I will sing a song of sadness
for a man I didn’t really know
although it seems as though
I knew him pretty well.
I knew many of his songs
and some of his stories.
Most of them were good;
some of them were incredible:
a rare blending of a poet’s eye,
a craftsman’s heart,
and an absolute familiarity
with the dark hours of love and loneliness.
I never understood—
and still don’t—
how a singer could be that talented
and still be unknown by so many.
He sang about south Texas,
the people and the land,
dark rooms and tunes,
love songs that made me weep and smile.
My best friends,
my own kids,
my wife and I
sang his songs
and grew closer for the singing.
Randa and I did meet him once,
in a back room after a concert in Kentucky,
thanks to the creative conniving
of a son not as timid as me about such things.
While Sam grinned like a possum eating briar berries,
Guy autographed my vintage Gibson
in a neat hand just above the very end of the neck.
He hesitated with the fiddle, though,
“What a beautiful old instrument!”
He paused, held it up,
tilted it against the light,
“This is too beautiful for me to sign on top,”
he said softly, reverently.
Then he turned it and signed it on the spine.
You could play it for hours
and no one ever know or notice
that Guy Clark had autographed that violin.
I’ve met men
who seem to think
nothing is more beautiful
than the sight of their own name.
And here was a man
known in the highest inner circles
of Americana’s blending
of country, folk and bluegrass,
a man whose passing will be mourned
by such names as Vince Gill,
Ricky Skaggs and countless others,
whose own humility
and love of craftsmanship,
beauty and art,
made him turn to the side
to find a place
where he could honor an autograph request
without marring the face
of a stranger’s fiddle.
So yes, I will sing a song of sadness.
I will sit in a dark and empty room
with an old guitar
that won’t ever stay in tune.
And I will sip bourbon and cry
and be thankful that I came to know
so many songs,
be thankful for my wife,
for Bill and Brenda Jolliff,
and for the best songwriter
you’ve never heard of,
a man who knew
what it was
to love a place
that you can never go home to,
to love people
who’ve already ridden that long, slow train
that takes us all
and all we know.