Born in Monahans, Texas, on November 6th, 1941, the son of a lawyer and strong woman who would “cut your throat and drink your blood” if messed with, Guy Charles Clark grew up reading from and listening to the stories and poetry passed around in the books chosen for the evening rounds of literary entertainment. Bringing his talents to Nashville with his wife Susanna and Townes Van Zandt, he mentored a generation of smitten soul-hungry writers including Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Rosanne Cash, Joe Ely, and Lyle Lovett.
Having won a battle with cancer, Guy had been succumbing to failing health for several years. The writer of “Desperadoes Waiting on a Train,” “L.A. Freeway,” and “The Randall Knife,” Guy produced 13 studio albums, two of which were nominated for Grammys. A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Guy passed away Tuesday morning, May 17th, in Nashville at the age of 74.
I had met Guy Clark at a party. We were a couple of the early arrivals already out on the porch smoking. He introduced himself and then told me he had a joint that he needed to smoke … let me know that I was invited along. Any concerns I had about whether or not I would be subjected to a drug test faded fast. Cost of failing a drug test? A job. Getting high with Guy at his behest? Priceless. I was able to drink enough tequila for him to laugh at me and say “I love the new guys.”
He tolerated me for several visits. “I’m building guitars,” he would say, “I don’t care what you do.” I knew I was a babe in the presence of a giant. But I thought I might learn something–maybe soak up some of that wisdom and mastery just by being near him.
One night, after almost two big bottles of wine, he was bent over singing a song–a man in a trance. The room was dimly lit. There were several cigarette butts and roaches in his skull ashtray. He was leaning over his guitar with his eyes closed, his wiry eyebrows evidence of a hard and serious man. There was an energy in the room, his muse I guess. I knew to be silent–that to do or say anything to break the spell would be sacrilege. Suddenly Susanna called, “Guy?” “Guyyyy?” Whatever spirit was in the room quickly flew back into the wood of his workbench, the ashes, the near-empty wine glasses, and the wood shavings on the floor.
I don’t remember what Susanna needed. Guy answered her question and went back to his song. I believe if it had been me, if someone had interrupted me when I was that engaged in a song, I would have been polite but anxious to get back to my song. He was totally attentive and kind–a salty old sailor turned into a kitten in response to the woman he loved. I know I didn’t know him very well. I know a lot of people knew him better than I did. But I saw something that night that I believe deserves repeating. I thought I saw the face of Christ there where a dark and brooding poet lived.
Yes, he reminded me of what an amateur I was in comparison. For a moment I saw him as the timeless face of devotion and love. He’d probably scoff at me for saying that. Salty old fuck. He almost fooled me.