The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark (DVD Review)

THE BYRD WHO FLEW ALONE is a full-length documentary exploring the life and music of former Byrd, Gene Clark. It is subtitled ‘The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark’ and is an exploration of the successes, misfortunes and adversities suffered by of one of the most influential singer/songwriters of his generation. Clark was considered one of the brightest stars amongst his peers in the country rock genre but died at the premature age of 46 after years of drug and alcohol abuse. 

The documentary, produced/directed by Paul Kendall and his filmmaker sons Dan and Jack, was some two and a half years in the making. Kendall Snr felt that Clark’s legacy had not been given the attention it rightly deserved and this film is an attempt to redress that. Previous approaches (by other filmmakers) to Clark’s family to make a documentary had come to nothing but Kendall managed to secure the agreement of Clark’s estate for the go-ahead and pretty early on got one of the original Byrds, Chris Hillman, on board. With Hillman’s participation it was not difficult to persuade others to contribute.

From Clark’s poor beginnings alongside a dozen siblings, to his early success when in his teens as a member of the New Christy Minstrels to major triumphs with the Byrds and subsequent failure to succeed as a commercial solo artist, the documentary is an honest and sometimes agonising tale of what happens when someone is lauded for their talents at an early age but cannot cope with the demands of the resultant fame. It is also a tale of jealousy and rivalry; as the principal writer of many of the Byrd’s original hits, Clark’s earnings far outweighed those of the other band members and this led to much resentment and squabbling in the group. Clark left the Byrds in 1966 to forge a solo career. He never repeated the level of success seen with the Byrds.

The documentary features contributions from all three of the surviving former Byrds - David Crosby, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman as well as family and friends. It is a portrayal of a flawed genius. Filmed by balancing interviews with photographs and video clips (some of which haven’t been seen before) it is on the one hand a skilful tribute to Clark’s achievements and on the other an unflinching tale of lost chances.   

Although solo commercial success eluded him, Clark made some well received albums in the late 1960’s one with the Godsin Brothers and two with Doug Dillard (who is interviewed in the documentary) and his 1974 album ‘No Other’ has come to be regarded as a masterpiece. Further success followed when Tom Petty recorded a cover of Clark’s I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better in 1989 and the 2009 Grammy Award winning album RAISING SAND by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss featured two of Clark’s songs.  

It is a tragic and heart-breaking story; there is an underlying sense of sadness throughout the film. You do not need to know a great deal about Clark to enjoy the documentary and to appreciate the cautionary tale it tells. The DVD contains extended interviews, performance footage and directors’ commentary. It is available in region free format from Jela Webb

This review appears in the March/April 2014 issue of 'Maverick' magazine. 
















Views: 3017

Tags: ', Alison Krauss, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Doug Dillard, Gene Clark, Godsin Brothers, Robert Plant, Roger McGuinn, The Byrds, More…The New Christy Minstrels, Tom Petty

Comment by Easy Ed on February 17, 2014 at 3:40pm

You got me with the trailer. I'm in. And the opening words of "our Beatles" took me right back to the mid-sixties, because that's exactly how many of us viewed the Byrds. They sounded great, looked great and were great. They were the American Beatles. And although talented individually, we didn't know or care at the time that the recorded band was just McGuinn and some great studio musicians. Over time each member came busting out, and Clark was the one least acknowledged. So yeah...hold the butter.

Comment by DrMikey on February 18, 2014 at 10:51am

Gotta get this.  I fell in love with Clark's songs right from the "Mr. Tambourine Man" album.  "I Knew I'd Want You" is one of the greatest songs of all time.  The chord progressions are Beatlesque , the lyrics full of passion, and the harmonies are heavenly.  And he had so many songs like this.  I agree with the statement in the trailer:  Gene really offered as much as Gram Parsons, who seems much better known and respected.  In fact in my view, Gene offered more. 

Comment by L A Johnson on February 18, 2014 at 11:52am
Highly recommended, a great documentary. A great talent obscured by Crosby & MCGuinn but the real songwriter of The Byrds.
Comment by Tokyo Rosenthal on February 18, 2014 at 12:50pm

I have this documentary. It's great. Far better then I expected. Some amazing confessions from Crosby too! I knew Gene a little and we had a few mutual friends. Everyone is in agreement that it's very well done.  All the right people cooperated and were incredibly candid. Buy it now, IMHO.



Comment by Jim Nelson on February 19, 2014 at 9:39am

Nice review. Thanks. This looks like  a must-see documentary. Gene was certainly a great, under appreciated singer-songwriter/musician. I have one minor quibble with the above. I'd say that of all of Gene's early solo work, his 1971 self-titled album on A&M , popularly known as "White Light", is his true all around masterpiece. It's available in its entirety on YouTube. Check it out.

Comment by Jela Webb on March 3, 2014 at 11:15am

Thanks for all the comments. Always appreciate people taking the trouble to respond to my reviews. 

Just learned today that here in the UK BBC4 is showing Prime time Gene - a 90 minute edit of 'The Byrd Who Flew Alone' on Friday 14th March at 9pm. 

Great news! 


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.