The singer in the song imagines himself as Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas’ poems. “Rodney put Richard Burton in there. I’ve got CDs of Dylan Thomas reading his complete works, everything he wrote that was ever recorded. Richard Burton does it pretty good, as good as anyone who has ever tried. However, hearing Dylan Thomas himself is best.”
One of the new songs that Guy has written with Shawn Camp and Ray Stephenson, Rain In Durango, reminded me of the Clark and Crowell classic, She’s Crazy For Leavin’. It brought out an intriguing response from Guy. “I can see that. I do not like songs that denigrate women or put them down. I think that is cheap and tacky so I have written several songs about women that are nothing but positive: they always come out on top and that’s on purpose. You will never hear me singing a song about putting a woman down.”
Another song, El Coyote, reminded me of Woody Guthrie’s song about the death of Mexican workers, Deportee. “Sure. I loved Woody Guthrie’s song and I admired the way he wrote about stuff that he knew about and wasn’t just making it up. El Coyote stems from newspaper articles and television new stories about this guy who smuggled illegal aliens across the Mexican border. All the guys who do this are ruthless and this one guy loaded up his truck with 18 braceros, the Spanish word for ‘workers’. He got them over the border crossing and then got spooked by the cops. He thought he was going to be stopped so he pulled up and left the truck and walked away. There were 18 guys in there, all locked in the back, and they all died because it was so hot in there.”
The song is followed by the equally harrowing Heroes about the suicide of a soldier who has returned from Baghdad. “There are more young US soldiers coming back from the Middle East and killing themselves than there ever have been in the whole history of America having an army. Even more than Vietnam or World War II, there are more kids than ever committing suicide. I have no idea why this is. They are volunteers, not conscripts, but I guess they must be crazy to want to go over there and kill people. They can’t live with what they did and what they saw. What kind of life is that?”
There is a dramatic change in the rhythm during the song when the soldier decides to kill himself, resembling the tension in The Last Gunfighter Ballad. “Oh, it’s just the way I write. I wanted that line to really come home to people in the song.
Guy often spends his time making guitars in his workshop. Could someone buy a Guy Clark model from him? “Not at all. It is just my hobby. I have made 14 guitars in the last 10 years and I am not trying to sell them at all. In fact, I don’t want to sell them. For the most part they are just for me, although if I find a guitar that really works, I stick with it until I find something better, so I don’t use them all. Part of being an artist is finding the right tools. It doesn’t have to be a new guitar. That old one works fine for Willie Nelson. Evidently that extra hole makes no difference.”
And are they always acoustic? “Yes, I don’t play electric guitar at all and I don’t think I would be much of an electric guitar player. I like any kind of guitar music though.”
And what of the new album which is released at the end of July. Will most of the sales be by downloads now? “I don’t know, I just make the records, but I do know that they are pressing this one up in vinyl. I’ve got the cover to it and they haven’t got the records yet but I don’t have a record player anymore.”
Will Guy be out promoting it? “I’d like to but I’ve had both knees replaced recently and had another operation on my leg and so I have been immobile for a couple of years. I had one knee done and I had to wait until I was mobile enough to get around on it and then I had the other one done. I have lost the muscle mass in my thighs, my quadriceps, and it is hard for me to keep my balance. I have a cane and I use it most of the time, but I haven’t had to use a wheelchair. I get tired real easy and I guess I’m lazy about rehab. (Laughs) With some luck, I might be better in six months but I’m not banking on it.
Finally, I wondered if losing Susanna had meant that he had lost a sounding-board for his new material. “Not really. I don’t discuss my songs with anybody except when I am co-writing, and on the whole, I am fairly confident. I know which of the songs work and which don’t. Some people might throw good songs away because somebody else didn’t like it. On the other hand, I might have a song that I was not sure about and a third party could say it was great. Maybe I’ve thrown some good songs away. I don’t know but I’m sure I must have!”