Guy Clark: We’ve Got Something to Believe In

Guy Clark, the great singer-songwriter from Texas, passed away May 17, 2016 at the age of 74. It is hard to select a favorite song from his vast catalog of wonderful songs. We have previously written about such songs as “Dublin Blues,” “Out in the Parking Lot,” “Homeless,” “Desperados Waiting For a Train,” and “Stuff That Works.” But I have to say goodbye with the song that first led me to his music, “L.A. Freeway.”

“L.A. Freeway” is a wonderful song about escape, but not the running-away-from-a-woman escape type of song. It is in the vein of Springsteen’s “Born to Run” about going somewhere new with someone you love. Springsteen’s song captures a young man’s joy of leaving for a new adventure and of leaving behind a “death trap, a suicide rap.” By contrast, Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” is about an older man looking forward to the escape but recognizing the bittersweet feeling of leaving something behind.

Oh Susanna, don’t you cry, babe;
Love’s a gift that’s surely handmade;
We’ve got something to believe in,
Don’t you think it’s time we’re leaving?

I hope Clark found that joy he was searching for in the song. He certainly gave us a large catalog of great songs to help us find something to believe in. RIP.

What is your favorite Guy Clark song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Guy Clark Has Heard Doc Watson Play “Columbus Stockade Blues” (Song Within a Song)

    In the wonderful song “Dublin Blues,” Guy Clark sings about a lost love and his own pain. The alcoholic singer sits in Dublin with the shakes wishing he were back in Austin, drinking “Mad Dog Margaritas/ And not carin’ where you are.” The singer ask for forgiveness and recounts some of the sights he has seen, but he cannot forget the object of the song or walk away from her.

    “Dublin Blues”

    In “Dublin Blues,” the singer lists some of his travels. And Clark notes what he has seen and heard.

    I have seen the David,
    I’ve seen the Mona Lisa too,
    I have heard Doc Watson
    Play “Columbus Stockade Blues.”

    The line about “Columbus Stockade Blues” caught my ear. Songs do sometimes refer to other songs, but it is not often you hear them compared to the Mona Lisa.  Here is Guy Clark singing “Dublin Blues.”

    Why Does Clark Reference “Columbus Stockade Blues”?

    I was not sure I had heard Doc Watson play “Columbus Stockade Blues.” So I became curious about this song that Guy Clark compares to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Michelangelo’s David.

    “Columbus Stockade Blues” is so old that nobody knows who wrote it. An informative Grateful Dead website notes that the earliest known version is by Darby and Tarlton. On Doc Watson’s album, the song is credited to Jimmy Davis and Eva Sargent.

    Jimmy Davis, the Louisiana governor famous for “You Are My Sunshine,” made “Columbus Stockade Blues” popular in the 1940s. But it is the Doc Watson version that haunted Guy Clark so much that he cited it in “Dublin Blues.”

    What is interesting about Guy Clark’s tribute to “Columbus Stockade Blues” is that Watson’s song has the same theme as Guy Clark’s song that references it. Those unfamiliar with the Watson song, however, will miss the connection because the title does not give it away.

    As in “Dublin Blues,” the song “Columbus Stockade Blues” begins with the singer wishing he were somewhere else, as he sits in Columbus, Georgia wishing he was “back in Tennessee.” He recounts that he thought the woman would love him forever, but he recognizes the woman loves another. Broken-hearted, he tells her to go ahead and “Leave me, little darling, I don’t mind.” But we know he does mind.

    The real difference between Watson’s song and Clark’s song comes where we find out the reason for the title, “Columbus Stockade Blues.” Watson’s singer is in prison.

    Last night as I lay sleeping,
    Oh, I dreamd that I was you in my arms;
    When I woke I was mistaken;
    Lord, I was still behind these bars.

    Inspiration for “Dublin Blues” from “Handsome Molly”

    “Dublin Blues” is connected to another song besides “Columbus Stockade Blues.”  Singer-songwriter Tom Russell has noted that “Dublin Blues” has its origins in a song called “Handsome Molly,” written by fiddle player D.B. Grayson, who was born in 1887.

    Like “Dublin Blues” and “Columbus Stockade Blues,” the song “Handsome Molly” is about heartache.  It begins in a similar way to “Dublin Blues” with the singer wishing he were somewhere else. “Well, I wish I was in London,/ Or some other seaport town.” The sound of “Dublin Blues” is similar to “Handsome Molly,” although Clark slows it down to emphasize the agony of the heartbreak.

    Clark possibly was inspired to use the tune from “Handsome Molly” because Watson recorded a famous version of “Handsome Molly.”  Thus, Clark’s “Dublin Blues” is doubly connected to Watson, referencing a Watson song while using music from another song connected to Watson.  Here is Watson playing “Handsome Molly.”

    Both Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger have recorded “Handsome Molly.” Below is Dylan’s version of “Handsome Molly.”


    Ultimately, Clark’s song “Dublin Blues” is a nice tribute to Watson, who passed away in 2012. Clark honors Watson and the traditional song by comparing “Columbus Stockade Blues” to great works of art while incorporating much of the storyline into his own song.

    Clark’s singer sits in Dublin outside the penitentiary, but he remains locked in his own prison of alcoholism, sorrow, and regret. These are two great songs about lost love and the destruction that may result from a broken heart.

    And they are both great works of art.

    What is your favorite song that mentions another song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Songs About Homelessness

    Music can address societal issues in different ways. Sometimes a song will tackle a big issue head on.  But more often than not, issues are addressed through personal stories or observations. One important societal issue that occasionally appears in popular song is the problem that so many of our fellow humans live without a home. Below are some examples of some songs that address homelessness to varying degrees.

    In 2011, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran released ‘The A Team’ as the lead single of his first album +. Sheeran wrote the song about a prostitute addicted to crack cocaine after he visited a homeless shelter.

    “Ain’t Got No Home” is a folk song that was made popular by Woody Guthrie: “Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town. / And the police make it hard wherever I may go / And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.”

    In this video, Rosanne Cash performs “I Ain’t Got No Home”.

    Greg Trooper’s “They Call Me Hank” is about a homeless man named Bill. The song appeared on Trooper’s album Upside-Down Town.

    Here Trooper performs the song at Music City Roots live from the Loveless Cafe in June 2014.

    One of the more famous songs about homelessness is “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins. The song appeared on his 1989 hit album But Seriously, where the singer sees a man avoiding a homeless person.

    Collins asks us to think twice about living another day in paradise, but a lot of critics thought that the song seemed disingenuous coming from someone as rich as Collins.

    The great songwriter Guy Clark recorded a song called “Homeless.” The song appears on Clark’s 2006 album The Dark.

    Like several other songs by Clark, he talks us through much of the story with a memorable chorus.

    Finally, another famous song that is about a homeless person is the Christmas song “Pretty Paper,” which was a hit in an excellent recording by Roy Orbison. The song about a person who in the midst of holiday shopping sees a homeless person was written by a young songwriter who would later go on to have a pretty successful career himself.

    So here is that songwriter, Willie Nelson, singing his version of the song he wrote.

    Other songs with homelessness themes include Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung,” Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” and “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” by Crystal Waters.

    Music, of course, cannot solve problems but it can help educate us. More than 60,000 people sleep in homeless shelters each night in New York City alone. Homelessness continues to be a problem across the U.S., and in particular, the number of homeless LGBT youth on the streets continues to rise due to a lack of support for them.

    A number of organizations around the country work to help the homeless, and this website lists a number of ways that you can help the homeless (besides writing a song).

    What other songs are there about homelessness? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Guy Clark to Be Focus of New Book and Documentary

    Tamara Saviano, who produced the excellent tribute double-CD This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark (2011), is making her directing debut with a documentary about Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark. According to the film’s Kickstarter page, Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark will trace “the life of music pioneer Guy Clark, who, with his wife Susanna, shaped the contemporary folk and American roots music scene.”

    Saviano has spent seven years working on an upcoming definitive biography of Clark too, so her film about his life promises to be an in-depth look at one of the great writers of Texas music in the last century. The documentary includes coverage of Clark’s youth in Monahans, Texas and follows his life as he develops into a legendary singer-songwriter. Below is a promotional video for the film.

    Saviano’s Kickstarter campaign for the film is still seeking funds on Kickstarter until May 21, 2015. For more information, check out the Kickstarter page.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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  • Happy Birthday Willie Nelson, A Hero of This Country
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    Heartworn Highways . . . Revisited

    The 1976 documentary Heartworn Highways provided insight into some of the legends of alternative country like Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and Guy Clark. Director Jim Szalapski filled the film with vignettes of the singer-songwriters in their daily lives, providing a fly-on-the wall portrait of them. It is a film for music lovers, without a narrative story, that I found engaging.

    Now, to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of Heartworn Highways, director Wayne Price will be releasing Heartworn Highways Revisited.

    The new film takes a look at some current outlaw country singers like Shelly Colvin, Matraca Berg, Bobby Bare Jr., Johnny Fritz, Robert Ellis, Shovels and Rope, Joshua Hedley, John McCauley, and Langhorne Slim. Some old-timers make appearances too, like Guy Clark and David Allan Coe. I am happy to see that rising star singer-songwriter Andrew Combs is in the film too.

    Check out the promotional video below.

    On the film’s website, Price writes, “With electronic laptop musicians commanding the airwaves, I am excited to bring us back to the ‘old school, with songwriters who only need their instrument and their experience to create music.”

    Years ago, I loaned my copy of Heartworn Highways to a friend and never got it back.  But I enjoyed the movie, which has some great moments like Van Zandt playing “Waitin’ Round To Die.” I still listen to the soundtrack.

    Reportedly, there is no release date yet for the new film, but I am looking forward to the release of Heartworn Highways Revisited.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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