Guy Clark performs at Poor David's Pub during the opening night at the club's new site on South Lamar. 

Guy Clark performs at Poor David's Pub during the opening night at the club's new site on South Lamar. 

MILTON HINNANT

Guy Clark, who died Tuesday, wasn't just a country music icon, he was one of the greatest songwriters of his time. His lyrics, which often focused on his Lone Star roots, are some of the best in country music. He was respected among other artists for his ability to paint scenes and characters that were brimming with emotion and grit. 

If you're not familiar with Clark's work, here's an easy primer on the Texan's legendary work.

Dublin Blues

Best lines: 

I have been to Fort Worth
I have been to Spain
I have been too proud
To come in out of the rain
I have seen the David 
I've seen the Mona Lisa too 
I have heard Doc Watson 
Play Columbus Stockade Blues

Why it's so good:

When Clark says he wishes he was in Austin (mmhmm) drinking margaritas at his favorite bar, you wish you were in Austin on the barstool next to him. He paints a picture of the capitals of Texas and Europe, bringing foreign sophistication of Michelangelo to margaritas and the lost love of country songs.

That Old Time Feeling

Best lines:

And that old time feeling comes and goes in the rain
Like an old man with his checkers, dyin' to find a game
And that old time feeling plays for beer in bars
Like an old blues-time picker who don't recall who you are

Why it's so good: 

The imagery of this song is what makes it stand out. Clark never shares why he's having the old-time feeling, or why it's important to understand it, he just describes it. And by the last stanza, you know it. It's somewhere between nostalgia and heartache, and Clark's poetry captures it beautifully.

Hemingway's Whiskey

Best lines:

There's more to life than whiskey, there's more to words than rhyme
Sometimes nothing works, sometimes nothing shines
Like Hemingway's whiskey

Why it's so good: 

You may know this one from Kenny Chesney's 2010 cover, but Clark's nearly-70 year old vocals make it grittier, stronger. The sadness of Hemingway's Whiskey is, like the lyrics say, "warm and smooth and mean." 

The South Coast of Texas

Best lines: 

In the cars of my youth how I tore through those sand dunes
Cut up my tires on them oyster shell roads
But nothin' is forever say the old men in the shipyards
Turnin' trees into shrimp boats, hell, I guess they ought to know

Why it's so good:

Clark's portrait of a harbor town is brimming with life and a cast of characters that pop out of the song. He says so right up top: "The south coast of Texas is a thin slice of life, it's salty and hard, it is stern as a knife." You can taste the salty air and hear the clink of glasses at the beer joints he describes. He transports you there in a way few songwriters can.

Texas Cookin'

Best lines: 

Get them enchiladas greasy
get them steaks chicken fried
Sho' do make a man feel happy
to see white gravy on the side

Why it's so good:

It's really hard to pick best lines from Texas Cookin', especially before lunch. Anyone whose had some good Texas homestyle cookin' knows this song ain't humorous, it's a declaration of love. Clark's mouth-watering, belly-growlin' ode to our favorite dishes is a meal in itself.

Homegrown Tomatoes

Best lines: 

What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes

Why it's so good:

Like Texas Cookin', this tune is a love song for down-home food. Like a lot of his songs, the lyrics are simple, but are full of that nostalgia that is characteristic of Clark's songs. Today, the last lines are especially meaningful. "When I die don't bury me in a box in a cemetery. Out in the garden would be much better, I could be pushin' up homegrown tomatoes."

L.A. Freeway

Best lines:

Now here's to you old Skinny Dennis
The only one I think I will miss
I can hear those bass notes ringin'
As sweet and low like a gift your bringin'

So play it for me one more time now
You got to give it all you can now
Well I believe every word you're sayin'
Just to keep it on keepin' on, keep on playin'

Why it's so good:

Don't we all dream sometimes of just packing up and leaving off down the freeway to some land we ain't bought, bought, bought? Clark's rambling tune speaks to that desire to get out of the hustle-and-bustle of city life and escape down the road to revisit your roots. 

Texas 1947

Best lines: 

So we already knowed it
When they finally said, "Train time"
You'd a-thought that Jesus Christ
His-self was rollin' down the line

'Cause things got real quiet
Momma jerked me back
But not before I'd got the chance
to lay a nickel on the track

Why it's so good:

Talk about a good story song. Clark is able to talk about a massive, irreversible change in Texan economy — the invention of the diesel engine that hastened the death of thousands of small towns across the state — through a single afternoon in the eyes of a six-year old. It's simple, yet its statement about what we give up when progress steams through small towns is an impressive feat.

Desperados Waiting For A Train

Best lines: 

A day before he died, I went to see him
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 b**** is comin' "

Why it's so good:

Desperados is Clark's magnum opus. It's been covered by just about everyone in country music. It's one of the most classic train songs of all time, and paints a relationship between a young man and an old desperado. It's raw with emotion, especially with Clark's twangy voice when he hits the high notes of the chorus. A classic song of Texas, to be sure.

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