by Stan Merritt
I miss Guy Clark. I never met him, but I feel like I knew him. I just don’t have the words, much as I didn’t have them when he died not too long ago. So I’m revisiting my past words from an article I wrote. Tears in my eyes yet again…
Guy Clark was born sixty-something years ago in Monihans, TX. He has been making music for going on 50 years, and though his influence and talent are often overlooked, Guy doesn’t seem to mind. He just continues to write songs, play for his fans, hang with his artist wife Susanna (to whom he has been married throughout his whole musical journey), and make guitars in Nashville. Guy is one of the semi-legendary Texas folk troubadours who began to emerge in the late ’60s in Austin and Houston. Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell were and always will be his buddies and his musical contemporaries.
While many would argue that the late Van Zandt is the iconic spiritual figurehead of this musical movement (Townes, Guy’s best friend, and another of my favorites, is a tragic, moving, yet somehow inspirational story for another discussion), or that Jerry Jeff is the most well-known of the group, if pressed, I would have to call Guy my favorite of the boys (I love ’em all. . .I said ‘if pressed!’). Guy’s music embodies one of my favorite concepts in any area of life: elegant simplicity.
Guy writes what he knows. He writes songs about girls, songs about old men, songs about love, songs about his daddy, songs about his wife, songs about food, songs about washed up tragic figures, songs about kids who never grow up, songs about Texas, songs about partying, and songs about life in general in all of its wonderful complexity. He records them with his stalwart musical collaborators (Verlon Thompson, Darrel Scott, et al.) in a stripped down acoustic format that just screams PURE.
He makes a record whenever he gets good and ready (usually every 3 to 5 years), preferring instead to play his songs live. He is adored by his peers, and is one of the most laid back and sincere musical personalities ever. To use a couple of cliches, Guy is “The Genuine Article,” and with him, “what you see is what you get,” right down to his un-tucked shirt and scuffed boots. His songs, individually and as a collective body of work, leave me in awe.
“Desperadoes Waiting For A Train,” a hit for his buddy Jerry Jeff Walker, tells the touching story of a boy growing up and his grandfather-figure/hero growing old. It’ll grab you by the heart and squeeze. “Texas Cookin’ “ and “Homegrown Tomatoes” are joyful and rollicking songs that pay homage to one of Guy’s favorite pastimes, eating. “Let Him Roll,” a minor hit for Johnny Cash (God, I love Johnny, but his version is NOT how this song should be performed), is the song that I played once when asked to play the saddest song I know. The lyrics are absolute Guy.
I heard Guy call “The Dark,” the title track from one of his more recent releases, “the coolest song I’ve ever written,” and this atmospheric discourse on nighttime is pure brilliance and one of my favorites ever. Then there’s “Stuff That Works,” referenced in the title of this post, which could be an anthem for the concept of “good stuff.” There are so many others that I have to make myself stop.
Before signing off, though, I leave you with a URL address for a You Tube clip (sorry, I could not embed it here, so just cut and paste it on your browser). This is Guy with some fine players, featuring dobro god Jerry Douglas and Gaelic music legend Karen Matheson, doing “Dublin Blues” (from the album of the same name). Folks, I love so many different kinds of music so much that I would have a hard time choosing my “favorite song” under threat of a bazooka shot to the head. I must admit, though, that this song would be a front-running candidate and maybe even an odds-on leader for the choice.
Enjoy this clip of a national treasure and one of my heroes.