Guy Clark · Honesty · Music · Songwriting

Found A Tear for My Father

I’ve been thinking about Guy Clark a good deal lately, and not in the same sense that I used to think about him. I remain mesmerized by his lyrics, his gravelly voice, and his honesty since the very first time I listened to “Keepers”. I am a songwriter’s friend, and I like words, and as it concerns words, I know of very few craftsmen better with words than Guy Clark. But no, my affection for the man’s writing ability has always been. I’ve been thinking about him lately because I had a feeling he’d be gone soon. I even thought: I’m gonna find out about Guy Clark’s death via Facebook…and I did.
I never met Guy Clark, I attended three or four of his shows, but I knew the man. At least I felt like I could know him. He seemed like the kind of guy you could open your first encounter up with a joke. Or a one-liner that he’d likely pick up and set straight. He seemed as unpretentious as any unpretentious person could hope one could be. He wrote songs that make grown men cry.
I was not immune the first time I saw him perform. I was in college, and I’d made a long trip from Ohio to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park with some great friends for Magnolia Festival. Guy was to participate in a songwriter’s workshop on a little “workshop stage” located on the grounds of this idyllic park cut out of the woods in North Florida. I was really looking forward to seeing Guy, and as luck would have it, he would be accompanied by Peter Rowan, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, and Verlon Thompson. So this promised to be…well…one of the very best things I could ever hope to see. Sure enough it was, and sure enough I cried.
“If you’ve ever held a Randall knife, you know my father well…”
My dad died when I was 16 years old. I was 21 when I first saw Guy. He was probably going to play several of my favorites that day: Dublin Blues, Let Him Roll, Out in the Parking Lot. But the one I wanted and feared is about his own father: The Randall Knife is as simple a tune on the guitar as there ever was. Guy didn’t even sing it, he narrated it, he talked it, he groaned it. I sat there in that sweaty gorgeous shed of a venue and nearly had to remove myself when I heard his opening plucks. My eyes filled with tears, they flowed freely, I’m a crier now, but I can usually keep the waterworks at bay, but not at that point. I had a great cry. I’d cried when my dad died, but nothing like this. I was undone. The thing is, The Randall Knife doesn’t have anything really to do with my dad. Maybe it had to do with me and my kind of unfinished relationship with him.
“I’d cried for every lesser thing…whiskey, pain, and beauty.”
That line there just couldn’t end fast enough because at this point I was a mess. The honest self-reflection was hard to bear, but man was it right. It’s a rare thing in our culture to see transparency and honesty that takes on risk, and yet, this is where Guy Clark’s songs reside.
So I’m sad the world lost a great creative force and am thankful for all the media through which he can go on being enjoyed.

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