Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Guy Clark Tuesday: 'I'd cried for every lesser thing — whiskey, pain and beauty...'

Far be it for me to ramble on about the genius poetry of Guy Clark, coz I already did that last year when the Texas country/folk legend had the sheer gall to die in the Great Artist Cull of 2016.

I don't know why the prick thought he had some sort of right to just fuck off, but the occasion brought forth some very wise words from the smarter of us still left alive. In particular, the observation: "It is like Clark's songs were carved from granite and he delivered them with the dirt still on."

I think I grasp what these lines are getting at, and only partly coz I wrote them. There is no better example of the point than "Randall Knife", released on Clark's 1983 Better Days album. Clark wrote it about his father's death.

Something else strikes me about this -- so much of popular music is aimed at the young. It is of, by and for young people, which is fine in and of itself. But as people age, rather than move on to new music, with new stories, emotions, experiences to express... people look back, preferring nostalgia over their own youth — and noting, invariably, how much better music was "in our day" compared to the muck that today's idiot kids think passes for music.

It is such a cliche and has only ever been true if we compare today's muck to the music of the mid-90s, when I was young.

But life does not stop at 25. It goes on, and all of life's experiences are there for all artistic forms to capture, including song. Life doesn't stop and nor should our music.

This song was written when Clark was 40 and it details an experience many go through at about that age — losing a parent. Clark captures the loss, grief and nostalgia with typical simplicity. The imagery is vivid, but not a word is wasted — a mark of the best country songs.

There is a remarkable stoicism in this song that is never cold or aloof. It is simply a backdrop that never falters. This approach enables the quite serious emotions of the song to come through without ever overwhelming the song, of making it soppy, or even damp, with sentimentality.

I am nearly 40, and both my parents are alive, fit and healthy. But nothing lasts forever. I expect I will grow to love this song even more when experience enable me to understand it better — hopefully not for a long time.

My father had a Randall knife
My mother gave it to him
When he went off to WWII
To save us all from ruin

If you've ever held a Randall knife
Then you know my father well
If a better blade was ever made
It was probably forged in hell

My father was a good man
A lawyer by his trade
And only once did I ever see
Him misuse the blade
It almost cut his thumb off
When he took it for a tool
The knife was made for darker things
And you could not bend the rules

He let me take it camping once
On a Boy Scout jamboree
And I broke a half an inch off
Trying to stick it in a tree
I hid it from him for a while
But the knife and he were one
He put it in his bottom drawer
Without a hard word won

There it slept and there it stayed
For twenty some odd years
Sort of like Excalibur
Except waiting for a tear

My father died when I was forty
And I couldn't find a way to cry
Not because I didn't love him
Not because he didn't try
I'd cried for every lesser thing
Whiskey, pain and beauty
But he deserved a better tear
And I was not quite ready

So we took his ashes out to sea
And poured `em off the stern
And threw the roses in the wake
Of everything we'd learned
When we got back to the house
They asked me what I wanted
Not the lawbooks not the watch
I need the things he's haunted

My hand burned for the Randall knife
There in the bottom drawer
And I found a tear for my father's life
And all that it stood for