Oh Guy Clark.
A few years ago I went to a show at the Country Music Hall of Fame. They have an “artist in residence” series in the Ford Theater there. The place seats like 200 people and these amazing people play there once a week for a month….it’s one of the ways that Nashville IS Music City. One of the first people to be the “artist in residence” was Guy Clark.
I hate to admit it, but for most of my life I’ve taken Guy Clark for granted. His music has been a constant for me, and I didn’t even know it. So many hours on road trips listening to Jerry Jeff Walker cassettes with my dad and I didn’t even know how those words were permeating my being, let alone who wrote so many of them. I knew I liked any song that talked about vanilla wafers, but didn’t know of my fondness for the man who wrote them.
Upon getting immersed into the world of “Alt-country” or “Americana” or whatever you want to call it, Guy Clark is like one of the apostles. While standing in the Georgia Theater in Athens GA selling CDs for a band I loved, “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” came on and I just started singing it. I don’t recall hearing the song before, but I knew it and it knew me. The headliner of the show that night was from Texas and he happened to walk by while I was singing. He nodded at me and said “Ain’t nothing better then Guy Clark!” I nodded in agreement and made a mental note to find some more Guy Clark music ASAP.
A couple years after that fateful night I was in the Ford Theater. I have only fleeting memories of that evening because it was all simply TOO GOOD to take in. I know that Rodney Crowell performed (always a good thing) and that Guy called Vince Gill out of the crowd to join him onstage (also a good thing!). But the clearest memory I have is the feeling in my stomach when I heard him sing the opening lines to “Dublin Blues.”
I wish I was in Austin
In the Chili Parlour Bar
Drinkin’ Mad Dog Margaritas
And not carin’ where you are
My stomach dropped, in that horrible yet wonderful way it does when you are on a roller coaster. Those 21 words encapsulated my general feelings that day more then any I could have come up with myself. I looked at this man who is 15 days older then my father and fell madly in love. I’d heard the song countless times, but that night, sitting in that room, it was all different.
I have since seen Guy play a few different times and a few different places. I love to hear his stories about his home here in Nashville during the ’70s, which sounds like my dream scenario of a “Home for Wayward Musicians.” I love hearing the way he talks about his wife Susanna. I long to own one of his handmade guitars because I am sure that it is built in such a way that even I could make beautiful music with it.
The life that Guy Clark writes about isn’t always easy and isn’t always fun, but it’s always good and it’s always the way it should be, whether we like it or not. His song “The Cape” in my opinion, distills his general theories on life in the following words:
He’s one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold you breath
Always trust your cape