Monday, June 09, 2008

"All Through Throwing Good Love After Bad" / Guy Clark

Apparently Jerry Jeff Walker did the "big" recording of this song, a version that's all twanged up and countrified. I hope it made him a ton of money, I honestly do. But the version I know and love is Guy Clark's (you'll find it on his 1988 album Old Friends) -- he's the one who wrote it, after all -- and I just hope he got a decent chunk of those royalties as well. Clark's the kind of songwriter that Nashville feeds on like a vampire; Jerry Jeff alone got two other hits out of Clark songs, "L.A. Freeway" and "Desperadoes Waiting For A Train," and Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill , and George Strait all did well with Clark songs, while Guy's own albums languished in obscurity. It just doesn't seem fair.

But then, I don't listen to much country music -- what do I know? Guy Clark's albums could just as easily be labeled "folk"; it's no surprise to me that he used to hang out with Townes Van Zandt, another artist whose work got lost between labels. Although Guy Clark's down-to-earth outlook is totally West Texas, the songs themselves are perfectly chiseled gems, every word shrewdly weighed, each verse dovetailed into the next, so that the end effect seems effortlessly simple and honest. That's one of the hardest tricks for a songwriter to pull off -- and yet when you do it, nobody notices.

The light acoustic touch Guy gives this track is so much fitting than Jerry Jeff's. It's about the relief of finally being happy in love; it should simply flow. "There was a time I was feeling so hopeless, " he starts out, reflectively, "it's a wonder I didn't cave in / Kept throwing love at all the wrong people / Never to see it again." We've all been there, haven't we? Or at least it feels like it. But the rhythm taps along happily enough; he's not tangled up in angst anymore -- because things have changed: "Oh, Lord, won't you look what I've found? / Staring me right in the face / Yeah I'm through being lonely, I'm through being sad / I'm all through throwing good love after bad." He's stumbled upon the real thing at last, and he's still amazed at his own good luck.

It's a very specific little slice of emotional reality Clark carves out here; he never even describes the woman he's fallen for, or gushes about his happiness. No, he's just marveling at the difference it makes in his life: "Now I think of all the time I have wasted / Wearing my heart on my sleeve / Trusting my love to the kindness of strangers, / Oh, I was so naive." Those wounds are still too fresh to be forgotten completely.

Sure, cliched phrases dance in and out -- that's inevitable, if you're trying to write in the language real people speak -- but the big cliches, the trite emotions and hoary concepts, are nowhere to be seen. I don't think I've ever heard another song that about this very specific aspect of falling in love -- but now that Guy's sketched it out, I get it completely.

This isn't the way a teenager views love; teenagers think the whole world is new and love is eternal. Most of your classic pop music clings to that adolescent perspective. But here's Guy Clark, singing with his weathered, slightly creaky voice, strumming his guitar and scratching his head at how simple genuine love can be. He's a guy who's been through some stuff; he knows the exquisite value of Not Hurting Anymore. Music for grown-ups. If that's country, then count me in as a country fan.


Carabella said...

I luv Guy. Sorta shared a beer with him once about 10 years ago.

Holly A Hughes said...

Guy sure seems like someone who'd be a great drinking companion. I hope you nursed that beer long as you could!