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Chris Hillman: Time Between: My Life As A Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond

Doug Collette BY

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Time Between: My Life As A Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond
Chris Hillman
315 Pages
ISBN: # 978-1947026353
BMG Books
2020)

Chris Hillman has undoubtedly led one of the most extraordinary careers of any musician in contemporary rock. In fact, if the Grammys or The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame offered a 'Lifetime Achievement Award for Versatility,' it might well named after this native California musician.

Such recognition would be based on this multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter's stellar performances in various second-in-command roles, often under great duress, in a career he recounts in Time Between. There's a remarkable depth of detail that belies the economy of the writing in My Life As A Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond, so much so that, in just over sixty pages of the total two-hundred twenty-five, he's covered his childhood and adolescence growing up in the Golden State and has taken readers right up to the threshold of his groundbreaking work fusing the roots of country music with rock and roll as a member of The Byrds.

At least at the start, Hillman's narrative doesn't move at a particularly fast pace, but rather an unhurried one. It's a tempo in keeping with the modest and unassuming persona he's developed over the years, so he doesn't waste words as he recounts his self-admitted idyllic childhood right through to his fledgling existence as a bluegrass musician just prior to becoming a member of one of the most influential of all American rock bands. Perhaps the increasingly rapid clip of the writing here is due to the rush of events surrounding the quintet. Certainly it's a whirlwind from Chris Hillman's perspective as he regales readers with the group's formation, its first recording sessions, signing with Columbia Records, then touring behind their first hit with Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."

But it's in the middle to later stages of the band's evolution, including Gene Clark's abrupt departure in 1966, that the author's lack of reflection becomes something of a liability. To be sure, there's no need to belabor the use of session musicians for the first album instead of the group members. And the increasingly erratic behavior from David Crosby, including an unexpected sit-in with Buffalo Springfield at the Monterey Pop Festival, may hardly be a mystery with the hindsight of the latter individual's overall history. But Hillman would be offering invaluable insight, from a truly unique perspective, if he would pause more often and contemplate pivotal events such as the subsequent recruitment of Gram Parsons into the Byrds, in the wake of the firing of the future friend of Stills, Nash and Young,.

Not that Chris doesn't drop some hints about the eventual tumult involving the aforementioned and much-lauded songwriter/singer. But, in the aftermath of his firing, merely a couple short sentences regarding the the significance of this event and its implications for co-founding The Flying Burrito Brothers would create the palpable suspense necessary to elevate the sequence of events above just the facts of the matter. For readers not substantially conversant in Hillman's extended chronology, that's not much of a shortfall, but it might well become one for fans eager to gain some deeply discerning perceptions from Chris' point of view.

Take for instance, the inception of his songwriting: the description of how he composed, "Time Between," among other originals, is nonchalant to say the least, not to mention modest, perhaps to a fault. Still, that relatively superficial angle, one this veteran musician maintains in recounting the Byrds years, is in marked contrast to the vivid accounts of his youth: it may well have a legitimate source in that youthful shyness to which he admits more than once.

If it's true that he only scratches the surface of the machinations that were in play during his time in the seminal band, it's also a fact that the photos included in Time Between offer an illuminating contrast. Perusing the images over the years from the '60s up to sessions for his Tom Petty-produced solo album, Bidin' My Time (Rounder, 2017), there's a readily discernible edge that emerges in the man's otherwise eternally young visage as he ages; it is, quite probably, a visible corollary to the anger management issues he references in those enlightening chapters where he discusses his conflicting relationship with the aforementioned progenitor of 'cosmic American music' and a proportionately positive collaborative period with Stephen Stills.

And that's not to mention Chris Hillman's leap of faith into a solo career. That era isn't much less checkered than the period in which leadership of the Burritos or (again. to his dismay) assuming a second-in-command role in Stills' Manassas band. But it does set the stage for the author as bandleader to devise a sound directly-rooted in his country and bluegrass of his formative years. His account of this career phase is quire pleasurably breezy, especially as this roundly successful , commercially and otherwise, coincides with the marriage and fatherhood that clearly adds so much satisfaction to his life.

Yet his descriptions of those milestones never turn saccharine any more than those involving his conversion to Christianity. The religious theme pervades Time Between but never intrusively so, no small achievement to be sure, but crucial when Hillman's life in general takes a serious downturn in the context of business management and, to a much more extreme degree, in his grappling with Hepatitis C. Some overuse of the word 'perfect' aside, Chris' down-to-earth style of writing precludes melodrama in those instances, as well as when, in later years, he tallies the number of former collaborators who've passed away with a genuinely ingenuous air of disbelief.

That particular tone carries its greatest impact in the case of the late Tom Petty, with whom he worked in the year of the latter's passing. Hillman's grounded reaction to the rocker's tragic death suggests his own personal integrity is the source of his faith rather than the other way around, an impression reaffirmed during the course of the anniversary tour featuring the seminal country-rock work Sweetheart of the Rodeo (Columbia, 1968); appearances with former Byrd band mate Roger McGuinn (who also collaborated with TP), were highlighted by homage to the late leader of the Heartbreakers. At that point, Chris' display of acceptance as further evidence of personal growth couldn't be more clear.

Which only renders most fitting a somewhat less than dramatic conclusion to this book. As with virtually every other phase of Hillman's life, his memoirs are yet another means to the overall end of moving on with life, confident in his ability to make the most of whatever form it takes. In that respect, while the man who wrote it might seem humble and circumspect to a fault, My Life As A Byrd, A Burrito And Beyond constitutes a most accurate reflection of its author's personality.

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