RIP Guy Clark: Annus horribilis, cont.

The wicked year of 2016 has taken another great one from us.

A couple of years back, John Spong wrote He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, a terrific piece on Guy Clark as he looks back on what was an amazing life: full of art, strong friendships, lots of chemically enhanced fucking up, and dark, sad times when first Susanna’s and then Guy’s bodies gave out.


I’ve added three Clark songs that I personally adore to the end of this post. I can’t claim any special knowledge or insight into Clark. I’m just a fan, who was lucky to see him play once, with Townes Van Zandt at the Bottom Line around 1990. I listen to Texas Cooking, Old No. 1, and Boats to Build all the time, and I’m sad that he’s gone.

Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden

But the Susanna Clark living upstairs when Sampson came to write scarcely resembled that woman. In the early 2000’s, reeling from the twin defeats of a debilitating back condition and the early death of her and Guy’s best friend, Van Zandt, she’d taken to bed. Though she eventually quit drinking, she upped her intake of pain pills to a point beyond lucidity, seldom leaving the bedroom or changing out of her white cotton nightgown. Then came lung cancer and her refusal to stop smoking. Through much of that time, until his own health turned south, Guy was her sole caregiver. When he went to the basement to work, she’d call on his cellphone and ask him to cook for her or sit and keep her company as she moved in and out of reason. On his walk to the stairs, he’d pass by that Polaroid. It was taken, he told visitors, one afternoon when he and Van Zandt were day-drunk and acting like assholes. She’d had enough and was ready to get as far from the two of them as she could. She stands center frame, arms crossed, glaring at the camera like she might make the photographer’s head combust.

Sampson’s line could only refer to that photo. Guy started into his writing ritual, spreading out sheets of draftsman’s graph paper and grabbing one of the music chart pencils he orders special from California. Methodically, he wrote in all caps, giving each letter its own box on the page.

My favorite picture of you
Is the one where it hasn’t rained yet
As I recall there came a winter squall
And we got soakin’ wet
A thousand words in the blink of an eye
The camera loves you and so do I

“The whole song just kind of poured out,” Guy explained one afternoon a few months ago, sitting in the same workshop, holding the same photo. “I didn’t have to think too much other than to get it all down. Then I went upstairs, sat on the edge of the bed, and played it for her. She said she liked it, I guess. Whenever I wrote about her, she was always . . . I don’t know if ‘touched’ is the right word. She was always flattered. Usually she said, ‘Well, it’s about time.’ ”

That was particularly true in this instance. Susanna’s slide out of life lasted just another year and a half. In June 2012 her heart gave out, and it’s hard now to listen to “My Favorite Picture of You” and not think of it the way Guy describes “The Randall Knife,” as a cathartic piece of writing. Only he wrote “Randall Knife” a couple of weeks after his dad’s death. With Susanna, he tried to say goodbye while she could still hear him.

“I never was much for moaning and crying with this kind of experience,” he said. “This is the only way I know how to deal with it. To get it out.”






“No kin to you undertaker”


I imagine the producers of these debates get together with the hosts afterwards and give notes, as they do in the theater. And I strongly hope they suggested to Brian Williams that, following Governor Perry’s ode to Texas justice, a follow-up question might have been nice….

It’s hard to imagine Mr. Williams and/or the producers were not familiar with The Texas Tribune’s database of all the executions in Texas under Perry’s leadership, including capsule summaries about some of the most controversial.

The summaries should be read in full, but I will excerpt just the first one to give a taste of what “ultimate justice” means in Texas.

Mental Incapacity

Kelsey Patterson was sentenced to death for the September 1992 shooting deaths of Louis Oates and Dorothy Harris in Palestine.

Testimony showed that without provocation, Patterson walked up to Oates, 63, the owner of Oates Oil Co., and shot him. He shot Harris, 41, when she came out to see what was going on. Patterson then went to a friend’s home nearby, stripped down to his socks and waited in the street for police to arrive.

Dr. James Grigson, a psychiatrist and popular prosecution expert witness who earned the label “Dr. Death” because he rarely found defendants too mentally unfit to face the death penalty, told jurors Patterson was sane at the time of the murders. At trial, Patterson testified at length about devices the military had planted in his head.

From prison, he sent incoherent letters to the courts, including a 2004 letter to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in which he wrote that he wanted to “conduct my legal work needed to stop the execution murder assaults injury execution date murder machines grave graveyard murder …”

Shortly before his execution on May 18, 2004, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that Perry grant clemency, which Perry rejected. He worried that if he commuted the sentence, Patterson might be released on parole. Patterson’s last statement was a final testimony to his mental condition: “Statement to what? State what? I am not guilty of the charge of capital murder. Steal me and my family’s money. My truth will always be my truth. There is no kin and no friend; no fear what you do to me. No kin to you undertaker.”

Ta-Nehesi Coates has a good response, and an extremely re-tweetable one at that, reminding us of the bi-partisan nature of death penalty boosterism:

Apparently people were shocked by the applause here. The only thing that shocked me was that they didn’t form a rumba line. [!!!!!] It’s a Republican debate. And it’s America. Perry’s right–most people support the death penalty. It’s the job of those of us who oppose the death penalty to change that.

It’s worth remembering that no Democratic nominee for the presidency in some twenty years, has been against the death penalty.

This is still the country where we took kids to see men lynched, and then posed for photos. We are a lot of things. This is one of them.

Also, Ricky Ray Rector ring a bell?

And maybe this is a good place to remind people that the current president has, like his predecessor, granted unto himself the right to kill anyone on the planet, even American citizens, without even the faintest whiff of due process.

And typically these executions in distant lands do not involve lethal injections. They are more along the lines of missile attacks on the targeted person, as well as anyone who is unlucky enough to be in the general vicinity.

Fifty innocent victims for every successful hit. Makes Perry look pretty benevolent in comparison….

So let’s not get all “OMG what if this guy becomes president!” Please. In some respects, this guy already is.

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