Austin’s Legends: Guy Clark
Guy Clark & Stuff That Works
by Gary Austin, Contributing Writer
Several years back I was enjoying a Guy Clark show at Antone’s in Austin. Clark asked if there were any requests. A woman sitting near me said, “Do stuff that works.”
“How insulting!” I thought. Then Guy Clark sang “Stuff That Works.” I had never heard the song.
I listened to Jerry Jeff Walker for years before I became aware of Guy Clark the artist. I knew Clark only as a songwriter who wrote songs that Jerry Jeff sang.
The first time I saw Guy Clark was at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. I’ve seen him there many times and at Antone’s and at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.
I hope Guy will forgive me, but I thought he was “cooler” than my cool heroes Perry Como and Dean Martin back when I was a teenager. In fact, I think that Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard are the coolest singers I’ve ever seen in concert and “I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”
I know cool. Cool works. Don’t tell my students or the performers I’ve directed, but I’ve been teaching cool for decades. If I told people, “I teach cool,” they’d run to a “real” teacher.
What’s “cool?” For me, “cool” is an attitude. “I don’t need to entertain you. I’m up here doing what works for me and if you dig it I’m happy for you. Your opinion of me is none of my business.”
Hell, I taught cool to Pee Wee Herman.
But cool isn’t enough. Guy Clark writes songs that work.
Let’s talk metaphor…
I played the Red River Valley.
He’d sit in the kitchen and cry.
Run his fingers through seventy years of livin’.
And wonder, Lord, has every well I’ve drilled gone dry?
We were friends, me and this old man,
Like desperadoes waitin’ for a train.
Desperadoes waitin’ for a train.
Guy Clark, “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train”
And that old time feelin’ goes sneakin’ down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin’ close to the wall.
Guy Clark “That Old Time Feeling”
Guy Clark’s empathy for the women of his songs holds up for me as much as the craft of his writing does. He writes songs from a woman’s point of view in a way that few “men” do. In his album Guy Clark: Keepers – A Live Recording, he introduces “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” thusly:
“This is about my favorite song. A song about ten seconds in a woman’s life.”
She’s standin’ on the gone side of leavin’.
She found her thumb and stuck it in the breeze.
She’ll take anything goin’ close to somewhere.
She can lay it down and live it like she please
She ain’t goin’ nowhere, she’s just leavin’.
She ain’t goin’ nowhere she can’t breathe in.
She ain’t goin’ home, and that’s for sure.
Well the wind had it’s way with her hair.
And the blues had a way with her smile.
And she had a way of her own.
Just like prisoners have a way with a file.
She’s not sitting down cryin’ on her suitcase.
She had no second thoughts by the road.
But she’s got feelin’s that need some repairin’.
And she did not give a damn that it showed.
Guy Clark “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”
I grew up in Corpus Christi and Odessa. When Clark sings “South Coast of Texas,” I smell the salt water and the shrimp at the T Heads and the L Head in Corpus and I hold onto my hat. When he sings “The Last Gunfighter Ballad” I’m walking to school through the sand picking the crust out of my nose.
I have lived most of my “grown-up” life in Los Angeles (mixed with lots of travel, thank you). I know about being on an “LA Freeway” expecting to get “killed or caught.”
Stuff that works for Guy Clark sure as hell works for me.
“What’d life be without ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’?”
To watch Gary Austin perform “Stuff That Works,” along with some of LA’s best musicians covering their favorite Guy Clark songs, check out Turnstyled, Junkpiled’s “Don’t Let The Sunshine Fool Ya”: The Sin City Sings the Songs of Guy Clark.