“[Gene] did seem like he had a lot on his
mind and would
often appear distracted. You’d say, ‘Hey, Gene, what are you thinking?’
would go, ‘Huh? Oh,’ like he was being brought back to reality.”
Bernie Leadon, yet another friend and bandmate of Gene Clark
In many ways, the Gene Clark story reads a
the Gram Parsons story. Both were considered by their peers to be among
Did anyone notice anything unusual, by the way, about that last sentence? Probably not, though there is an obvious redundancy on display. If I had written something slightly different, like “drug and heroin abusers” or “drug and cocaine abusers,” you likely would have picked up on it right away. But because I used a phrase that everyone is accustomed to seeing and hearing, “drug and alcohol abusers,” none of you batted an eye. I have no idea though what my point is here, so let’s just move on.
Harold Eugene Clark was born on November 17,
Tipton is a small town – the kind of town where everyone knows one another by name. In fact, Tipton is kind of like a big park where the same oversized family reunion is held every day of the year. As Bonnie Clark Laible told author John Einarson, “When I was in Tipton, Missouri, the year my grandfather died, in 1954, I found out I was related to almost everyone in the community. Everyone had married people they knew through the various families like Faherty and Sommerhauser. I couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a family member!”
Tipton was founded by Mr. William Tipton Seely, a rather wealthy and influential gent who opened a general store circa 1830. A community soon sprang up around his store, as tended to happen in those days, and Seely named his new little fiefdom Round Hill. A decade or so later, in the 1840s, a group of German immigrant families arrived in the area – the Nieuffers, the Lutzs, the Kammerichs, the Schmidts, the Hoens, the Shrecks and the Sommerhausers. These families proceeded to intermarry to a rather extreme degree.
In the 1850s, Seely lobbied hard to have both the Pacific Railroad and the Butterfield Overland Mail route pass through his little kingdom. Those efforts proved successful, though the railroad was routed a few miles north of Round Hill. Around that new railroad station was born Seely’s second town, tiny Tipton, where Gene Clark would spend the early years of his life.
Meanwhile, just before 1800, a group of Irish
families led by a Mr. Edmund Faherty settled in southwestern
Oscar Faherty, Gene Clark’s maternal grandfather, was born and raised near Tipton, as was the woman who was to be his wife and Gene’s grandmother, Rosemary Sommerhauser. Before long, the Fahertys and the Sommerhausers were intermarrying at a furious pace. According to Bonnie Clark, “The Faherty and Sommerhauser families had double cousins going on.”
I’m not sure what that means exactly, nor do I really want to know, but it can’t be a good thing.
On the summer solstice of 1920, Rosemary
Sommerhauser Faherty gave birth to Mary Jeanne Faherty, Gene Clark’s
After completing elementary school, Mary Jeanne was sent away to work
“domestic servant” for an unnamed wealthy family living near
The other half of Gene Clark’s family tree
curiously enough, shrouded in mystery and secrecy. As chronicler
notes, “Unlike Jeanne Faherty Clark’s well-documented family history,
lineage of Gene’s father, Kelly George Clark, is far more murky and
mysterious.” Indeed, Einarson’s extensive research turned up little
the fact that Kelly Clark was born on November 11, 1918 in
Or maybe Pop Clark’s history is murky for other reasons. Maybe he wasn’t even Gene’s dad. What we do know is that Kelly Clark apparently quit high school and went to work for the parks department as a groundskeeper. While tending the grounds at the Milburn Country Club, he met young Jeanne Faherty, who apparently was taken there fairly frequently by her ‘employers’ – because most wealthy people, I think we can all agree, take their young servants with them to the country club.
After a relatively brief courtship, the two married on May 29, 1941 and promptly started a family. Bonnie Clark was born on March 13, 1942, just 9½ months after the couple exchanged vows. Kelly Katherine was to be the couple’s second child, but she was, alas, reportedly stillborn – on the summer solstice of 1943. Nothing suspicious about that. Nor about the peculiar fact that, while Gene and other members of the family would be laid to rest in the Sommerhauser family plot at St. Andrews cemetery in Tipton, “Kelly Katherine’s is a solitary stone at the far south end of the cemetery.”
A few months after Kelly Katherine Clark’s
death, Kelly George Clark was called up for radio and gunnery school.
training, he was assigned to a unit that served as General George
mop-up crew. Clark’s crew landed at
Meanwhile, the third
Kelly Clark returned home at the end of World War II and promptly impregnated his wife once again; Nancy Patricia Clark was born on July 19, 1946. The family would continue to grow until there were no fewer than 10 Clark siblings, all living in a tiny house far off the beaten path. As a former classmate and friend recalled, “You had to take a dirt road up and it was the only house back in the woods, way up high. I couldn’t believe the first time Gene took me there … It was kind of spooky in a way.”
As Bonnie Clark has acknowledged, the
Gene would have a lifelong fascination with
and guns. According to friend Joe Larson, after
Has anyone else noticed, by the way, that a
those peacenik hippie types in
Shockingly enough, most of the members of that “strange family” living in the backwoods did not fare so well as they grew into adulthood. As of the time of the writing of Einarson’s Mr. Tambourine Man (2005), one Clark sibling had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic (which is, in reality, an arbitrary ‘diagnosis,’ but let’s not get into that), another suffered from severe bouts of clinical depression, another was homeless due to untreated mental illness, another was on psychiatric meds most of her life before dying suddenly in 1987, another was bipolar, and yet another was diagnosed with severe mental retardation.
Even more shockingly, mysterious father Kelly Clark was said to be a raging alcoholic who suffered from severe mood swings!
Gene’s formal education began in 1949 at a
Catholic school in
On August 12, 1963, Gene Clark, still a few
shy of his nineteenth birthday, was inexplicably offered a spot in the
Christy Minstrels vocal group; he was on a plane to
One of the gigs the group played, on January 14, 1964, was at the White House as special guests of Lyndon Johnson, who had taken office less than two months earlier following the assassination of John Kennedy. After the performance, Gene and other Minstrels (including Barry McGuire, who, as was discussed in the last chapter, released Eve of Destruction a couple years later) went out on the town and partied with Johnson’s two daughters, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines, who were just nineteen and sixteen at the time.
As the story goes, Gene quit the New Christy
Minstrels a couple of weeks later, in February of 1964, after hearing
album released by an obscure British band known as the Beatles.
immediately headed out to
The two quickly formed a folk duo and began
songs, hoping to soon get bookings at the Troubadour and other local
according to McGuinn, the pair “never got to the stage of performing as
a duo …
According to Vern Gosdin – who, along with
brother, Rex, played with many of the Laurel Canyon musicians – it was
Dickson who “put the Byrds together, you might say. If I’m telling the
this is what I think: I don’t think the Byrds had any ideas whatsoever,
Dickson put it all together for them.” Dickson originally envisioned
as a Beatlesque quartet, with Gene as lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist,
lead guitar and vocals, and
This arrangement proved unworkable, however,
The five-man band was by then complete: Gene would provide most lead vocals and bang the tambourine, Jim/Roger McGuinn would provide the band’s signature 12-string guitar sound and harmony vocals, Crosby would provide serviceable (at best) rhythm guitar work and harmony vocals, and Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke would pretend (initially at least) to play the bass guitar and the drums.
The band released its first single as the Beefeaters. The record was produced by Jim Dickson, who would go on to guide the Byrds’ career, and Paul Rothschild, who would go on to guide the Doors’ career. The single, released by Elektra Records, went nowhere. By November of 1964 though, the band, renamed the Byrds, was signed with Columbia Records. Just two months later they would record Mr. Tambourine Man and become huge stars. But there was a hurdle to overcome first; as Einarson notes, “[Gene] had received his draft notice. Roger and Michael had already dodged that bullet; now it was Gene’s turn.”
Not to worry though; Gene was able to dodge that bullet as well. According to Einarson, Gene was deemed unfit for military service due to an “old football disease,” which is identified as “Osgood Schlatter’s Disease.” For the record, Osgood Schlatter’s is not a “football disease.” I’m not at all convinced, to be perfectly honest, that Osgood Schlatter’s is a disease at all. I was diagnosed with the same thing when I was a kid and the only difference between me and other kids was that I had a ‘disease’ while they had ‘growing pains.’ According to the medical community though, it is a real childhood disease with no known treatment that one ‘outgrows’ as one approaches adulthood.
Luckily for Gene, it apparently didn’t prevent him from playing football, but it did keep him out of the service – which was probably a good thing, because, after all, what use does the military have for a big, strong, powerfully-built former athlete who knew his way around a variety of weapons?
And now, with that out of the way, a correction is in order; regrettably, I claimed in an earlier chapter that Clark was a very good but not a terribly prolific songwriter. That is actually far from the truth (the fact that no one has alerted me to that egregious error, by the way, illustrates how little-known Clark is today). Without question, Gene was an astoundingly prolific songwriter. I had assumed otherwise due to the fact that relatively few of his compositions appear on Byrds’ albums, which instead feature a lot of covers.
The truth though is that Gene had more than enough songs – and reportedly good songs – to fill the early Byrds’ albums. Even Crosby has acknowledged that Clark “was prolific. He would show up every week with new songs and they were great songs.” Crosby wasn’t so generous though with his assessments of Gene’s talents back in the day. According to most accounts, it was the jealousy of Crosby and McGuinn that kept Gene’s tracks off the records.
In those days, there wasn’t a lot of money to be made by performing and recording music. The real money was in song royalties, so Clark was paid considerably more than the rest of the band. As McGuinn put it, “Gene was into Ferraris and we were still starving.” That disproportionate compensation quickly drove a wedge between Clark and the other 2/3 of the original trio. At times, Gene even shared writing credits on his songs just to get them onto albums. The classic Eight Miles High, for example, was written by Gene but credited to Crosby and McGuinn as well (Crosby reportedly contributed just one line of lyrics and McGuinn handled the arrangement of Gene’s composition).
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“There was this persona and the rest of
somewhere in there. He was hard to get to know … He could be very warm
loving, but that could change in a heartbeat.”
Bonnie Clark, Gene’s sister
“In later years, toward the end, he would have really bad nightmares. He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming …”
Kai Clark, Gene’s son
“It is often difficult for those who knew him – even family members – to reconcile the two Gene Clarks: the cheerful, engaging yet shy loner with the vibrant imagination, and the frustrated, moody recluse who was sometimes prone to violence.”
Chronicler John Einarson
As has been noted previously, Vito Paulekas
key role in the early days of the Byrds. And so it is that we find
to Vito and his entourage in Einarson’s telling of the Gene Clark
and Carl were legendary hipsters on the
When the band launched its first national
July 1965, “Along for the trip were
As troupe dancer Lizzie Donohue would later
many of those in
When the band followed up its first national
with a tour of the
Sometime after that tour, members of the
famously met with members of the Beatles and they all dropped acid
Some accounts hold that this meeting took place in the
In March of 1966, a press release announced
Clark’s departure from the Byrds. McGuinn has alleged that Dickson and
co-manager Eddie Ticknor encouraged Gene to split from the band so that
could exploit his solo potential. If so, then they must have been
One of the first offers Gene received upon
departure from the Byrds was from drummer Dewey Martin, who invited
Around that same time,
Following what were reportedly unproductive recording sessions, Gene’s first post-Byrds formation broke up. On July 10, he was signed as a solo artist and he entered the studio the next month accompanied by doomed guitarist Clarence White, Brian Wilson handler Van Dyke Parks, our old friend Glen Campbell, the ubiquitous Chris Hillman, and Vern and Rex Gosdin, who had gotten their start alongside – who else? – Chris Hillman in the formation known as the Hillmen.
In January of 1967,
By March of 1967,
When Gene had left the Byrds, by the way, he
done so empty handed. Not so with
Following his brief reunion with the Byrds,
By this time Gene had married and his wife, Carlie, was an avid reader of occult literature, particularly, as she recalled, “this lady named Madame Blavatsky.”
According to authors such as Craig
on the Altar), Martin P. Starr (The Unknown God), and John
and Rockets), Dennis Hopper and David’s dad, John Carradine, were
members of the infamous Agape Lodge of the OTO, alongside doomed rocket
scientist Jack Parsons, actor Dean Stockwell, and doppelgangers L. Ron
and Robert Heinlein (who was also, it will be recalled, a Laurel Canyon
resident). According to Gregory Mank (Hollywood’s Hellfire Club),
Carradine and John Barrymore were also members of the so-called “Bundy
Boys,” a group that engaged in such practices as incest, rape and
And according to Ed Sanders (The Family), among the upscale
visited by a
Of course, just because Clark’s inner circle
to have been drawn from various nefarious occult groups doesn’t mean
should leap to any conclusions about Gene himself, even if his wife was
occultist, and even if he was the product of a multi-generational
town, and even if his sibling was sacrificed stillborn on a
holiday, and even if his first home was right across the street from a body
drop funeral home.
Moving on then, the year 1972 saw yet another brief Byrds reunion, with another record released in February of 1973. Gene next began recording sessions for a new solo project, financed by his friend Gary Legon, the husband of porn star and Ivory Soap model Marilyn Chambers. Joining Gene on some of the tracks was Emmylou Harris, whose hubby Tom Slocum – a descendant of famed explorer Joshua Slocum – was a member of Gene’s inner circle.
After relocating to
She and Gene moved in together in the summer
1977. According to Einarson,
Canyon resident Ken Mansfield recalled those
years: “That particular point in my life, and most of us, was the
of all, when we were all into drugs the most. Tommy’s (Kaye) house was
the houses we hung out at a lot. David Carradine was my neighbor in
There seems to have been a little bit of a
with little kids in the ‘60s and ‘70s dying in “unfortunate accidents”
Following the release of the second reunion
Clark and a close friend, guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, left LA for
Gene’s solo career sputtered on for another
though no one really paid much attention. In January 1991, the original
of the Byrds came together for their induction into the Rock and Roll
The circumstances of
According to Einarson, Clark had been fighting to stay sober, but it “is agreed that he began drinking again on the evening of Wednesday, May 22 … What happened next depends entirely on who is telling the story. [One witness] claims he searched the house for drugs and did not find any – contrary to claims by others that drugs and drug paraphernalia were present in the house … there are those conspiracy theorists who continue to insinuate that drugs and certain characters were, indeed, present that night, and that Gene’s death was a result of misadventure, necessitating a panicked clean-up campaign that morning.”
There were apparently numerous people present
Days later, David Carradine caused quite a stir at Gene’s open-casket memorial service. Former bandmate Pat Robinson remembered it well: “When Carradine came up, he wasn’t as much drunk as he was on acid, I think, and his girlfriend and business manager at the time was there with him. And we’re standing there and Carradine says, ‘You cocksucker …’ and grabs Gene by the lapels. When you pull somebody up from a coffin and they have nothing inside for guts they bend higher up. It was really shocking to see that. And Carradine goes, ‘You pissed on my daughter when she was thirteen.’ And he said it pretty loud and then he says, ‘I saw him snicker, boys, heh heh.’ Oh, man, that was weird.”
You think so? Perhaps weirder still is that
those who were in attendance remember hearing something a little
“You fucked my daughter when she was thirteen.” Maybe Carradine
any event, none of the original members of the
Byrds bothered to attend the service. When it was over, Gene was laid
to rest in tiny