Guy Clark was the model for the Texas Songwriter.
He pretty much invented the thing, and then he spent his life, not only doing the job, but mentoring others to come along for the ride and, eventually, follow in his footsteps.
There are not many songwriters who can take something as simple as homegrown tomatoes or a kid with a flour sack cape tied around his neck, and write a song that is more than just a throw away notion. Guy could.
He was a poet and a storyteller, who understood the workings and power of melody and rhythm, and ultimately how to take it all and make something good, and beautiful and lasting.
He wrote songs that were short stories, songs like “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” and “The Last Gunfighter Ballad”. He wrote love songs and songs about love, that were in turns desperately sad, and ultimately beautiful, and never, ever maudlin. He wrote honestly and with admiration about strong women. “Baby Took A Limo To Memphis” and “Better Days” being two obvious examples, and of course, he wrote about the outsiders, in songs like the beautiful and achingly sad “Homeless”.
What Guy understood, is that great songwriting is a combination of two things magic and craft, inspiration and perspiration … the ‘gift’ and the ‘work’. Two of his album titles say this perfectly. One was called “Sometimes The Song Writes You”, and the other was titled “Workbench Songs”.
There are a great many tribute records out there, to a great many terrific songwriters. The range and extent of Guy Clark’s music was such that, when it came time to do a tribute record, it was a double CD project, which barely scratched the surface, and it was inhabited by fellow songwriters such as Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin and Rosanne Cash, to name just a few. The record is called “This One’s For Him”, and they’re all there … the songwriters who studied at the Guy Clark School, first in the kitchen of the home he kept with his long time partner Susanna, and then on the records and at the concerts, and on the radio too.
Everyone who knows Guy’s work has a favourite among the many … mine was “The Cape”, for its simplicity and ultimate hopefulness. Here’s a great video of the man himself doing that tune.
Here’s to you, Guy Clark. We’ll not soon see your like again.