Mr. Tambourine Man

The Life and Legacy of The Byrds' Gene Clark (by John Einarson, Backbeat Books)

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Mr. Tambourine Man

Everything you ever wanted to know about the brooding Byrd—except the man himself

It’s not entirely John Einarson’s fault this exhaustively researched biography leaves readers no closer to understanding The Byrds’ enigmatic songwriter than they were before they started. Because Clark died in 1991, insights from the subject himself are few and far between, culled from a handful of pre-existing interviews. Einarson, who’s written books about Neil Young, The Guess Who and others, relies instead on the extensive reflections of friends, family members and fellow musicians to definitively trace the singer’s arc from rural boyhood to overnight sensation to conflicted country-rock pioneer unable to fully capitalize on his talents or deal with his stardom. The author’s subjective take on Clark’s erratic catalog (“Although Gene rarely spoke of himself as a poet, he was nonetheless”), coupled with a tendency to offer some quotes without attribution, can be distracting. But Mr. Tambourine Man is effortlessly engrossing, detailing the ins and outs of Clark’s various post-Byrds projects (and self-destructive behavior) with impressive attention to detail—even if its subject remains maddeningly out of reach.

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