Guy Clark 1941-2016

“The thing about writing songs is, everything is songwriting”

I was told Guy Clark was a difficult interview. Before I visited his West Nashville home in 2013, ornery was the word I heard the most. Indeed, the songwriter that greeted me at the door was gruff. Not to mention intimidating, even at 71, and clearly in physical pain.

As we sat and talked through the afternoon, however, the hour of allotted time stretched to two and then three, and he laughed easily through the thick smoke as he alternated between hand-rolled cigarettes and joints.

Guy Clark died this morning at age 74, the culmination of an illness that had dogged him the past few years. His publicist Tamara Saviano, whose biography of Clark, Without Getting Killed or Caught, will be released later this year, confirmed his passing in a statement. The obituaries will carry the requisite details, but his life was truly told through his songs.

Clark was born in the West Texas town of Monahans in 1941, and his songwriting both drew from and shaped the very character of his home state. His songs were precisely crafted, characters drawn from a life that seemed larger than life, narratives emotionally rent with the subtle insight of hard experience. He was able to paint the vivid, close details of existence with an eye that saw deeper than the surface, and an empathetic understanding that took nothing for granted.

Sitting in his basement workshop three years ago, those details spilled about the room as memories. His father’s Randall knife, his guitar workbench, photos of Townes Van Zandt and his late wife, Susanna. A faded image of Susanna sparked one of his final great songs, “My Favorite Picture of You.”

What may have struck me most about the house that afternoon was just how much silence filled the space. Susanna, whom he had married in 1972, had passed away from a long battle with cancer a year before, and it was difficult to tell if all those surrounding memories served as welcome sanctuary or heavy solitude. Even then, Clark seemed to sense the impending close of his own time.

From “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “L.A. Freeway” to “Dublin Blues” and countless other masterpieces of songcraft, Clark’s catalog served as autobiographical recall. His music helped catalyze an entire generation of songwriters around him, an epitome of craft and artistry and attention to detail that both inspired and humbled.

“The thing about writing songs is, everything is songwriting,” he said before we parted. “All you have to do is remember.”

Guy Clark’s life was woven into his music, and he’ll be remembered through his songs.

20 Years of Guy Clark’s Texas Platters (Excerpt)

My Favorite Picture of You (2013)

This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark (2011)

Songs and Stories (2011)

Somedays the Song Writes You (2009)

Heartworn Highways CD (2006)

Heartworn Highways DVD (2003)

Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, & Guy Clark Together at the Bluebird Cafe (2002)

The Dark (2002)

Cold Dog Soup (1999)

Keepers (1997)

Craftsman (1995)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Guy Clark
Guy Clark Biographer Tamara Saviano
Guy Clark Biographer Tamara Saviano
“He shared things with me he didn’t share with other people”

Doug Freeman, March 30, 2017

More by Doug Freeman
Texas Platters
George Strait
Honky Tonk Time Machine (Record Review)

May 3, 2019

The 12 People You Meet at Sam’s Town Point, Austin’s Real-Life Roadhouse
The 12 People You Meet at Sam’s Town Point, Austin’s Real-Life Roadhouse
You’d never know the South Austin honky-tonk is there, but wait 'til you meet its cast of characters

April 26, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Guy Clark, Susanna Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Tamara Saviano

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle