[Today: Lost and found…]
“Our destiny exercises its influence over us even when, as yet, we have not learned its nature: it is our future that lays down the law of our today.” Friedrich Nietzsche had a clear belief in the role of destiny upon life, but for most of the rest of us, concepts like destiny, faith and the human soul excite questions that aren’t easily answered. Gene Clark clearly had a lot of big questions, and his 1974 album No Other is a beautiful exercise in metaphysical star-gazing.
Clark was a founding member of The Byrds, and functioned as that group’s main songwriter until his departure in early 1966. He worked on various solo projects and re-joined The Byrds a couple of times, but by the early 70s he was unsigned and seemed to be yesterday’s news. Singer/songwriter friendly label Asylum signed him on the strength of a 1972 Byrds reunion, no doubt hoping to land an earnest folkie in the vein of Joni Mitchell. What they got instead was mellow, philosophical country/folk rock infused with gospel and strings. Much to Asylum’s consternation, No Other ran $100,000 over budget and sounded like nothing on the radio at the time.
This album has been dogged by persistent rumors that its production was fueled by mountains of drugs (Mojo called it a “cocaine classic”), but it sounds like it was driven by nothing stronger than green tea and a good ocean view. Clark claimed as much, saying “The whole album was written when I had a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. I would just sit in the living room, which had a huge bay window, and stare at the ocean for hours at a time.” The title track and ‘Life’s Greatest Fool’ are just two examples of the near-religious experience offered by this music. Both songs seem imbued with the pure light of truth, even as they wonder at the nature of things.
In spite of many heavenly moments, No Other received scant promotion, peaked at #144 on the charts, and was out of print by 1976. Puzzled by the album’s abject failure, Clark never really regained his artistic footing, and spent his remaining years soured by the poor reception of his magnum opus. But No Other represents an interesting intersection of art and life – it’s an album about destiny, but it’s also an album of destiny. While it wasn’t enthusiastically embraced upon release, it has slowly gained a now unshakeable reputation as a lost masterpiece. Destiny’s darling.
Listen: Life’s Greatest Fool
Listen: No Other
Listen: Silver Raven