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A music blog by Mark Nishimura

Singer-songwriter Bad Heart performs ballads of aloneness and loneliness, keeping the ghosts of the no-no boys and Sleepy John Estes in his throat and more than a few card tricks up his sleeve. Originally from San Francisco, he currently is absorbing the city lights of Hollywood.

Saint Guy Clark

“There ain’t no money in poetry/That’s what makes the poet free…”

– Guy Clark, “Cold Dog Soup”

When I moved to Hollywood, one of the first songs I performed in front of a Los Angeles audience was a Guy Clark song. It was during an open mike night at Café Muse on Santa Monica Boulevard. I walked onstage and played “L.A. Freeway,” a song Clark wrote while he was on his way out of Los Angeles. The crowd – mostly young Dave Matthews impersonators – barely stirred but then sat up straight when I reached the chorus: “If I can just get off of this L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught/I’d be down the road in a cloud of smoke to some land I ain’t bought.”

Clark began his music career as a luthier. There’s a scene in James Szalapski’s documentary “Heartworn Highways,” in which Clark is building one of his guitars; that scene practically resembles a demonstration video. Raised in Houston, he moved first to San Francisco, then to Los Angeles, and finally settled in Nashville, where he perfected his other craft – songwriting.

If you want to know how to write a song, just listen to a Guy Clark song. Each one has the drama and the intensity of a Raymond Carver story – lonely drifters, haunted by regret, find solace in the simple things in life: a guitar, a Randall knife, Texas cooking, homegrown tomatoes, trains, boats, instant coffee, a parking lot, Picasso’s mandolin, Hemingway’s whiskey. Yes, especially alcohol. That seems to flow right through all of his songs.

His songs “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “The Last Gunfighter Ballad” became hits for Jerry Jeff Walker and Johnny Cash, respectively. Both tunes are outlaw music classics, centering on old-timers desperately holding onto a long forgotten past, while Death (“that son of a bitch”) comes closing in.

Clark not only writes songs for other singers, but is kind enough to help out his fellow artists. In the 1960s and 1970s, his Nashville home became a halfway house for emerging songwriters, like Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell. Townes Van Zandt wrote “If I Needed You” based on a dream he had while sleeping on Clark’s floor.

I first saw Clark at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Some fan ran up to him to pose for a picture. After the camera shutter clicked, Clark extended his hand to greet the young man, and do you know what that fan did? The asshole turned his back to him, ignoring the handshake, and instead jumped up and down like a small child, excited to have gotten his prize. A completely douchebag move, as far as I’m concerned. No respect for geniuses, really!

But as much as Clark is a talented craftsman and a gracious patron, he’s also first and foremost a gentleman. He just brushed the incident off, got onstage and performed a great set. He had no set list; he just took requests from the audience. One request was “Dublin Blues,” a lovelorn lament loosely structured around the traditional bluegrass song, “Handsome Molly.” It starts off, “Oh I wished I was in Austin in the Chili Parlor Bar/Drinking Mad Dog margaritas and not caring where you are…”

Now I’ve never been at the Chili Parlor Bar and never had a Mad Dog margarita, but at that moment, I wished I was there in Austin as well.

“I’ll stand up and be counted,” he continued. “I’ll face up to the truth/I’ll walk away from trouble but I can’t walk away from you.”

My god, someone make this Guy a saint already!

So whom would you recommend for sainthood?

  1. Spot on and enlightening as always Mark. I definitely want to buy some of Guy Clark’s music. Any recommendations?

  2. Who would I recommend for sainthood as far as music goes? Stevie Ray Vaughan! An amazing guitarist and person. I unfortunately never got to see him play before that fateful helicopter crash…however, having worked for Guitar Center corporate and been a person in charge of photoshoots…when they acquired “Lenny” and some of his other gear for photos….there I was in the photo studio…holding LENNY! *big OMG cartoon eyes* :)

  3. @ Lisa: I would get Guy Clark’s first album, “Old No. 1″. Every song is perfect.
    @ Charlene: I did catch Stevie Ray Vaughan a year before he died. He was, of course, phenomenal. Definitely worthy to be sainted.

  4. Phenomenal writing badheart!!
    Sainthood? That’s a tough one cause it means a lot more than just being a great musician. Unfortunately, most great musicians are/were deeply flawed individuals. Bono? Kurt Cobain? John Lennon? Bob Dylan? Jimi Hendrix? Eddie Vedder? Paul Westerberg (personal fave)? Jazz artists like Duke Ellington or John Coltrane?

  5. love heartworn highways. and la freeway. clark is just the greatest songwriter. and maybe that fan just didn’t see the extended handshake. i think it was sweet that he was so excited with meeting his hero that he jumped for joy at the idea of getting his photo done with clark.

  6. Saints and Sinners all the same to me. It takes both. I love a good story in a song and that’s what makes any artist memorable and fabulous. I’ll take a great story every time.

One Trackback

  1. By Guy Clark. The Guitar on December 20, 2010 at 12:23 am

    [...] And The Beat Goes On » Saint Guy Clark [...]

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