________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 19 . . . . May 27, 2005


Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds’ Gene Clark.

John Einarson.
San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books (Distributed in Canada by the Publishers Group), 2005.
339 pp., pbk., $27.95.
ISBN 0-87930-793-5.

Subject Headings:
Clark, Gene, 1941-.
Rock musicians-United States-Biography.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Ronald J. Hore.

**½ /4


“Much is said about Gene's fear of flying," muses Bernie on Gene's often confusing and neurotic behavior, "but his fear of performing was legendary, too. His actual fear onstage of the audience was palpable and it was exaggerated by his use of alcohol or drugs. As a result of his fear he often drank or did drugs, which, of course, only increased his paranoia. You can't ignore his basic psychology of being afraid of all this stuff. It seems he wanted it so bad, success, but at the same time he was afraid of it. So I think that he may have been afraid of being a solo performer and so that's why he came over and hung out with us. I think the whole thing about ‘What do I do now?’ weighed on him along with people's expectations and his own expectations, the reality of life in Hollywood, which, of course, is not very glamorous. It's the whole issue of the artistic temperament. That whole thing of having to come up with something compelling artistically and then also make it commercially compelling, and also having a marketing team that can do something with it can be daunting. Gene was the sensitive artist guy who hadn't answered the question, 'How comfortable am I?' and the answer was that he wasn't comfortable doing it. So he constantly was in a situation where he had the intention of doing it but he had the counter-intention of, ‘I don't know if I want to do this.’"


Mr. Tambourine Man is the story of Gene Clark, a founding member of the Byrds, one of America's most influential popular musical groups in the 60's and a man considered to be a pivotal figure in folk-rock and one of rock's founding fathers. The book will appeal to anyone with a deep interest in the music industry from the 1960's to 1991 when Gene Clark died at the age of 46. There are 339 pages filled with very detailed information and over 100 interviews as well as a number of black and white photographs.

     As someone familiar with the Byrds, but not with the later solo efforts of Gene Clark, I found the amount of information almost overwhelming at times. The book begins with a bit of the history of Gene Clark's family, then takes the reader from his birth to his garage band days, through the peak of his brief career with the Byrds, then through the turmoil and ups and downs of his tortured life until his death. The book is full of details of the period and the many characters and large egos in the music industry and Hollywood who crossed Gene Clark's path.

     I suspect that, outside of those who followed his musical career after the Byrds, the story of what happened to Gene Clark after he left that group in early 1966 at the height of their fame will come as a surprise as it takes up the bulk of the tale. By page 88 he is on his own. The book describes the brilliance of the man as a rock music innovator, both as a singer and as an important song writer, who could apparently create brilliant music with little effort. The downside of Gene Clark's career is his person demons that eventually destroy him.

     What is of interest are the interviews with people who knew him well. These include musicians and former band members, record industry executives and managers, family members and hanger's-on. Famous musicians and Hollywood characters pass through the chapters of this book. The interviews are with his detractors as well as his friends and often result in contradictory points of view.

     If I have a criticism, it would be with the length and amount of detail, although this might not overly concern someone interested in the Gene Clark story or the music of the period. It would have been helpful to have a discography listing his albums under the various group names and a list of his published songs to give the novice reader a better picture of the vast scope of the material. More photographs would have been of interest; however, of the thirty some pictures included, most are of a more personal nature rather than posed studio publicity shots. Included is a picture taken of Gene Clark one month prior to his death, a picture that shows better than words could the effect of his lifestyle and his declining health when you compare it to the earlier pictures of the robust young entertainer who started out.

     A well researched biography, this book would appeal to anyone interested in the life and times of Gene Clark. It should also be of interest to someone following what can happen when a talented individual, following instant fame, takes a drug and alcohol induced self-destructive spiral down to the depths. The author does not spare the reader the gory details. The book might be of special interest to anyone seeking their own fame and fortune in the music industry.


Ronald J. Hore, involved with the Canadian Author's Association and writer's workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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