Today, I’m taking a break from theological matters, but believers know that all things lead back to Christ.
Byrds: Requiem For The Timeless: Volume 2
By Johnny Rogan
R/H Publishing, 2017, 1248 pages
When my oldest sister came back home from college for the “holidays” in 1969, she brought her small LP collection with her. I took a listen to one of the albums, the one with three hippies sitting on a dilapidated couch on the cover, and became an instant fan of “Crosby, Stills, and Nash.” Being the Asperger’s nerd that I am, I wasn’t content with just casually enjoying the group’s music, I had to immerse myself in it, which meant delving into two of the trio’s previous bands; Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds.
The Byrds came to be in 1964 when young folk musicians, Jim McGuinn (lead guitar and vocals), Gene Clark (vocals), David Crosby (rhythm guitar and vocals), Chris Hillman (bass), and Michael Clarke (drums) caught the excitement of Beatlemania and charted a new course somewhere between Bob Dylan and John Lennon. Folk rock was born. This was significant because, up to that time, rock and roll music was considered to be strictly for teeny-boppers and beneath the dignity of “intellectual” college students. By adding a rock beat to folk sensibilities, the Byrds bridged the gap between rock and folk (strongly influencing both Dylan and the Beatles) and ensured rock music would be the soundtrack of the growing youth counter culture movement.
The Byrds peaked in 1965-1966 with two number-one singles, “Mr. Tamborine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” but the group actually enjoyed a long (1965-1973) and prolific (twelve albums) run. Although they’d become largely passé in the minds of fickle audiences by 1967, the Byrds continued to blaze trails by introducing different musical genres into rock, including jazz, Indian raga, psychedelia, and country. That kind of pioneering legacy encouraged a solid following that continues today.
By 1968, Jim/Roger McGuinn was the only remaining original member. Hired hands came and went. The band continued to tour and record albums, but the output was incomparable to that of the original line-up.
Byrds aficionado, Johnny Rogan, detailed much of the Byrds’ history in the 1200-page tome, “Byrds: Requiem For The Timeless: Volume 1, which was published in 2012. A 1200-page book about a rock-and-roll band, you ask incredulously? Ah, it was a feast for fans, but quite a bit of emphasis was given to best-known members, Messrs. McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman as might be expected.
In this 1248-page follow-up, Rogan devotes individual chapters to the remaining charter members, Gene Clark (d. 1991) and Michael Clarke (d. 1993), as well as to hired-hands, Kevin Kelley (d. 2002), Gram Parsons (d. 1973), Clarence White (d. 1973), and Skip Battin (d. 2003). All six of these men are deceased; the deaths of the first four were directly attributable to drug and alcohol abuse while White was killed in an accident and Battin succumbed to Alzheimer’s, but those two were also more-than-casual users.
Because the abuse of drugs and alcohol was a common theme among all six men, their stories are similar in many respects. Their professional and personal lives suffered dearly. Relationships with their wives and children were sadly broken. These men were talented musicians and Clark, Parsons, and White especially still have enthusiastic followers, but much of their talent went unfulfilled.
Rogan regrets that he was not able to devote chapters to the two surviving hired-hands, John York and Gene Parsons, so this book unfortunately has a glaring deficiency. Maybe Rogan should have trimmed some of the excessively detailed descriptions of the drug habits of the six and squeezed in York and Parsons? Just sayin’.
Nobody but a true Byrds fan would enjoy this gigantic opus so you may want to think twice before you head over to Amazon.
Additional thoughts from a believer
The Byrds included many Gospel-themed songs in their recorded repertoire and that had an unsettling effect on me as an unbeliever. Band leader, Roger McGuinn, hit rock bottom with his drug use in 1977 and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. “Oh, no,” I thought. “McGuinn has become one of those born-agains.” I accepted Christ six years later.