Greta's Records by Allison Anders

I won Greta Garbo's rock and pop records in an auction. I play them and talk about them.

Greta Garbo’s personal copy of Gene Clark’s tragic masterpiece “No Other” by Allison Anders

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I decided to start this journey through Greta’s records with a record I know well.  It was also the biggest surprise to me in the collection, cause I didn’t know it was in the lot when I placed my bid, and it was the first record my daughter Tiffany Anders pulled from the cardboard box at the auction house to our mutual gasps.  

For some of you who may not know Gene Clark’s work a quickie here:  he came to fame as the lead singer, lead songwriter of folk rock 60s band The Byrds. He quit the band many times and rejoined many times.  His work in The Byrds is wonderful, but when he was not in The Byrds, he was making brilliant solo work.  This was his most controversial record, because of the era in which it came out, the price tag it took to make it, and the disastrous lack of sales.  But Gene considered it his masterpiece and many people agree.  Maybe Greta did too.

Let us try to wrap our heads around the fact that Greta Garbo had twist records, and Beatles records (did she play them backwards during the Paul Is Dead hoax?), Francoise Hardy records.  But it’s going to take a little more to wrap our heads around how and why Gene Clark’s ill-fated personal masterpiece wound up in the screen legend’s home, and was kept all these years since its release in 1974 amongst her personal things.

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Well one clue as to why Greta owned this record might be just above in the bottom left hand corner: Greta’s face on the head of the Sphinx.  Could this be what compelled her to buy it?

Probably not.  Greta’s grand nephew Scott Reisfield who oversaw the publication of the Rizzoli collection “Garbo’s Garbos”, a book of 90 photographs of Herself from her personal collection, said of his iconic aunt that she didn’t have a single photograph of herself on display, ever, in her home.  But during her career Garbo had insisted upon having a copy of every single photograph ever taken of Herself, and when it came time to showcase them in 2005 at the Santa Barbara Museum Of Art to launch the book, this collection of photos by Hurrell, Steichen, Genthe and more photog greats, were in perfect condition…cause they had never been touched…they had been kept in file cabinets and never looked at again.

So seeing herself on an album cover and buying it because of that…doubtful.  Although if her wit and irony is to be believed — and I do choose to believe she could be very wry, maybe she could have bought it as a little personal in-joke with herself and the world. The record store cashier would have no idea this eccentric lovely older woman in the cone hat, sunglasses and those big feet in the Bertlyn flats was the head of the Sphinx on the cover.  A Queen of modern pop culture incognito.

Maybe a friend, and she certainly did have close friends who guarded Garbo’s privacy, amused by seeing her on the album cover brought it to her as a gift.  

Maybe she simply liked Gene Clark…that would make me even happier.

A friend of mine Hunter Lea was the first to alert me to Greta’s image in the album cover artwork, something I knew but had forgotten.  The cover is something notorious about the record…there is a retro love affair with early Hollywood sirens, which doesn’t really relate to the on-the-verge-of-disco era of “No Other”s release, nor to the content of Gene’s collection of beautiful songs.  Some could think and surely did at the time that this artwork was reason enough that no one bought the record.  

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While on the phone Hunter had me searching the album cover — maybe Gene sent it to her himself and autographed it!  BUT —— sadly —- No.  Maybe the record label, Asylum, sent it to her.  Maybe. But unlikely.

Why?  Well because “No Other” was extremely expensive to make - a whooping $100,000 which for a Gene Clark solo record was massive. And if Greta bought this record in 1974, she would have been one of very few, as umm…there were…No Others. (Cue bad joke drum gag.)  Or certainly not enough to ever make it up to David Geffen for his embarrassing loss.  I would guess that sending out a courtesy copy of the record to the screen siren might have slipped everyone’s mind, as Asylum Records choked on the big bite this project took from their budget.  And as every time there is such a monetary disaster, distance is self preservation and best to run fast and leave no dust in your tracks.  (Although regardless of the financial hit, I would have thought  David Geffen would have loved the chance to hand-deliver the record or even a cup of skillet-hot, red-eyed gravy if he thought he might get to meet Garbo!   A definite missed opportunity on his part.)

There are far better pieces than I could ever pen on this record, even the Wiki on “No Other” is superb.  And of course John Einarson’s wonderful book on Gene “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a must read.   So I won’t even try.  But please do research this record yourself (there are some links below).  The production boasts some of the best players of the day.

I started as you must, with Side 1.  The first song “Life’s Greatest Fool” shows the vinyl had that awful 70s light weight rubbery warble.  I remember even noticing it at the time, how easily these records warped, and how the needle slid across them unable to find the groove, as opposed to my heavy duty Capitol Beatles records from the 60s.  So there’s definitely a warble.  But Gene’s perfectly beautiful voice and Jesse Ed Davis’s smooth as water guitar and the incredible uplifting choir of backing vocals of Clydie King and Claudia Lennear quickly make you forget the unwelcome vinyl bend.

The collaboration between Gene Clark and Jesse Ed Davis was magical.  Jesse produced Gene’s 1971 LP “White Light” and played on most of the tracks.  This beautiful Kiowa/Commache guitarist is one of my heroes.  But as magic as the collaboration was between them, Jesse and Gene got into a whole world of wrong together too.  Straight into the gutter while still being ‘stars’.  There is an incredible recounting by my friend Jonelle Romero in John Einarson’s book about her happening upon Gene and Jesse panhandling on Sunset Blvd. to get money to cop drugs — it was seeing her two brilliant friends, her heroes, this desperate that she got sober herself.  We can be only too grateful for these moments when Jesse and Gene were magical, and not destructive…like on this track.

Listening to the second track “Silver Raven” is instantly personal.  There was a Gene Clark tribute show about 7 years ago at Safari Sam’s on Sunset in Hollywood, and my daughter Tiffany performed this song beautifully.  I was so touched to see longtime Gene Clark collaborator Carla Olson (with her husband/Gene’s manager Saul Davis) in the audience wowed by Tiffany’s version of the song.  She also told Tiffany so, saying how — singer-to-singer — that is not an easy song to sing!  It remains one of my very favorite Gene Clark songs.  And of course I have to wonder…was it one of Greta’s favorites too?

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The third track on Side 1 still throws me for a loop.  It’s the title track “No Other”. The intro sounds like you’re going to get a song by WAR.  It’s not a folk song, not one bit. And it’s not rock either, despite the rocking guitar solo by Jerry McGee.  It’s R&B, it’s roots, it’s dance.  And maybe this is because of Joe Lala’s percussion driving the song. And the echo on Gene’s vocal is so odd for the rest of the record. But — cool. I dig it.  Maybe Greta did too.  

The last song on Side 1 is to me the masterpiece of “No Other”.  The lyrics, the vocals, the emotional weight of the “Strength Of Strings” is breathtaking, truly.  I like to think of this filling Greta up with a big blast of heavy rich air, while she did yoga in her flat, and let that same air release from Herself, carried by the strength of these strings indeed.

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Side 2 opens with a song that sounds like an apology. “From A Silver Phial”…I think I’ve just come to realize this is a really sad song.  And then Jesse Ed Davis carries you out to the far edge of the tune with the most gorgeous guitar playing.  I can live with this…I can really live with this.  

The next track “Some Misunderstanding”, not my favorite Gene Clark song, but yet it feels so personal and I love it for that, that you see the conflict of following your convictions and your demons in pursuit of purity, even when it may hurt someone you love.  I never met Gene Clark, but my cousin musician Mark Fosson did, went to Gene’s house on an outreach call with some other musicians in the 80s. Gene’s head was all bandaged up from a terrible bender, yet he was friendly and warm and welcoming, but he just didn’t want their help, graciously declined.  I can’t even imagine how my cousin Mark, a brilliant guitar player from Kentucky, must have felt standing there looking so helplessly at Gene, at that Byrd whose records he bought as a boy, whose haircut he copied.  

Yikes — the third track is skipping rope, “The True One” has a big gash on the track. Bet that really irked Greta — thinking to herself in her smokey inner voice - “I vish I had taken better care to not scratch it…oh vell, I buy another…tomorrow…”   And then, she would have gone back to the record store, and they would have told the beautiful eccentric woman in the pink ballet flats and black Valentina straw hat, “I’m sorry, we don’t have that record anymore.”  All shipped back to Asylum.  Sigh….she would leave empty-handed and vow to place every record back in their sleeves from now on.

Last song on the LP has come.  ”Lady Of The North” is another apology, a love song written with Doug Dillard for Gene’s wife Carlie, presumably after she left him in LA, fed up and took their boys back to Mendocino after Gene fell back into old deadly behaviors.  This song could definitely create a reconciliation.  Greta knew about reconciliations.  She would understand, but she would also warn Carlie to be cautious…a man and his demons are in a battle alone.

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I imagine Greta, having listened to both sides Of “No Other”, brewing a cup of tea and heading for bed.  This is more than enough to process for one day.  Even for a Goddess.

~~~ Allison Anders

Please check these links for more on “No Other” and other people and stuff mentioned herein.  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Other

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Ed_Davis

http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Tambourine-Man-Legacy-Byrds/dp/0879307935

http://www.gretagarbo.com/Offical_Website_of_Greta_Garbo/GARBOS_GARBOS.html

http://www.nodepression.com/profiles/blogs/interview-mark-fosson-on-digging-in-the-dust

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9RyvUGJ5Wc

  • 21 January 2013
  • 48