SLOAN COLUMN: Looking forward to a night with ‘Guy’
“I wish I was in Austin/in the Chili Parlor Bar/drinking mad dog margaritas/and not carin’ where you are.” - Dublin Blues, by Guy Clark
It may not be the Chili Parlor Bar, but I’ll settle for the balcony of the Francis Marion Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.
When the lights go out, the curtains goes up and Steve Earle and the Dukes take the stage, myself and many others will be filled with visions of exchanging a congested big city freeway for “some dirt road back streets,” the endless possibilities of eating homegrown tomatoes, and tagging along with an old desperado to the Green Frog Café, all courtesy of legendary songwriter Guy Clark.
Earle and his band will spend the better part of the evening playing songs from his recently released album, “Guy.” The record is a tribute to Earle’s friend mentor and hero. He joins others, including myself, in calling the late Texas troubadour the “quintessential songwriter – the songwriter of songwriters.”
I could listen to Guy Clark all day long – literally. Clark, who died in 2016, recorded 20 albums over the course of a career that spanned three decades. From his first studio album, “Old No. 1’s,” released in 1974, to his final record, “My Favorite Picture of You,” in 2013, he turned songwriting into a master craft.
When it comes to writing songs, Clark was a consummate artist. He painted portraits and panoramic scenes with his pen and then put them to music. Kris Kristofferson called Clark “one of the most extraordinary men and songwriters this world has ever seen.”
His songs are masterpieces of storytelling.
“I have seen the David/I’ve seen the Mona Lisa too/ and I have heard Doc Watson play Columbia Stockade Blues.”
My appreciation for Clark and his music has only come recently. I came across a video of another favorite Texas singer, Jamie Lin Wilson, singing Clark’s “Anyhow, I Love You,” and was mesmerized.
“I wish I had a dime, for every bad time/ but the bad times always seem to keep the change.”
I looked in him up, listened to a song or two, and in short time I was hooked. The only song of Clark’s I was familiar with at the time was “L.A. Freeway,” recorded and made popular by Jerry Jeff Walker.
“Pack up all your dishes/make note of all good wishes/say goodbye to the landlord for me/ that son of a gun has always bored me.”
Many of Clark’s songs are about ordinary living and appreciating the simple things in life. In “Stuff that Works,” he sings of a comfortable work shirt, an old pair of boots that fit just right, an old used car that runs just like a top, and a reliable friend.
“Stuff that works, stuff that holds up/The kind of stuff you don’ hang on the wall/Stuff that’ real, stuff you feel/The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.”
Clark’s wife of 40 years inspired him to write numerous touching love songs.
"I’d rather sleep in a box, like a bum on the street,
Than a fine feather bed, without your little ol’ cold feet.
I’d rather be deaf, dumb, and stone blind,
Than to know that your mornings will never be mine.
I’d rather die young than to live without you.
I’d rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew.
It’s once in a lifetime and it won’t come again,
It’s here and it’s gone on a magnolia wind."
He wrote of social issues. On his 2002 album, “The Dark,” he called attention to the plight of the homeless in the song “Homeless.”
"Homeless, get away from here, Don’t give them no money they’ll just spend it on beer.
Homeless, will work for food, You’ll do anything that you gotta do, when you’re homeless."
I have no one favorite Guy Clark song because there are simply too many. There are a few which stand out, such as “That Old Time Feelin’,” “Instant Coffee Blues,” “Maybe I Can Paint Over That,” and “The Cape.”
“He’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith/ Spread your arms and hold your breath/And always trust your cape.”
Like so many others, Earle said he would not be where is at today without Clark’s help and friendship. Prior to recording “”Guy,” Earle paid homage to his mentor in the song “Goodbye Michelangelo.”
“So long my captain, adios/Sail upon the sea of ghosts/Chase the white whale to the end/ Bring the story back again.
I’m bound to follow you some day/You have always shown the way/So we knew where we had to go/Goodbye Michelangelo.”
While it won’t be quite the same as listening to the man himself, Earle and The Dukes will sing of hanging out in west Texas parking lots, ghostly guitars, and Randall knives, and we’ll be reminded that the music of Guy Clark is much like an old friend.
“Old friends, they shine like diamonds / Old friends, you can always call /Old friends, Lord you can’t buy ‘em/You know it’s Old friends after all.”