October 22, 2021
Reflections, Day 14–desperado
“I’d play the Red River Valley
And he’d sit out in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through seventy years of livin’
Wonder, “Lord, has ever’ well I’ve drilled run dry?”
We was friends, me and this old man
Like desperados waiting for a train.”
Guy Clark wrote this song.
The first time I heard this song, Willie Nelson was singing it. I thought that it was a different sort of song, but I never really paid attention to the lyrics.
Looking back, I can see that I never really heard the song until I listened to Guy Clark perform it. You see, it was his song. It was a eulogy for an old friend who had mentored him for many years, and he sang it with a feeling that no one else was able to capture.
I read Guy’s comments somewhere and he said that the old man was his grandmother’s boyfriend who went out of his way to take care of the young Guy Clark. It is a moving story…
“He’s a drifter and a driller of oil wells
And an old school man of the world
He taught me how to drive his car
When he’s too drunk to
And he’d wink and give me money for the girls.”
Looking inside the words and grabbing the mental picture, the listener can see the total love that the boy felt for this old man. Clark then goes back to the start of the relationship:
“From the time that I could walk he’d take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
There was old men with beer guts and dominos
Lying ’bout their lives while they’d played
And I was just a kid
They all called his “Sidekick”
And with that, we have a picture of the young boy, the teen-ager, and the grown guitar player singing in the kitchen. I could always identify with the way the boy felt about the old man. I envied him that relationship.
“A day before he died, I went to see him
And I was grown and he was almost gone
So we just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen
And sang another verse to that old song
“Come on, Jack, that son of a guns are comin'”
We’re desperados waitin’ for a train”
To this day, I get tears in my eyes when I hear Guy Clark sing this song—but here lately, I’ve found myself losing the boy’s point of view and adopting the old man’s point of view. He is no longer an old man to me and I can now see that the song has changed its theme to the love that the old man had for the boy. Now I can see me giving that boy money for the girls.
I can see me sitting in the kitchen and listening to him sing and I can get tears of pride in my eyes—it’s not crying at all, but rather a mixture of love and pride.
Now when I hear the song I know that it is about the love an old man has for a boy.
Listen to Guy Clark sing it. You won’t be sorry.
Memories for the mentors.
Photo by Dekie Hicks, “Heading West toward home”