By Dave Thomas
Guy Clark was not my good-time-Saturday-night-beer-and-bad-decision favorite singer.
I had Willie and Waylon and Robert Earl Keen! Robert Earl Keen! Robert Earl Keen! for all that.
No, I kept Guy to myself. He was my traveling companion as I fled San Angelo or Beaumont in search of better fun and limped back home again. I had cassette tapes of “Old No. 1” and “Boats to Build” and, later, a CD of “Keepers” — the live album I must have listened to a hundred times.
As my ‘82 Chevy doodled from gas station to gas station, I had plenty of time to listen carefully. And Guy Clark gave a 20-something drifting kid a fuller education in what it meant to be a Texan, a poet and a Texas poet.
His lyrics shaped my perception of what was happening around me. On the way to a rendezvous in Austin: “I got an old pair of boots and they fit just right / I can work all day and I can dance all night.” On the way back from a disastrous date in College Station: “When I think of all the fools I’ve been, it’s a wonder I’ve sailed this many miles.”
And of course I recall just where I was, between Stonewall and Luckenbach, when I heard “Texas 1947” the first time on KFAN — listening so intently it’s fortunate I didn’t run off the road.
I knew Guy was in poor health. And it’s a poorer world without him in it. But I won’t shed a tear for his passing. A nursing home was no place for the Guy Clark I knew. I’d like to think he’s somewhere he can get a shot of tequila. Somewhere he can see Susanna again.
Here’s some excellent stories about Guy Clark:
From the Statesman’s Peter Blackstock: “The next day, he admitted that he had eaten two marijuana brownies before the show,” Terry Lickona said Tuesday. “Someone offered them to him, and he took them. I’m not sure he knew what he was getting into.”
From The New York Times: “His songwriting evinced not just a keen eye for narrative detail but also an unerring ear for spoken vernacular and a wry, existentialist bent akin to that of Kris Kristofferson or John Prine.”
From Peter Cooper and the Tennessean: “People come up and say, ‘What was it like back then?’” he told The Tennessean in 2013. “Well, how would I know? I was (messed) up. I don’t remember. Things changed, and you’ve got to be true to yourself. You’ve got to do the work. But when someone asks what that was like… it was like yesterday.”
And a fantastic profile from Texas Monthly: “In November Guy turned 72, but it must be noted that songwriter years, like dog years, aren’t the same as people years. Nashville writers of Guy’s era lived by a different set of rules than the rest of us.”