Clark since he quit The Byrds in 1966, his solo career to date not much more than a catalogue of commercial failure. Great music on albums like Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, Through The Morning, Through The Night, White Light and Roadmaster has been routinely overlooked, leaving Clark often disheartened, solace found increasingly in hard liquor and drugs. No Other was meant to be the album that returned him to former glories and was lavishly financed by David Geffen’s Asylum Records; to the tune, some said, of $100,000. This is a lot of money for only eight completed tracks and an album that could only have sold more poorly if it had remained unreleased. When Clark announces to an appalled Geffen that for a follow-up he intends to record an album of “cosmic Motown”, he’s introduced to the wooden thing in the wall otherwise known as the door. Three years later, he’s on another label with a new album called Two Sides To Every Story that’s just come out when I interview him in London in May 1977.

Clark’s departure from The Byrds is blamed on his chronic fear of flying, which compromised the band’s touring and promotional schedules. Even the most naïve of fans, however, suspects there’s something more seriously askew, which turns out eventually to be Gene’s increasingly debilitating dependency on alcohol and narcotics, both of which he partakes in to the point of damaging excess. It’s certainly a shock meeting him, not least because my memory of him in The Byrds as their impeccably cool and imperious frontman is still so vivid. He cuts a shambling figure now as we are left in a room so full of furniture it might otherwise be used as a storeroom, somewhere things are dumped and possibly forgotten. There’s something worryingly astray about him, a puddled fretfulness, an inclination towards drift and vacancy. He seems like someone with a fragile sense of himself.

He’s a big man still, heavily bearded, with the lumbering momentum of a slow-moving tug on a sluggish current, a bulky craft with a possibly rusty hull. Unmentioned habits have clearly taken their toll, as well as the thudding blows of serial disappointment at the dismal turns his solo career has taken. When he speaks, his voice seems to come from a faraway place I’m concerned may be somewhere he these days spends too much time with only his worried self for muttering company.

He seems trim of neither body nor mind and I’m genuinely sorry when I ask him for a response to the colossal public indifference to No Other, which he has just told me he truly believed was his ticket back to the big time, as he so describes it. He becomes immediately agitated, struggles for the right words, can’t find them and so simply shrugs, waves a hand, stares out the window, increasingly estranged from the moment.
In the distant hum of office life, a telephone’s ringing and going unanswered, continues to ring and is still unanswered. “Do you think that’s for me?” he finally asks.
I tell him I have no idea.

“Neither do I,” he says, rising to go and then actually going, the interview, such as it has been, evidently over.
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