Listen to Lyin' Down the Middle by Dillard & Clark.
Poor Gene. It's actually a bit hard for me to start writing a post about Gene Clark without thinking of him in that way. He deserved so much, but always seemed to end up on the short end of the stick. But is that a fair assessment? I mean, he was certainly the most talented and handsome member of a group with a surfeit of of good looks and creative spark (well, with the exception of maybe McGuinn). And, OK, so the other Byrds were mean to Gene, he didn't like flying, he felt out of place in Southern California and he never got anywhere near the recognition he deserved--is that enough to justify the self-destructiveness of his behavior or the self-pity in his lyrics?
Maybe. I mean, just the fact that songs like today's (and the album it comes from, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark) were semi-forgotten until recently makes a pretty good case for the trajectory of Gene's life. Apart from his "bad luck," Gene seemed to have a kind of discomfort within his own skin that really comes across in his lyrics--He always seems to be running away from something or being treated surprisingly badly by a woman. Here's where he earns his status of a "King of the Road". Whether writing about trains leaving in the morning, catching an early plane, riding the Kansas City Southern, looking for "1320 N. Columbus", or being 15 miles from Memphis, Gene always seemed to be searching for something on the road that he never ends up finding.
Anyway, all of that is to say what a wonderful song we have for you today. "Lyin' Down the Middle" is a Dillard & Clark B-side (!) from 1968 and it is amazing. It is a wonderful combination of country, pop and bluegrass that would've served as the perfect template for ensuing country rockers, had they Clark's talent. I'm not sure whether the song title "Lyin' Down the Middle" is a typo, as the opening verse "I think that line down the middle of the road is driving me insane" would make a lot more sense (as well as link it to Haggard's "White Line Fever"). In the song's lyrics, Gene characteristically blames himself for his problems with a woman, drives 3000 miles to see her (only to be rebuffed, I'm sure) and admits to his largely rock audience that he does all this with "country rhythms" rolling across his mind. Most importantly, for our series, is his exclamation in the chorus of "San Bernardino, 14 miles, see that sign!" I don't know if he's leaving L.A. or returning, but it perfectly captures the pleasures of making good time out on an American highway.
Photo: Love is a Truck, Santa Monica.