Postscript: Guy Clark, 1941-2016
May 18, 2016 - fall Denim
A good place to start remembering a life of Guy Clark, a thespian and songwriter, who died on Tuesday, during a age of seventy-four, is “Heartworn Highways,” a documentary destined by James Szalapski that featured many of a musicians from what was famous as a outlaw-country transformation of a nineteen-seventies, including Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young, Rodney Crowell, and Steve Earle. In a film, that was shot in 1975 and 1976, Clark performs a few of his songs, including “That Old Time Feeling” and “L.A. Freeway,” both of that had, a few years earlier, been lonesome by his crony Jerry Jeff Walker. But what comes by many in a documentary is Clark’s presence; he is high and strikingly handsome, with fearsome brows, a good locks of brownish-red hair, and somewhat destitute front teeth. He wears a blue denim work shirt, that would turn his signature demeanour for about the next half century, and a silver-and-turquoise ring on his right hand. In a center of a film, there is an extended stage of Clark, a cigarette swinging out of his mouth, during work repair a guitar, filing tiny pieces of bone for a bulb and overpass while deliberating a details of timber glue. The camera zooms in on his hands—big and strong, nicked adult a little, and with fine, brief nails. They have a plain demeanour of what they were, a builder’s hands. People have pronounced identical things about Clark’s songs, that they were cut and crafted, done for a prolonged run.
The year 1975 also noted a recover of Clark’s initial album, “Old No. 1.” If that had been his usually recording, if he had knocked off shortly after, he still would have left behind adequate classics to keep a few successive generations of admirers and cover artists busy. His recording of “L.A. Freeway,” nude of a studio flourishes of Walker’s cover, is a essential chronicle of a good American song. “Like a Coat from a Cold” is a adore ballad full of beautiful view that stops brief of being sentimental, something Clark roughly always managed to lift off. “She Ain’t Going Nowhere,” with an radiant Emmylou Harris harmonizing on a chorus, and “Desperados Waiting for a Train” are twin romantic epics. “Texas 1947” and “Instant Coffee Blues” are parsimonious brief stories. “Let Him Roll” is a other-side-of-the-tracks Nashville cousin of a George Jones wake weeper “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The manuscript has togetherness though being an tangible cycle of songs, tied together by Clark’s apt guitar-picking, unfussy voice, and cooperative wisdom.
But Clark didn’t hit off, of course, and kept creation gems for a subsequent forty years: “Anyhow, we Love You,” “Old Friends,” “Magnolia Wind,” “Dublin Blues,” and “The Randall Knife,” a vivid spoken-word groan to his father. He wrote a few hits, mostly for other people, and won a handful of Grammy awards. He never got rich, though warranted a indebtedness of large songwriters, including Bob Dylan. It’s tough to pin down precisely what done his songs so distinctive. He wasn’t a producer talent like Townes Van Zandt, or a blazing, moral performer like Steve Earle. He never enjoyed far-reaching recognition like Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings. Mostly his songs were crafty and steady, raised a deep, indisputable, and eventually impressive certainty and clarity of self. He sounded a same age in 1975 that he did in 2014, save for some weathering of a voice. And a songs were many ideal during a turn of a line, embodying a succinct and crafty luminosity that exists in a best nation music. There’s a opener to “She Ain’t Going Nowhere”: “Standin’ on a left side of leavin’, she found a ride and stranded it in a breeze.” Or a final lines of “Let Him Roll”: “He always pronounced that sky was usually a Dallas whore.”
Clark was innate in West Texas, and his strain is strongly compared with his home state, though he done many of it in Nashville, where he changed with his wife, Susanna, a painter and songwriter in her possess right, in a early nineteen-seventies. By a time of a filming of “Heartworn Highways,” their residence had turn a salon for determined and determined musicians: both Guy and Susanna were deliberate mentors to other artists. Maybe it was a fact that they were a married couple, and could conduct to keep a residence while so many in their set were drifting, though they were pronounced to have taken on something of a parental role, even for their peers. There’s a photograph of a dual of them around that time, station side by side in front of a VW truck, she in a imitation dress, he in his denim, that creates for a kind of country-music “American Gothic.” (That design is a cover of a good two-disk reverence manuscript to Clark, “This One’s for Him,” from 2011.) Judged alongside their tighten crony Van Zandt, who was tormented by mental illness and addiction, a Clarks could be seen as solemn and fast counterweights. “There was a certain partial of my life that Townes admired, figure it was mostly Susanna,” Guy said, in “Be Here to Love Me,” a documentary about Van Zandt. “They had shit between them that was never between Townes and anybody, or Susanna and anybody, including me.” He adds, “I wish it wasn’t sexual,” before violation off in a cackle.
But Guy and Susanna’s fortitude was usually a matter of degree. As John Spong writes in an essential form of Clark, published in Texas Monthly, in 2014, those were furious years, for all of them, and in a years that followed Guy kept adult his share of drinking, drug use, gambling, and cheating, to a indicate that, in a late eighties, Susanna changed out for 4 years. They eventually reunited, though a final years of their matrimony were hard, as Susanna medicated her debilitating behind problems with pain pills that left her mostly in bed. She died of a heart attack, in 2012. Guy’s possess physique came detached in his final years. Spong tallies adult a carnage: 3 mislaid toes to diabetes, dual knee replacements, deluge medicine on both eyes, chemo to yield lymphoma. Still, notwithstanding a severe rags and, later, a ravages that befell them both, a matrimony of Guy and Susanna was one of a good romances of American music, and it’s prisoner for story in most of Clark’s music, including what was his final good song, “My Favorite Picture of You,” that he played for his mother during a finish of her life, and that was expelled on what would turn his final album, in 2013.
Clark leaves behind a healthy armful of staid ballads to weep him by, including “Let Him Roll” and “The Randall Knife.” But it’s his other side that competence yield larger comfort, his laid-back songs that distinguished elementary daily pleasures—coffee and cigarettes and Texas cooking and, someday after in a day, a good crafty drink. He sang about these things in “Stuff That Works,” created with Rodney Crowell, from 1995. It’s a jubilee of a approach that informed shirts, a reliable guitar, gentle boots, and an aged automobile that still runs all supplement adult to something more: “Stuff that works, things that binds adult / The kind of things we don’t hang on a wall. / Stuff that’s real, things we feel / The kind of things we strech for when we fall.”
You can see such things, and feel a heat of such a life, in a final stage of “Heartworn Highways,” as a organisation of musicians is fabricated during a Clarks’ residence on Christmas Eve, 1975. They’re sitting around a holiday list brimful with oil-burning lamps, mammillae of wine, cans of Pabst and Miller Lite, bottles of Wild Turkey, and packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes, holding guitars or else shutting their eyes to sing. Steve Earle, usually a kid, soars by a new one of his, while Clark joins him, stumbling a bit though enthusiastic, on a chorus. It looks gentle and gentle there in a lamplight, like a inside of a Guy Clark song.